Wild Bison or Hatchery Bison?

Wildness in bison is maintained by evolutionary agents like harsh weather, native predators, competition for forage and mating. Photo George Wuerthner 

Many bison advocates assert that bison have been “saved” from extinction because approximately half a million animals are now found in zoos, ranches, tribal reservations, state parks, national parks, and other public lands. Bison are not in danger of extinction.

However, most of these herds are domesticated and gradually losing their wildness. All bison herds have suffered some degree of domestication. The issues are not the number of bison but the quality of the bison and the question of domestication.

Domesticated bison herds are analogous to fish hatcheries, where research has documented significant genetic and behavioral changes that occur with domestication.

Hatchery fish are artificially bred and raised in controlled environments, with specific selective pressures removed, such as female choice and male-to-male competition. Hatchery fish are also more likely to have diseases and are generally less fit for survival.

Nevertheless, by occupying the same space and habitat as wild fish, hatchery fish increase competition for food and may increase exposure to predators and other impacts. These findings are one reason the state of Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Department gave up fish stocking in rivers decades ago.

A synthesis that looked at the effect of hatchery fish around the globe found that hatcheries harmed wild fish 70 percent of the time. One study in Oregon found genetic changes in hatchery fish after just one generation.

Hatchery fish production degrades wildness. Hatchery fish are less fit for survival in the wild. Photo George Wuerthner

The bottom line is that domesticated fish are less able to survive in the wild, while harming the existing wild fish at the same time. Hatchery fish also create the illusion that salmon, trout, or other species are being “saved” from extinction, but,  in reality hatcheries destroy the wildness of fish.

All of the bison herds in the U.S. are hatchery animals—giving the illusion that bison are being saved from extinction.

WHAT IS A WILD BISON

Wild bison are subject to evolutionary selective factors such as predation, mate competition, availability of forage and water, disease, and severe weather. These selective factors determine an individual’s fitness and which individuals are best adapted to their environment.

Mobility is one of the major attributes of wild bison. Bison need landscapes big enough to preserve mobility as a wild trait. Photo George Wuerthner 

Mobility is the major adaptive feature of bison, thus, large landscapes are necessary to preserve wildness.

The least “farmed” U.S. herds are found in Utah’s Henry Mountains, South Dakota’s Wind Cave National Park, Utah’s Book Cliffs, and Yellowstone National Park. In particular, the Yellowstone N.P. herd and the Grand Teton N.P. herd hold the most “wild” bison of all because native predators still influence them. Nevertheless, ongoing policies like test and slaughter, tribal hunting, and other measures are reducing the wildness of bison.

Domesticated bison typically experience fewer selective factors or their ability to adapt are mitigated to some degree. Domestic bison are often fed in the winter; there are few or no predators; they are vaccinated against disease; and breeding may be manipulated by human selection. They are often culled. Fences, hunting, and other factors also inhibit the free-roaming nature of wild bison.

Yellowstone’s bison are the most genetically intact bison in the United States. Photo George Wuerthner 

Most domesticated bison herds also share genes with cattle. There are few genetically pure bison left in the West. The Henry Mountains bison are among the few without genetic integration with cattle. According to the latest research, Yellowstone’s bison are the most genetically intact bison, with over 99.7 percent genetic purity.

As bison advocate Jim Bailey wrote before his death, “Wildness will be retained only in large wild places where natural selection operates.”

What we see across the spectrum is bison being domesticated. Sometimes rapidly and, in other instances, more slowly. But in all instances, even in Yellowstone National Park, bison are losing their wildness. They are becoming “hatchery bison” with the same deleterious  effects as are experienced by hatchery-raised trout or salmon.

Nearly all the existing bison herds on ranches, tribal lands, and state and national parks are inadequate for retaining wildness. At present, only Yellowstone National Park comes close to meeting the requirements of a large landscape where bison wild genes can be maintained.

Wildness is lost to the degree that human manipulation influences bison survival. The greater the degree of human intervention, just like hatchery salmon, the more rapid the loss of wildness.

Even though Yellowstone retains the “wildest” bison left in the lower 48, current management practices still erode wildness. The annual culling of bison for slaughter by the National Park Service and the slaughter of bison by tribal entities when the animals leave the Park, even the harassing of bison to keep them from being killed, are slowly destroying the bison’s wild genome.

Tribal hunters gutting a bison killed just outside of Yellowstone Park. Tribal hunting degrades the wildness of Yellowstone bison in multiple ways. Photo George Wuerthner

The bison being killed are those with the instinct to migrate and are the first to be shot when they stray outside the Park. The hunters, rather than selecting animals that are weak or old as native predators would do, kill all age classes of bison in an unnatural selection.

The hunter’s destruction of older female bison, typically the herd’s leaders, removes cultural knowledge of how to survive in the landscape—things like where it’s safe to give birth or where to cross a river, and other cultural knowledge passed on from generation to generation.

The loss of bison from the park ecosystem also has impacts. A dead bison is a huge windfall for a grizzly or wolf, not to mention other predators, from coyotes to ravens. The removal of bison also reduces the influence of their grazing on plant communities.  Bison are a keystone species that has a disproportionate impact on ecosystems.

While human predation on bison existed in the past, it was different from today’s hunter who chase bison with ATVS, use high-powered rifles, and removed the animals carcasses with pickup trucks. To the best of oour knowledge, bison have no adaptative strategies to counter such predation influences.

For millennia, groups of  bison were killed with buffalo jumps or occasionally by hunters on snowshoes who would capture bison in deep snow. But such predation pressure had little influence on the overall bison populations.

Once tribal adoption of the horse occurred in the 1700s, it changed Indian predation and related cultural practices. The ability to track and kill more bison led to human population growth, more intertribal wars, and more mobility of Indian people. The mounted hunter because in effect a new super predator. With the augmented ability to find bison, slay bison and utilize bison in trade.  Horse mounted tribal hunters were one of the major influences leading to bison destruction across the West.

None of these impacts are acknowledged by the agency people, the tribal hunters who annually slaughter of bison, or their conservation advocates like the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, National Parks and Conservation, Sierra Club, and others who put treaty “rights” ahead of what is good for bison.

HOW DO WE PRESERVE WILDNESS

The first goal of wild preservation is retaining a large enough population across a large landscape for genetic diversity. Larger populations are less likely to suffer from genetic losses.

Yellowstone bison are subject to harsh winters, forage competition, native predators, and other influences that maintain their “wildness.” Photo George Wuerthner 

All bison in the U.S. are descended from very few individuals. The Yellowstone bison, for instance, started with approximately 25 individuals. This means the herd began with a bottleneck of limited genetic diversity. This loss of gene diversity is especially pronounced in bison since one bull may breed 10-20 females, significantly reducing the possiblity for varied genetic contribution to the resulting calves.

Small populations suffer from genetic inbreeding, genetic drift, and bottlenecks which are the reasons why we need to aspire to larger bison herds than exist today.

Although estimates vary, the few authorities on bison genetics believe a minimum of 3,000 animals is necessary to retain sufficient genetic diversity. However, other authorities have told me that 10,000 animals are essential in the long run (100 years). A metapopulation of 10,000 could be maintained in the Yellowstone ecosystem by establishing additional interbreeding herds on adjacent national forest lands.

Yellowstone National Park’s draft EIS on bison management has some positive aspects in that regard, including the proposal to stop bison capture, testing, and slaughter in the Park. However, the DEIS proposes that tribes slaughter more bison on the park border for cultural reasons. Cultural values are not the same as biological values.

Among the problems associated with tribal hunting adjacent to Yellowstone is the indiscriminate killing entire family groups, by tribal hunters. Such behavior by tribal hunters changes the age structure and sex ratios in bison herds. Bison herds living with native predators like wolves and bears tend to have older mean ages since native predators tend to remove calves and yearlings. Prioritizing tribal bison kill will only lead to a greater loss of bison wildness.

Bison behavior is also influenced by a dominant and subdominant hierarchy. For example, dominant cows have access to more forage of high quality than subdominant cows. These relationships are disrupted by the indiscriminate culling by tribal hunters or by agency test and slaughter measures.

“Conservation bison” at the National Bison Range are culled annually, forced to move from pasture to pasture, and in other ways being domesticated. Photo George Wuerthner 

“Conservation” herds like those at the National Bison Range stabilize bison numbers at a pre-determined level by culling “excess” bison. Conservation herds might sound like a good thing, but most are still managed like  livestock.

Wild bison, which may reach a carrying capacity level, are forced to compete for forage, space, and water. This results in the selection for aggressive individuals who may have greater adaptation to cold, perhaps more efficient digestion, and other traits. Even Yellowstone N.P.’s bison herd is managed for an artificially set population goal, which can negatively impact bison diversity.

Wild bison herds have a natural 50/50 distribution of male to female. Breeding competition is intense; only the fittest bulls do most of the breeding. In smaller herds found on “conservation herds,” ranches, or tribal lands, the tendency is to control breeding access to a few bulls artificially, thus further  reducing genetic diversity.

PRESERVATION OF WILDNESS

If society wishes to preserve wildness in bison, we must radically change how bison are treated. Even the best so-called “conservation” herds on state or federal lands, like the animals at the National Bison Range, are domesticated.

The best opportunity for retaining wildness in bison are the herds in Yellowstone National Park. However, even these animals are subject to artificial selective pressures.

The state of Montana relies upon brucellosis, a disease that can cause abortion of fetus in cattle, as the cudgel or excuse to keep wild bison hemmed in the Park and adjacent land. The state of Montana has made it illegal to transport bison in the state and has given the counties have the power to veto bison restoration.

Test and slaughter by the NPS require the capture of bison within the Park. If bison happen to avoid capture in the Park, they are often killed by tribal members as soon as they wander outside of the Park boundaries.  In all such instances, there is removal of bison biomass from the ecosystem which affects bison wildness and harms the Yellowstone ecosystem. These practices should be terminated. Bison should be permitted to move outside the Park to other federal lands like other wildlife.

Expansion of bison to suitable habitat throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem can create a meta population large enough meta population to ensure wildness. Photo George Wuerthner 

Expanding Yellowstone bison numbers outside of the Park is one of the best ways to ensure wildness. Creating a metapopulation of interbreeding bison within the Park and on adjacent national forest lands could go a long way towards retaining wildness.

The creation of other wild herds is also necessary. Yellowstone bison could be transferred to the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding BLM lands along the Missouri River in central Montana.  The American Prairie Reserve contemplates a 3 million acre area dedicated to bison restoration which would surround the existing public lands base in Central Montana.

The Oregon Buttes in Wyoming’s Red Desert. The Red Desert is the largest unfenced area in the United States and a suitable place for restoration of wild bison. Photo George Wuerthner 

Wyoming’s Red Desert region is the largest unfenced area in the U.S. and well within the historic range of bison as is the Upper Green River near Pinedale. The establishment of wild bison in this region is another possibility.

CONCLUSION

The Public Trust Doctrine demands that bison be managed for the benefit of all citizens. One can’t be promoting wild bison while at the same time advocating for policies that reduce evolutionary influences. Such influences would include competition for forage in harsh winters or for mates, changes in age and population structure, removal of individuals prone to migration, or elimination of  bison who can intimidate predators. Beyond that the removal of bison from Yellowstone herds negatively affects other species that consume dead bison and or the plants that are influenced by bison grazing behavior and distributon.

So-called advocates for bison like the Buffalo Field Campaign, tribal groups, the National Park Service, and many conservation organizations like the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, National Parks and Conservation, among others,  all promote tribal slaughter of bison outside of the Park. At the same time, they suggest they value wild bison. What they are promoting is hatchery bison, not wild bison, and they are culpable in the gradual domestication of the bison genome.

The Missouri River flows through the Charles M. Russell NWR in central Montana. Photo George Wuerthner 

We need to expand the opportunities for bison recolonization of public lands in and around Yellowstone National Park, as well as restore bison to other extensive public lands such as the Charles M. Russell NWR, Missouri Breaks NM, and adjacent BLM lands, and then allow natural evolutionary processes to operate with a minimum of human inference.

Yellowstone’s proposed bison management plan suggests it will operate the Park as a bison “ranch” to produce living fodder for tribal gunners on the borders of the Park. This should be seen for what it is–yet another domestication of the Park’s bison herds.  Yellowstone bison don’t belong to tribal members, and suggesting Yellowstone’s bison should be managed to appease tribal interests is not in the public interest.

Removing livestock from public lands in these areas with the Voluntary Grazing Permit Retirement program would eliminate the brucellosis threat and thus the excuse that bison must be bottled up in Yellowstone National Park.

Unless we change our attitude and the ways in which we “manage” of bison herds across the West, we are just creating “hatchery bison.”

James Bailey’s book American Plains Bison: Rewilding an Icon provides a terrific overview of the issue of restoring wildness in bison.

You help this dream of wild bison by joining the Montana Wild Bison Restoration Council.

Comments

  1. Makuye Avatar
    Makuye

    As to “fed in winter, bison naturally move with the seasons, downslope in winter, and forage , again naturally only for a couple weeks maximum in their original large herds, which, interestingly congregate up and away from common riparian areas as night comes.
    This avoids and protects the yearly calves with the bodies and experience of the elder members.
    Bison , like most of us other mammals, ” mate-guard”, not through the small ungulate and human wealthy harems, but only as females approach estrus.
    The larger males, rather like human dominants, move in and mate with the females in heat, who tend to make the choice, like the urban human animal.

    The sole way that bison will be truly “wild-type” genetically, is through George’s freedom, which means the migratory habits i outlined.
    This requires no prevention of moving down Yellowstone, Madison, Missouri, and all the long drainages of the Rockies,
    This requires ending of vast ranch “property” and tolerance.
    I don’t know when they will again return to the Brazos Plain, and both Red Rivers, or the Minnesota, or the valleys of the Sierra Madre Orientale.
    The Upper Gren would be wonderful if the human herds congregating were driven out.
    This would benefit Pronghorn, Mule Deer, Elk, Grizzly and Wolf populations immensely.
    The Wind and Bighorn Valey, were the relatively thin human population controlled and driven out, would also be excellent habitat to restore, leading to the Platte.

    Too much accommodation of a single invasive species has been occurring for 170 years.
    The African Primate has for too long destroyed North American habitats where all of the mentioned indigenous species once shared.

    As to communicable diseases arising from overdensity, natural controls have been attempted for over a century, with the Kansas hog farm flu spreading worldwide around 1916-23. Since then, the only large outbreaks have been of HIV, SARS 1 and 2, some influenzas resulting from overdense domestic birds – think of your part as you consume in November.
    Some past controle resulted from fecal-oral transmission of poliovirus and Vibrio cholerae, both of which can sustain through human mixing of water usage.
    In fact a new Vibrio species has now evolved to thrive on that overpopulated Social Primate. I actually warned of this a decade ago. As humans have always congregated and remained sedentary, unlike the mammals mentioned, in and near estuarine environments, those richest of all habitats, will also remain a reservoir of comunicable disease, periodically adapting to that still-unwary host population.
    Mammals, as anyone who studies evolution understands, will either remain mobile, seasonally migratory, or will accelerate the adaptations of microorganisms.
    Guns, only extant for 750 years or so, will make no difference; nor will appeal to imaginary “Influencers.”

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      “Too much accommodation of a single invasive species has been occurring for 170 years.”

      Amen to that! 🙂

  2. Duane Short Avatar
    Duane Short

    BISON AND BEYOND

    Hu•man•ity need only to man•age itself.

    What about the words wild•life and man•age do human beings not understand?

    Wild means unman•aged. Man•aged excludes wildness.

    Hu•man•ity proclaims itself to be the opposite of wild. Hu•man•ity prides itself on being superior to the wild. Consult history.

    The first action man takes to control or influence the wild is a step toward domestication.

    The word domicile refers to the human occupation of a place. So first comes the livestock and then the human habitation. Ranchers claim this ain’t so, but it is. Just open your eyes.

    Modern hu•man•ity, at large, cannot recognize its actions against nature. Our actions are too imperceptibly small or unimaginably large to comprehend until the damage has occurred.

    The meaning of “wild” has unfortunately evolved and become twisted. In the collective human psyche, wild has changed to mean “a condition of nature that our species is willing to tolerate or set aside.”

    Early in human history, we were nomadic, or our domicile was primarily our home and perhaps a garden. From there, human domicile transformed from house and home to increasingly commercial enterprises. Today? Well. We all see the human footprint from aircraft windows and planet-orbiting satellites. Don’t we?

    Almost all animals except flighted birds and marine dwellers that once migrated freely to accommodate their seasonal survival are no longer allowed unfettered passage.

    Even birds, fish, and marine mammals have been cut off from historical feeding, mating, nesting and birthing areas because of global warming and habitat loss.

    Barriers created by one species (Homo sapiens sapiens) stifle or eliminate the freedom to migrate, roam, and disperse in search of food, habitat, and mates (i.e., a larger gene pool).

    Today, fences are but one barrier to wildness. Highways, channelized streams, residential and commercial developments, noise, commotion, toxins, and endless intentional and unintentional obstacles reduce or eliminate the essence of wildness.

    Freedom to roam is one of the fundamental elements of wildness. Where are the places today where wild animals run free and wild?

    Fact:
    Any action to manipulate, intervene, or otherwise control wild•life is to man•age nature into human submission.

    Cultivating plants and breeding animals to suit human specifications is only one example of intervention. We have been practicing this since domesticating aves and canines. Then came felines, bovines, equines etc. Pets are not wild animals.

    Homo sapiens sapiens, due in part to rampant Nature Deficit Disorder, has become so oblivious to the essence of wildness that we deem any “intrusion” of wild nature into “our” domain as unnatural. How twisted is this?

    From “our self-assigned undesirable” native plants like thistle to North America’s largest land mammal, bison, we shudder at the thought of these wild organisms occupying “our space.” Our aversion to sharing land notwithstanding, we cannot “man•age” wildlife into a state of wildness. No. We cannot. It is impossible. It is a lie to say we can.

    I am forever amazed at the mentality of so-called champions of nature and wildlife conservation who have long since succumbed to the mindset of modern man•kind that calls for the oxymoronic man•age•ment of wildlife. Again. What is it that people do not get about the “wild” in wild•life and the “man•age” in management?

    A massive mindset paradigm shift is needed. We must move from the illogical concept that the existing wild•life man•age•ment profession is a legitimate profession. This profession is as illegitimate as the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Wildlife Services (WS) program.

    Wildlife Services is a lie, beginning with its name. This small branch of government kills countless wildlife species every year to accommodate people who have encroached on wild•life habitat.

    A mindset paradigm shift is critical for the 21st Century. This paradigm shift should move toward more human man•age•ment. No. I’m not talking about mind control. Relax. While the WS posts flowery claims that it values wildlife, it does not. The killing of wildlife almost every time a citizen calls them is the rule, not the exception to that call. Do your research.

    We must steer people away from wildlife rather than corral wildlife from people. Herding wildlife from people has no upside.

    Keeping wildlife safe from livestock is essential, but this is another topic.

    The current wildlife man•age•ment approach protects people from wildlife rather than vice versa. The approach I suggest protects wildlife and people. Steering people away from wildlife preserves wildlife habitat and wildlife.

    The current government agency approach is an institutional form of planned whittling-away-wilderness and wildlife habitat.

    While the human population increases and spreads, wildlife will lose habitat under the current approach.

    Bison, as George Wuerthner writes, are being driven to extinction, hybridization, and domestication by the contemporary overarching mindset that underlies the whole of the wild•life man•age•ment profession and the resource extraction institutions that administer this illogical human behavior.

    Modern man embraces a perverted and unspoken definition of wild that includes bison behind fences and other human barriers to freedom to roam.

    Whether used by conservationists or anti-wildlife parties, the perverted concept of the word wild is becoming increasingly accepted.

    The word wild describes more than an animal that might kill a human. The word describes more than an animal that fears, runs, and hides from Homo sapiens sapiens. I find the word wild so self-explanatory that I feel silly belaboring its meaning. But the obvious, too often, is not.

    Many animals that now shy away from humans did not fear us in times past. Why? Because they were truly wild and did not possess an instinct to fear the most deadly species on Earth.

    Humans do not perceive wildness the way fully wild animals experience wildness. Herein lies the rub between me and the proud wild•life man•agers. I see wild as ‘wild,’ period. Wild is its own definition. Wild•life man•agers see wildlife as something to be man•aged.

    I am not talking about any specific wildlife individual of any given species. I am talking about the collective reality of how wild species live daily and from millennium to millennium. Evolution matters.

    Inarguable is the fact that today, few animal species live out their lives absent the influence of human beings. Perhaps a few deep ocean marine species, cave dwellers, and glacial ice-inhabiting organisms have yet to be impacted by human presence on Earth. Good for them.

    Human presence on Earth impacts all plants and animals that breathe our rapidly changing atmospheric composition of gases. Global warming is the elephant-in-the-womb (or egg) of every female and gonad of all animal species.

    The proverbial next human generation, without fail, inherits the impacts its parent generation bequeaths them, but so do all generations of all life forms. But wait. There is a monumental difference.

    Wildlife leaves only its remains. This becomes the fertile soil that supports their descendants.

    Humans leave our children with planetary destruction. Need I make a list?

    I know. It’s all fun, comfort, bounty, and convenience for our children, right? Yes, it is. But only until it’s not. Our descendants deserve more foresight from their parents and ancestors.

    Evolutionary processes produced Holocene plant life and wildlife. These species are disappearing en masse at the hands of one species. In geologic terms, Homo sapiens sapiens has been on Earth for a few seconds. In biological terms, we are newborns.

    Look what we’ve done in a split second and what we continue to do.

    I’ll put it like this. Mistakes that 4 billion living people of the past made more than double when we reach 8 billion living people.

    Don’t kid yourself.

    It is a grave mistake to think that 8 billion humans are twice as intelligent today and make the same number or fewer mistakes than the 4 billion people that preceded us.

    To grossly oversimplify:

    Math dictates that 8 billion people living today can make only 1/2 the mistakes that 4 billion people made to keep the rapid rate of planetary destruction somewhat stable. Numbers don’t lie, but how we interpret them can make liars of us.

    Remember. Earth has already been used and abused by our ancestors. This fact is especially applicable to the generations that comprise the rise of the Industrial Age and post-Industrial Age.

    Let’s say that 8 billion people want to reduce, by 1/2, the destructive impact that 4 billion people a few generations ago had on our planet. We must reduce our impacts to 1/4 the magnitude of the mistakes the 4 billion people made. We are failing miserably to meet this challenge.

    To highlight one such mistake:

    We are producing more CO2 emissions (not to mention the endless other negative environmental impacts) than ever before. This statement sounds horrible because it is.

    But there are solutions. We all know them. In our hearts and minds, we know what we must do to stop the madness of running full steam ahead into the abyss of ecological collapse.

    In a nutshell, we know that lowering consumption, using cleaner fuels, farming more intelligently, and re-wilding the planet are solutions. But the last and most universally misunderstood, yet most effective and quick solution to ecological collapse is…. (hint). Population.

    Reducing the human population solves virtually all the other human-caused problems. Reducing the human population might not stop polluting practices and an array of planet-destroying activities, but it will diminish them monumentally. Again. Consult math.

    We conveniently forget that all, yes all, causes of planetary problems leading to its inhabitability are human caused. We cannot blame nature. Nature is nature.

    Volcanoes, meteors, solar flares, and so on are blameless. They just are what they are. Nature is not accountable for anything. It’s nature, the very essence that made us.

    I know human beings blame the weather for problems. Blame? Really?

    As I see it, we have only two options.

    1) We can reduce human presence on this planet, or 2) We become at least four times more intelligent and translate this intelligence into suddenly consuming at least 1/4 of the resources our recent predecessors consumed. Show of hands for #2. Be honest.

    Have you recently looked around to observe human intelligence? Option two looks like a dark horse in the race to save our planet. So. Here we are.

    And here we go. I am NOT suggesting genocide or mass suicide, folks. Cool your jets. I do encourage us to employ the very natural and painless processes called “self-control and restraint” that will gently allow our numbers to diminish. No one dies in the process. We really should have fewer children. Increasingly, couples cannot afford many children in the first place.

    The question then becomes, “So what, now?”

    If we ask ourselves, we know the answer.

    Assuming the human population is allowed via humane attrition to decrease, we will be required to exercise restraint, at least until humanity, corroborated by the condition of our planet, becomes compatible with Earth’s finite capacity to maintain dynamic equilibrium.

    Presently, the self-described “all-knowing and all-wise” human species has convinced itself that it can fence, herd, cull, and otherwise man•age wild•life better than nature itself. Is this true? No. So, What now? Accept this truth.

    Oddly, this anthropocentric idea that “we know better than nature” approach to land and wildlife man•age•ment is rarely lauded by those who most feverishly perpetuate it.

    Humanists practice “we know better” forms of wild•lands and wild•life man•age•ment, but they rarely utter the claim that “we know better than nature how to man•age it.” Why do they not preach what they practice? They know this claim is false, but that has never stopped these humanists before, has it?

    Wild•life and wild•lands man•agers dare not speak what they practice because even they know that the words “they know better than nature how to man•age nature” is a demonstrable lie. So, they make up more intricate stuff to sell their practices to the public.

    These folks draw the public into the weedy details of science, when viewed separately, make sense to the unwitting. But the whole of all sciences scream otherwise.

    “Innocence about science is the worst crime today.”
    Sir Charles Percy Snow (1905-80) English novelist and scientist.

    Anyone who suggests that Homo sapiens sapiens possesses the knowledge and wisdom to sustainably man•age nature is blind. Many know this, but humanity at large cannot stomach this fact.

    Humanity is programmed to believe it can do anything it can conceive. If correct, does this make the idea of “doing something simply because we can” legitimate? Enter consequences.

    Math is the human construct we use to quantify things. But math can also qualify or disqualify ideas, beliefs, and claims. Let’s use a bit more math.

    So first, any ecological existence that falls short of 100% sustainability is a pipe dream. Do the math. We cannot consume and destroy our planet (including its wildlife) at a 99% sustainable rate and expect to survive to the point of 100% consumption of Earth.

    To this day on earth in 2023 the human population, which is approaching 8 billion people, has demonstrated no sign that it can or is willing to shoot for 50% sustainability. I dare say, given the current population, that we are living a lie to believe we can achieve 100% sustainability. We are just not that smart.

    A smaller human population would have no problem maintaining 100% sustainability. I see no other legitimate goal to have.

    Sure. We might clean up our act a bit, but to believe we can and are willing to stop consuming fossil fuels, eat less food, sustain our ecosystems, and deplete every resource this Earth has to give is to believe a lie.

    Second, as all-wise as Homo sapiens sapiens considers its collective self to be, it is not.

    Third, the ultimate complexity of biodiversity and the almost infinite soup of physical properties and interactions that support life on earth is light years beyond human comprehension. Light chasing its tail leads to darkness.

    So, what now?

    In terms of life on earth, humanity is in its terrible twos. We are sleepy kids. We behave as the child who resists a nap, acts out, and not in a good way. We are doing everything possible to stay awake and “up with the adults.”

    The adults are found in the wild. Wildness is our origin, our parent. Wildlife far surpasses our 10 seconds of Homo sapiens sapiens life on earth. The newborn is always celebrated. Newborns are showered with their every need (as long as the resources are available). But in time we are increasingly called upon to take of ourselves. We are called upon to be smarter, more responsible and to care for others. This is all part of the circle of human life.

    But a fitful, self-absorbed toddler must give it a rest. It must stop demanding its way. It must give in to nature. It must rest. It must nap. It must sleep. In time, it can awaken new and refreshed. But the kicker is this. While the child sleeps, the parents rest and rejuvenate as well. Every parent knows this. It’s a statement of the obvious. But not every parent gets to rest. They work tirelessly to supply the needs of the child or children. But “tirelessly” is a misnomer and no less so than the word wild•life man•age•ment. How many parents have met their demise due to depleting their bodily and mental resources? The parent denied rest meets tragedy. Their physical and/or mental health deteriorates, they snap, and sadly, some die.

    Child nor the parent, regardless of how many resources they consume, will live without rest and rejuvenation.

    It’s a fact. The child that never rests and sleeps lives to become an adult. So, it is with humanity. So, it is with the organism Earth.

    It’s time we recognize that finite earth cannot support infinite growth, whether it be economic or population growth.

    It’s time that Homo sapiens sapiens takes a deep breath, chills, and naps.

    When we, the children, nap (stop trying to have it all and have it our way) we will allow wild nature to have a breather. All parents need a breather now and then. Right? Wildness and wildlife are our origin, our parents. Earth is their parent, our grandparent of sorts. How much more abuse and overuse can Earth take?

    It’s time we cease our collective little human tantrum, take a nap (or at least a timeout), and give Mother Earth and Father Time a rest. Our parents don’t ask that much from us. Our grandparents ask less. They need rest, too.

    If humanity will calm down and stop demanding every shiny object we see and as much of it as we can possess, our descendants will open their eyes to a world of nature’s dynamic equilibrium, or as called in some circles, Eden.

    Yes. If left alone, as it has been for the vast majority of its four to five billion years of existence, Earth will find its dynamic equilibrium again.

    Of course, my metaphor is just that. But if applied in the spirit delivered, Homo sapiens sapiens will, perhaps for the first time in its history, allow wild to be wild as we enjoy the abundance only nature provides.

    Perhaps humanity will awaken to participate, rather than fight and try to hopelessly conquer, in the process of balancing this small, beautiful blue and green, and almost perfect sphere.

    I close with the obvious. It, this planet, is the only one we have.

    “It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.”
    Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) English philosopher and mathematician.

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      Yes, and now with two wars going on, and the real threat of a nuclear war, it doesn’t look like there is any hope for us changing in the future. It’s very dismaying.

      I know some, even many, people scoff at the term and don’t take it seriously, but ‘speciesism’ is real, and it makes perfect sense to me, because of all of the other ‘isms’ we have been guilty of over time. It’s as plain as day. Human-driven extinctions of other life, in favor of meaningless things, goes on constantly. Now we want to clutter the oceans with wind turbines, with the risk of extinctions of whales.

      Why would nature and other life on earth be exempt?

  3. Mike Higgins Avatar
    Mike Higgins

    Very informative, George. Thank you.

    Mike

    1. Mary Avatar

      Yes– thoroughly excellent. Pointing out that right now America hastens Bison’s path toward extinction by narrowing genetic diversity– cull by cull, hemmed-in population by hemmed-in population.

      Could culls be done with culturally relevant and historic tools, clothing, and transportation and no GPS– instead of the way it’s being done today (all modern technologies including GPS)?

      Could culls be done on released ‘hatchery’ animals– permitting the most-wild Yellowstone herds with their precious biological diversity to remain intact?

  4. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    We’ve certainly made a mess of things. It’s very disturbing. We only think of our ‘rights’, but never that of other living things on the planet. I’m tired of humans pushing for ‘their rights’ only.

    Why isn’t this, and the science from George’s other article about prescribed burns that was excellent as well, considered by our Interior Dept.?

  5. Mary Avatar

    Today’s Washington Post opinion published holds differently:

    In Maine, a return of tribal land shows how conservation can succeed

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/11/01/tribes-land-return-conservation-maine-penobscot/

    and make

  6. Wayne Tyson Avatar
    Wayne Tyson

    Every effort at rewilding and ecosystem restoration has value, “successful” or not–unless the work is detrimental to the asserted goal, a hopefully uncommon result. I’m not certain what rewilding means, but the California condor being jerked from the jaws of extinction might be an example. Wikipedia has a brief summary: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_condor . The rewilding process has been making encouraging gains; the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (in cooperation with zoos and other entities) continues to breed-and-release to supplement a small amount of reproduction in the wild.

    Yes, even the condor population “in the wild” may be unsustainable without help. Yes, perhaps the money could have been spent more effectively.

    But finding this magnificent author has made my day!

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