The Prairie Keepers: secrets of the Zumwalt by Marcy Houle

In “The Prairie Keepers,” wildlife biologist Marcy Houle tells the non-fiction story of her summer researching wildlife and habitat on the Zumwalt Prairie in eastern Oregon. Houle balances her account of studying raptors and the land with humorous anecdotes about her struggles, such as dealing with ranchers suspicious of her methods, and face-offs with belligerent cattle. But the real thorn in her boot turns out to be a co-worker, a patronizing Fish and Game biologist who takes every opportunity to sneer at her.

Written in 1979, and updated in 2002,  readers with any interest in the environment or the outdoors should enjoy this book. The characters are varied and colorful. The book  shows that a scientist with an open mind can help move people beyond their presuppositions.  And general readers involved in various issues in their own areas may find Houle’s approach valuable.  Because Houle listened to the ranchers as well as fellow biologists and developed connections in the local community she was able to elicit cooperation from both sides. In a period when many disagreements turn contentious or nasty, her experiences should be a reminder that we may be more successful if we don’t demonize people with different backgrounds and views.

Reviewed by Sara V.


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