Bruce L. Smith | Where Elk Roam

Published: October 15, 2012


The National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, WY, was established in 1912 to rescue and restore a declining population of “one of the world’s largest and most social deer species.” Author Bruce Smith spent 22 years at the refuge studying and managing elk herds that swell in excess of 20,000 animals during the winter months when the refuge maintains a feeding program.

The refuge, along with neighboring Yellowstone National Park, provides safe haven for the animals, and the success of the restoration remains “emblematic of an American triumph in conservation.”

Where Elk Roam, Conservation and Biopolitics of Our National Elk Herd, which was named a Montana Book Award Honor Book, explains how this very success brings “increasingly pernicious problems” of its own. High concentrations of animals in feed grounds can have detrimental effects on vegetation and the watershed, thus affecting other animal species.

Smith relates in fascinating detail the many aspects of maintaining the refuge and the struggle to keep a healthy herd. Along the way, the reader is treated to some incredible stories of animal behavior. Smith’s descriptions of tagging and taking vitals of elk calves, just hours old, are awe-inspiring.

The origins and deadly effects of chronic wasting disease and brucellosis are discussed at length, along with the attempts to control the spread of these destructive ailments, not only to elk but other animals.

Smith repeatedly stresses that human interference in nature, no matter how well intended, has consequences. He quotes Rachel Carson, who said, “Like the resource it seeks to protect, wildlife conservation must be dynamic, changing as conditions change, seeking always to become more effective.”

The author believes that education helps engage people in caring for the environment. Certainly, his informative and well-crafted book will challenge many readers by dispelling or clarifying their preconceived notions about animal behavior.

Smith retired from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2004 and now makes his home in Sheridan, where he is working on his next book.

– Judy Shafter

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