After the Grizzly: Endangered Species and the Politics of Place in California

After the Grizzly: Endangered Species and the Politics of Place in California

After the Grizzly: Endangered Species and the Politics of Place in California

After the Grizzly: Endangered Species and the Politics of Place in California


Thoroughly researched and finely crafted, After the Grizzly traces the history of endangered species and habitat in California, from the time of the Gold Rush to the present. Peter S. Alagona shows how scientists and conservationists came to view the fates of endangered species as inextricable from ecological conditions and human activities in the places where those species lived.

Focusing on the stories of four high-profile endangered species--the California condor, desert tortoise, Delta smelt, and San Joaquin kit fox--Alagona offers an absorbing account of how Americans developed a political system capable of producing and sustaining debates in which imperiled species serve as proxies for broader conflicts about the politics of place. The challenge for conservationists in the twenty-first century, this book claims, will be to redefine habitat conservation beyond protected wildlands to build more diverse and sustainable landscapes.


One hot morning in the spring of 2004, I found myself in a distant corner of the Mojave Desert, standing in a field surrounded by saltbush and sage, feeling disoriented, overdressed, and a little embarrassed. A biologist named Peggy Wood had agreed to let me tag along with her while she tracked a small population of desert tortoises in a fenced area to which they had been moved to make way for the construction of an automobile test track. Peggy had handed me a radio telemetry receiver and an antenna and explained how to use the two devices to locate the tortoises she and her colleagues had fitted with beacons as part of the project’s wildlife translocation and mitigation effort. I set off on foot to search for a signal, and within a few minutes, sure enough, the receiver’s faint, intermittent chirps merged into a loud, continuous buzz. According to the receiver, I was standing practically on top of a fifteen-inch-long adult desert tortoise with a plastic and metal radio glued to its back. I had heard that desert tortoises were masters of disguise, but this was absurd. Here I was, just feet from the Mojave’s most famous endangered species, and I couldn’t find it. All I could see in front of me, when I turned away from the graders and bulldozers next door, was miles and miles of desert.

I did eventually find the tortoise, with Peggy’s help—it was lying as still as a rock, and looking like one too, against the gravelly desert floor—a couple meters away, in the shadow of a creosote bush. I had nearly stepped on the poor critter.

On the way home that evening, after the temperature began to drop and my pride started to heal, I realized that even though I had missed the tortoise, I had stumbled . . .

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