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The Big Bad Wolf Makes Good: The Yellowstone Success Story and Those Who Want to Kill It

By Chip Ward

This article hit Truthout.org and some other alternative news outlets the other day and I wanted to share it.  It begins by exploring both the biological and intrinsic value of wolves in the West and goes on to talk about some of the political discussions regarding their reintroduction to the region.  The article ends with a call for a shift in thinking, a new paradigm.  I have included some excerpts from the article:

Here’s the piece we still don’t get: when we exterminated wolves from Yellowstone in the early 1900s, killing every last one, we de-watered the land. That’s right — no wolves eventually meant fewer streams, creeks, marshes, and springs across western landscapes like Yellowstone where wolves had once thrived.

The chain of effects went roughly like this: no wolves meant that many more elk crowded onto inviting river and stream banks where the grass is green and the livin’ easy. A growing population of fat elk, in no danger of being turned into prey, gnawed down willow and aspen seedlings before they could mature. Willows are both food and building material for beavers. As the willows declined, so did beaver populations. When beavers build dams and ponds, they create wetland habitats for countless bugs, amphibians, fish, birds, and plants, as well as slowing the flow of water and distributing it over broad areas. The consequences of their decline rippled across the land.

Meanwhile, as the land dried up, Yellowstone’s overgrazed riverbanks eroded. Life-giving river water receded, leaving those banks barren. Spawning beds for fish were silted over. Amphibians lost precious shade where they could have sheltered and hidden. Yellowstone’s web of life was fraying and becoming threadbare.

The unexpected relationship between absent wolves and absent water is just one example of how big, scary predators like grizzlies and mountain lions, often called “charismatic carnivores,” regulate their ecosystems from the top down. The results are especially relevant in an era of historic droughts and global warming, both of which are stressing already arid Western lands. Wolf reintroduction wasn’t a scheme designed to undermine vacationing elk hunters or harass ranchers who graze their cattle on public lands. It wasn’t done to please some cabal of elitist, urban environmentalists eager to show rural rednecks who’s the boss, though out here in the West that interpretation’s held sway at many public meetings called to discuss wolf reintroduction.

Let’s be clear then: the decision to put wolves back in Yellowstone was a bold experiment backed by the best conservation science available to restore a cherished American ecosystem that was coming apart at the seams.

Wolf predation accounts for only about 1% of livestock deaths across the northern Rockies, but those deaths generate disproportionate resentment and fear.

On one side is a historic/traditional resource management paradigm that sees our Western lands as a storehouse of timber, minerals, and fresh water; on the other side, a new biocentric orientation driven by conservation biologists who see landscapes as whole ecosystems and all species as having intrinsic value. At one end of the spectrum lie strip-mining coal companies; at the other, deep ecologists.

citizens generally won’t take [polluters] on until they grasp that the deepest link they have to their environment is their own bloodstreams. Once they understand the pathways from a smokestack or a poisoned watershed to the tumors growing in their children’s bodies, they can become a powerful force.

Today, a rancher who expects to do business in a predator-free landscape is no more reasonable than yesterday’s industrialist who expected to use the nearest river as a sewer.

We now understand far better the many ways in which nature’s living communities are astonishingly connected and reciprocal. If we could only find the courage to trust their self-organizing powers to heal the wounds we have inflicted, we might become as resilient as those Yellowstone wolves.

Entry #8 – 9/30/2010

 

 

 

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