The voices and places of wolves and the working West: Working Wild U podcast debuts
In April of 2020, Jared Beaver was examining how extension might diversify and be nimble in uncertain times to provide on-the-ground extension. At the time, he was working with Alex Few of Western Landowners Alliance on the Conflict Reduction Consortium and the conversation turned to the possibility of a podcast that could focus on the work of the two programs identifying the human needs with wildlife issues and how a story could be told that would speak to those in working land conservation to sustain the connected American West. Now, the two host the Working Wild U Podcast, a cooperative effort between the WLA and Montana State University.
Beaver grew up hunting, fishing, and enjoying as much of the outdoors in North Carolina. He received his bachelor of science in biology from Wake Forest University. Prior to starting his master’s degree in wildlife and fisheries sciences at the University of Tennessee, he worked with the National Park Service in Great Smoky Mountains National Park assisting with elk management and feral swine and nuisance bear control. After completing his master’s, he moved to Texas for his Ph.D. at Texas A&M University–College Station studying various aspects of white-tailed deer population ecology and habitat management. During his time in Texas, he also worked for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service as the program coordinator for Water and Natural Resources for Bexar County. After completing his Ph.D., he returned to North Carolina for a post-doctoral research position at WFU where he developed and implemented a local wildlife research program. He is a certified wildlife biologist.
“I’ve always wanted a position that blended this aspect of applied, meaningful research with life applications as well as the one-on-one connections with private landowners and land stewardship,” he said. “My major professor at the University of Tennessee was a wildlife Extension specialist and I liked that ability to have this off-campus education and outreach and the connection to the people with this generational knowledge and being able to incorporate that into my research.”
When such a position opened, he jumped and is now an assistant professor and wildlife Extension specialist at Montana State University. While much of his career has focused on population ecology and habitat management of large mammals, particularly game species, his program at MSU is continually looking for ways to blend wildlife research with applied management by identifying conservation opportunities which have direct relevance for private landowners and wildlife managers in an effort to advance science and provide the most relevant, accurate, and unbiased research-based information and educational material.
Alex Few grew up in Texas and rekindled her love of nature at the University of Texas while working on a bachelor’s in biology, where she discovered a passion for the human brain. She followed this passion to the University of Washington in Seattle to study the molecular mechanisms mediating calcium-dependent short-term synaptic plasticity. She said long days in the laboratory staring out the window at Mount Rainer called her to a different career closer to the mountain wilds. After finishing her Ph.D., Few traveled the mountains of the American West, Austria, Australia, Argentina, and Canada before settling at the southern edge of the Great Basin Desert in Bishop, Calif.
She traded a microscope for binoculars when she landed a job monitoring federally endangered bighorn sheep across High Sierra summits. That job would ultimately introduce her to her future husband, a Wyoming helicopter cowboy named Grant who captured wildlife for state agencies around the West. She eventually moved north to Grant’s farm in Powell, Wyo., to start a family and work for USDA-Wildlife Services.
All these experiences, she said, have helped Few appreciate the complexity at the intersection of wildlife conservation, political ecology and land management. At Western Landowners Alliance, she found a place to put this necessary nuance to work as the working wild challenge coordinator.
Much of the content in the first four episodes that have been released thus far centers upon cooperation and trust. He said later episodes also discuss how so many of the issues are playing out in real time in Colorado.
“What we eventually see is if we come to this radical center and people are actually communicating with one another, we may not be as far off from a shared vision as we think if we can get away from some of the loud extremes,” he said. “We wanted to tell these immersive stories that have a cultural knowledge and a science focus.”
TELLING THE STORIES
The stories of predators and the working West, he said, is comprised of economic, social, and ecological issues that are all complicated. Those are the stories he and Few tackle in each episode and in doing so, the pair speak to on the ground experts of all stripes and viewpoints. Each episode, he said, takes listeners to a specific place on the landscape and the interviews the two have completed are woven together with that place to tell part of the story.
“We want to show the passion all these various groups, particularly our land stewards have, about open spaces, wild places, and healthy communities,” he said. “They are essential to sustaining both people and wildlife so Alex and I in our day to day talk to all of these incredibly knowledgeable people and that’s part of how the podcast came together.”
It is their hope there is value for the people directly involved, but also for those making decisions as well as the urban audience that may be disconnected from the issues or just don’t completely understand what it means to live with wolves on the landscape.
The first episode, Wolves in the West: Defining the Problem, discusses how people’s values impact how they think about wolves be it a symbol of wildness or a threat to their livelihood. The second episode, How did we get here? takes place on Albert Sommers’ operation and the Green River Drift and discusses the land management policies that shaped predator eradication, public lands, and the modern day West. Episode 3, Whose blood, sweat, and tears are in your hamburger? discusses who pays the cost of supporting biodiversity on the landscape by visiting a ranch that is creative in how they approach sharing the landscape with wolves and maintaining open space. The newest episode, Return of the Wolf: A landscape of Fear is told from Julia Childs’ family ranch just outside Yellowstone. The episode explores wolf introduction and recovery through the lens of the Endangered Species Act and features input from Wyoming-based attorney Karen Budd Falen and Caroline Byrd, a consultant for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and others.
The first four episodes are available now and, with a short break for the holidays, new episodes will release weekly through February. The hosts request that listeners support the show and visit the show notes page to complete a listener survey to drive new episodes.