Academic journal article Environmental Law

Mountain Lions, Myths, and Media: A Critical Reevaluation of the Beast in the Garden

Academic journal article Environmental Law

Mountain Lions, Myths, and Media: A Critical Reevaluation of the Beast in the Garden

Article excerpt

In 2003, David Baron wrote a controversial book entitled The Beast in the Garden: A Modern Parable of Man and Nature. The Beast in the Garden describes attempts by residents of Boulder, Colorado to coexist with a recovering mountain lion population. As the predators settled into neighborhoods and threatened pets, the animals' presence turned ominous, provoking political battles and culminating in a fatal mountain lion attack on 18-year old Scott Lancaster in Idaho Springs, Colorado. In Mountain Lions, Myths, and Media: A Critical Reevaluation of The Beast in the Garden, Wendy Keefover-Ring, director of the carnivore protection program at Sinapu, criticizes Baron's book as containing serious analytical, historical, and scientific errors and inadequacies. Additionally, she believes the death of a mountain biker in southern California propelled The Beast in the Garden into the media, creating the perception that Baron is a mountain lion expert. Keefover-Ring argues Baron's book unnecessarily frightened the public and succeeded in reinforcing or even changing people's perceptions of predators. Baron then defends The Beast in the Garden, arguing KeefoverRing misunderstood the theme of his book: that humans are dangerous when they do not appreciate their impact on the natural world Baron then attempts to rebut Keefover-Ring's assertions and accuses her of politicizing The Beast in the Garden. In Final Words About Beasts and Gardens, Keefover-Ring attempts to undermine Baron's rebuttal and argues that Baron failed to prove a Boulder-based lion killed Scott Lancaster, thereby undermining his central thesis.



David Baron's The Beast in the Garden: A Modern Parable of Man and Nature (Beast in the Garden) (1)--re-released into paperback by W.W. Norton--provides a well-intentioned attempt to warn us Westerners about the potential dangers of recreating or living in mountain lion country. The book's sloppy methodology, unsatisfying leaps in logic, historical inventions, and reliance on anecdotal "scientific" data create problems for itself. Yet, its authoritative tone and lengthy bibliography have convinced the media, many readers, and even some academics that Baron, a twenty-year National Public Radio reporter, is also an expert on mountain lions. (2)

According to the book's website, Baron has been interviewed on at least nineteen radio shows and three television stations, quoted in twenty-four newspapers or magazines, and his book was excerpted in several publications--including nine versions of Reader's Digest. (3) On top of that, the book has been favorably reviewed sixty-four times. (4) Beast in the Garden, with its alarmist style and emphasis on gore, appears to have, at least temporarily, modified the public discourse on mountain lions. For example, in April 2004, a Colorado news station reported, "Experts Fear Mountain Lion Confrontations Will Rise." (5) The expert interviewed on this subject is invariably journalist David Baron.

Has the book changed people's understanding of large native carnivores in the ecosystem? After the release of Beast in the Garden in October 2003, wildlife biologists and others have witnessed a shift in main-stream attitudes towards mountain lions--something akin to the predator angst the dominant American culture exhibited at the turn of the nineteenth century. Beast in the Garden, to use Baron's words, is "prone to weave elaborate stories from cryptic evidence .... " (6)

Baron argues that Boulder, Colorado's hippie-bred, herbal-tea-drinking, animal-venerating, nature-loving culture led to a mountain lion attack on a young man in Idaho Springs. (7) He claims that the 1991 death of Scott Lancaster, an eighteen-year old Idaho Springs resident, was the "inevitable" outcome following the confluence of political, historical, and ecological events that had "gone awry. …

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