Library Author Series returns with acclaimed journalist
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Acclaimed science journalist Michelle Nijhuis will join the Bud Werner Memorial Library Author Series on Monday evening to discuss her new book, “Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction.” Her book traces the history of conservationism from the movement’s key players and organizations, explores current efforts to protect certain species and highlights the relationships between humans, species and the world in which we live.
Q. How did you become interested in science writing originally?
A. I majored in biology in college and then made a living for a few years afterwards as a field tech on wildlife biology projects. I got to do things like follow desert tortoises around and count desert plants after wildfires. I became interested in why the scientists were doing what they were doing and the questions that they were pursuing. I always loved writing, and that realization drew me to journalism, which allowed me to still be out in the field a lot and get to make connections about why scientists did what they did and what that means for our everyday lives, which is something that I’ve always found so rewarding.
Q. What led to the decision to write a book?
A. I think probably every journalist thinks about trying the long distance run that is book writing. I’ve always been interested in the history of conservation. There are so many stories about protecting other species, and I started to feel more and more strongly that it would be worthwhile to look back at the history of conservation — the successes and the mistakes that were made along the way and how we could use those going forward. And I knew that wouldn’t fit into a 5,000-word article.
Q. With so much history and material, how did you choose what to focus on?
A. That was a huge challenge, trying to represent what is a very complicated, at this point, international movement that has been at work for over a century. I ended up finding my way through the history by choosing characters who were both prominent and not so prominent who brought about some sort of turning point in the conservation movement that I felt was important. I dove into their personal stories a little bit and looked at how their work represented a broader realization in conservation at the time. … That helped me find my way through what otherwise would have been a very confusing and overwhelming amount of information.
Q. With a work of nonfiction, was it difficult to bring the “characters” — conservationists of the past — to life in a way that was vibrant and compelling?
A. It was important to make these historical characters three dimensional and relatable. I love reading history books that can do that, that make you feel as though you’re living in another place and time but still makes the characters feel alive and relatable. What we know about conservationists is often centered around famous names or icons — Rachel Carson, for example; most people have heard of her. But these people didn’t realize that they would become icons. They just did what they felt they needed to do to protect a species that they loved. I wanted to portray them as they were and how they would have been perceived in the time period that they lived in. It’s very hard to emulate an icon, but it’s easier if you can relate to them, especially when they share your love of other species.
What: Bud Werner Library Author Series with Michelle Nijhuis
When: 7 p.m. Monday, March 22
Sign up online for the virtual event at steamboatlibrary.org/events/library-author-series/belovedbeasts
Q. A central theme of the book is the relationships between humans and other species. Can you talk about why this is so important?
A. What conservationists have recognized in the last century is that this is a movement — it’s not about saving individual species, but rather, it’s about saving relationships: between humans, between habitats. What I hope people will take away is that these successes were not predetermined. Conservation has accomplished a lot in the last 150 years, and the successes came about because people acted and made decisions that led to the protection of these endangered species. There are many species walking around today because of the good work and effort of the people who came before us. We are facing huge challenges, but the future is not set, and we still have many opportunities to bring about success that people in the future will be grateful for. We can’t save everything, but we can save a lot, and we can’t give up now, especially not after everything that we’ve learned.
Sophie Dingle is a contributing writer for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. She can be reached through the editor.
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