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Species conservation is a human problem

Writer Michelle Nijhuis synthesizes the story of modern-day conservation in her new book ‘Beloved Beasts.’

Journalist Michelle Nijhuis crystallizes the human urgency around conservation in her new book, Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction. Despite its title, the book is anchored in the narratives of the people, not just the other living creatures, who have shaped the last century or so of the conservation movement.

In luminous and detailed prose, Nijhuis, who has written for HCN for more than two decades and is a contributing editor for the magazine, charts the ongoing story of the conservation movement, and its pivotal characters. There have been victories and major disappointments, and Nijhuis doesn’t shy away from the dark side, including a legacy of eugenics and settler-colonialism. For her, acknowledging such complexity is essential to the future of conservation — if it is to be successful.

The book is a series of profiles, presented chronologically, of the movement’s most significant players and the wildlife they sought to save. Though the historical record that Nijhuis chronicles is messy — sprawling across several eras, geographies and species — her writing is direct and intimate, keeping the reader close throughout. At the book’s outset, she raises the question: “Why should any of us make sacrifices, even in the short term, to ensure the persistence of other species on the planet?” The answer presents itself as Nijhuis delves into the stories of those who spent their lives wrestling with that same question, uncovering the ways in which all species depend on one another.

High Country News recently sat down with Nijhuis, who lives on the north side of the Columbia River Gorge in Washington and writes and edits for the likes of The Atlantic, National Geographic and the New York Times Magazine. She discussed how her work for HCN influenced Beloved Beasts, the evolution of her thinking on conserving species and why it’s important to reckon with the conservation movement’s troubled past.

Read the full interview: https://www.hcn.org/articles/north-interview-species-conservation-is-a-human-problem



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