Conservation

Car-free National Parks

“No more cars in national parks. Let the people walk. Or ride horses, bicycles, mules, wild pigs–anything–but keep the automobiles and the motorcycles and all their motorized relatives out. We have agreed not to drive our automobiles into cathedrals, concert halls, art museums, legislative assemblies, private bedrooms and the other sanctums of our culture; we should treat our national parks with the same deference, for they, too, are holy places. An increasingly pagan and hedonistic people (thank God!), we are learning finally that the forests and mountains and desert canyons are holier than our churches. Therefore let us behave accordingly.”

Edward Abbey


I know, this is not a popular proposal. But it’s worth a thought.  I am sitting out a snow storm in April, waiting for the storm to move out, so I can ride my bicycle into Yellowstone National Park. It is still winter up here. Nevertheless, the Park Service has opened the roads for bicyclists, two weeks before they open the roads to cars. That’s the one chance to experience the interior of the park on bike before the summer onslaught.

Unfortunately the road to Old Faithful is still closed, due to heavy bear activity. Apparently the grizzlies have come out of hibernation and are munging on bison that have succumbed in the thermal areas to winter starvation.

Later this year, millions of tourists will line the roads and observe wildlife from the safety of their cars. Some will get out and try to ride a bison or get a selfie with a bear cub…

Not the park Ed envisioned.

 

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Conservation

Earth is not a Garden

Yesterday, I came across an article that touched upon technology efforts in the name of conservation: Algorithmic Wilderness: Robo-bees and drone-seeded forests: can technology mend our broken relationship with the natural world?

It was not so much the idea to develop drones doing the work of bees that puzzled me. Or the idea to plant a billion trees a year using unmanned aerial vehicles – the goals may be noble, but the approach worries me. Saving the world with technology? Nonetheless, this was not the painful part of the essay. The following sentence was more concerning:

Wilderness no longer exists. Humans have … irrevocably altered the conditions of life for almost every species on the planet.”

That realization hurt.

It was obvious to me that national parks are just some small protected islands that give us a glimpse what nature can look like. Most parks are too small to maintain a healthy ecosystem without human interference, and the human impact cannot be denied. However, some sparsely populated places like Alaska, Siberia, and Mongolia I thought would still be largely untouched by human activity. Apparently not so. I can see how climate change is affecting regions globally and our continued and renewed expansion into formerly protected areas, like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, certainly does not help the cause. It actually supports the notion of modern conservationist that tell us to give up the romantic idea of true wilderness, untouched by humans.

I must have lived under a rock. I had not heard of Green Modernists, or New Conservationists, Post-environmentalists or Eco-pragmatists until yesterday. These schools argue that we should embrace our planetary lordship and consider Earth as a giant garden. A garden, where we decide what grows, what gets harvested, and what gets eradicated. We are the gardeners calling the shots…

There is a flaw in this thinking: A garden is small enough in scale that we can control most parameters. We can even trick the weather, to a degree, using irrigation, green houses, artificial lights etc. When it comes to our planet however, that analogy fails. We cannot control nor trick the weather, and I am very doubtful that drones are suitable gardening tools to solve global problems. They also will not  change the tide of our current thinking that we can fix everything with smarter, better, and more efficient technology.

We simply need to become better stewards of the land. So much for today.

Find more details here:

Earth is not a garden

Some of the world’s most powerful conservationists are giving up on wilderness. They are making a big mistake.

 

 

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Conservation

Inspiration

We cannot overlook the importance of wild country as source of inspiration, to which we give expression in writing, in poetry, drawing and painting, in mountaineering, or in just being there.

Olaus Murie


Olaus Murie was the son of immigrants from Norway. He become a proponent of wilderness areas and a defender of the idea that predators are an essential component of functional ecosystems. He was a talented artist and analytical scientist, both with a strong passion. His efforts, together with those of his wife Mardy, lead ultimately to the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Their lives were shaped by a respect for nature, recognizing the importance of wilderness, and finding opportunities for responsible action.

Isn’t it ironical that our current president wants more immigrants from Norway while at the same time allowing the drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?

The above picture was taken in the Kluane National Park. It shows the base of Mt. Kennedy rising above the Lowell Glacier and disappearing in the clouds.

 

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Life

Winter Sun

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Winter Sun, Puntilla Lake, Alaska

A year indoors is a journey
along a paper calendar.

A year in outer nature is the
accomplishment of a tremendous ritual.

Henry Beston


Almost 100 years ago Henry Beston spent a whole year in a remote Cape Cod cabin and wrote the The Outermost House. He simply observed and described the change of seasons to an audience that could not afford or endure the hardship and solitude of such an endeavour.

“The world today is sick to its thin blood for the lack of elemental things, for fire before the hands, for water, for air, for the dear earth itself underfoot.”

Even more true today. A great read.

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Conservation

On the Move

“I assended to the high Country and from an eminance I had a view of the plains for a great distance. From this eminance I had a view of a greater number of buffalow than I had ever seen before at one time. I must have seen near 20,000 of those animals feeding on this plain.”

Meriwether Lewis


That was in 1806. By that time the bison were already in decline in the East. Within 75 years they were driven to extinction. 30 million bison may have roamed the prairies 200 years ago. That habitat is gone and has been replaced by farm land and urban environments.

Public domain photograph from the 1870s of a pile of American bison skulls waiting to be ground for fertilizer.

It is estimated that about 5000 bison currently roam Yellowstone National Park. Every year hundreds of bison are culled from the park (slaughtered, out of public sight) or killed by hunters, when the bison migrate out of the park during winter time in search of food. What a shame. We can’t provide enough space for a species that is considered an American icon?

By court order the National Park Service has been put into a tight spot. The State of Montana sued the Park in 1995 to control the number of bison wandering across park boundaries. The state claimed bison may transfer brucellosis to cows. Not a single incidence of such a transfer has been documented. To the contrary, it was non-native domestic cattle that gave bison initially. The claim also meant, that bison could not simply be captured and transferred. They had to be killed. Since 2000 more than 5000 bison have been eliminated from the Park based on that agreement.

Since most of this happens away from public view, this goes on mostly unnoticed. Advocates, locals, reporters, rangers, and politicians know about it. I assume, most visitors of the Park do not.

The bison is the one and only species depicted on the emblem of the National Park Service. Bison, grizzlies, and geysers are the main draw of Yellowstone National Park. Yet, in the surrounding communities there is little love for this iconic animal. Maybe national parks are just zoos with a little larger enclosure. Let’s keep the wildlife inside! Outside? Not in my backyard.

Go figure.

 

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One Man's Paradise

The Valley of Wolves

This is Lamar Valley, where wolves, elk, bison, and moose roam. On the ridges you can see mountain goats and bighorn sheep. If you are lucky you may find a wolverine or a cougar track.

Located at the Northern end of Yellowstone National Park this gem is occasionally compared to the Serengeti in Africa. More than 4.2 million visitors come to the park annually. Most of them visit in the summertime. Only 100.000 visitors come to see this amazing place in the wintertime.

It is one of the few places in North America, where you can see wolves on a regular basis. There are about 100 wolves living in the park, where they are protected. To follow the fate of wolves in modern times is rather gruesome. Even in National Parks, such as YNP, wolves were until about 100 years systematically eradicated, using poison, traps, and bullets.

Bison experienced a similar decline. Within 30 years bison were brought to the brink of extinction. 15-30 million bison have roamed the plains and valleys of the West, when the first settlers showed. I thought for a long time that bison were killed for their meat and hide. Now I am learning that bison were at the center of the livelihood of First Nation people. The army recognized that and assisted in the killing of bison, as a mean to suppress First Nation people [1].

Interestingly, Lamar Valley was the place, where the last wild bison were captured and protected from hunters and poachers at the turn of the century. In 1995-96 wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone. One of the holding pens was and still is located in Lamar Valley.

A place, rich in history. One could argue a little piece of heaven (if it weren’t for the 4.2 million tourists). Imagine what this place must have looked like before Western civilization arrived. The same goes for other locations, that did not have the same spectacular landscape as Yellowstone and therefore, did not get the same protection.

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Conservation

Word Wildlife Day

Did you notice?

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Yesterday was World Wildlife Day…

It feels, that celebration went rather unnoticed.

The UN website says “The fate of the world’s wildlife will soon be in the hands of the next generation.” I must disagree. The fate of the world’s wildlife, the fate of us, and the fate of us in our hands, besides natural forces. I think we should do everything we can, to stop loss of diversity due to human activity, such as deforestation, overpopulation, and resource extraction.

On one hand, there are efforts to clone woolly  mammoth and the passenger pigeon from preserved DNA, on the other hand we loose probably more than one species a day.

I have never seen a passenger pigeon. It was once the most common bird in North America. Due to deforestation and overhunting, passenger pigeons disappeared from the wild. In 1914 the last member of this species died in captivity. Her name was Martha.

R.W. Shufeldt, Osteology of the Passenger Pigeon

At that time nobody bothered to breed  and maintain the species. That was a mere 100 years ago.

Have we changed our attitude towards preserving wildlife?

Barely.

World Wildlife Day goes by largely unnoticed.

We have bigger fish to fry. Grow the economy, border up the country, go to Mars…

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