One Man's Paradise

Thanksgiving

“It’s not happiness that makes us grateful.

It’s gratefulness that makes us happy.”

David Steindl-Rast


I am grateful for a handful of friends that reach out to me and stay in touch, including readers of this blog, who give me a sense of belonging and purpose. I am grateful to have spent time in beautiful places and the ability to share moments of solitude, serenity, and happiness.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Conservation

Gentle Giants

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Musk Ox, North Slope, Alaska

One of my hopes coming up here was to see musk ox. Several groups of this hardy animal had been seen near the Dalton Highway, but they remained elusive, when I traveled up north. Then, one drizzly afternoon, there they were, walking next to the road. Smaller than expected, moving with poise despite hordes of mosquitoes swarming around their heads. What does that eye tell you?

Inupiaqs call this “the animal with skin like a beard”. Musk ox live in the open tundra, where there is no place to hide, not from weather nor from predators. Apparently they have changed little since the last ice age and are well-adapted to the harsh living conditions of the arctic.

Musk oxen are more closely related to sheep and goats than bison and buffalo, if you ask a taxonomists. They disappeared from Alaska in the 1800’s, due to over-hunting, what else is new? In 1930, 34 musk oxen were captured in Greenland and reintroduced to Nunivak Island. From there musk oxen were transplanted to former habitats. Today, there are more than 3000 musk oxen found in Alaska. Considering the size of the state it is still a rare event to spot one of these gregarious animals.

Some folks call this another success story in wildlife conservation. I call it another sad example of the devastating effect of inconsiderate human behavior that lead to the extinction in the first place.

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Conservation

Y2Y

Kaskawulsh-2

Kaskawulsh Glacier, Yukon


I did not know what Y2Y was until I discovered “Walking the Big Wild” by Karsten Heuer. As a young man, Karsten decided to travel from Yellowstone to the Yukon Territory by foot, ski, and canoe, following the trails of grizzly bears in the most rugged and remote ridges and valleys of the Rocky Mountains. This epic trip was in support of the Y2Y Conservation Initiative raising awareness for the need of wildlife corridors.

The establishment of wildlife corridors is a recent concept in wildlife conservation. Here is my current understanding how we got this point. National parks were created more than 100 years ago for the enjoyment of the people. We decided what that enjoyment was. In places like Yellowstone it was to protect the unique thermal features from human development. In Yosemite it was to protect the valley and the surrounding mountains from settlers, ranchers, and farmers. Some wildlife was also considered part of the enjoyment, such as bears and elk. Bears were fed and bear cubs were kept as pets and shown off by park personnel. Elk herds were considered great assets for a park to have. However, the initial mission of the national parks was not to protect wildlife. Wolves, for example were exterminated by hunters, trappers, army, and park rangers in Yellowstone National Park. By 1929 the last wolf had been killed in the nation’s first park. Apparently wolves were not considered part of the enjoyment at that time.

Over time studies by Aldo Leopold and Adolph Murie convinced park managers that predators are essential parts of intact ecosystems. Wolves were protected, even reintroduced, against much objection from a number of stakeholders, mostly ranchers. It was assumed that setting aside 2-5% of our lands for national parks would be sufficient to create small islands of “undisturbed” lands, which could sustain intact ecosystems. That number was later revised to 25% and up, which was never going to happen. There is no tolerance for national parks of that size. Not in a time, where for the first time the size of national monuments is reduced per presidential decree.

As an alternative to super parks, wildlife biologists suggested to create corridors, where wildlife can safely travel between protected or suitable habitats. The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative is one if those efforts to create a network of parks and connecting corridors that provide suitable wildlife habitats connecting otherwise isolated populations and thereby preventing local extinction.

Karsten Heuer’s book is not just about the adventure of hiking, skiing, and canoeing for more than 2200 miles in what’s left of the Rocky Mountains wilderness. During his trip he gave presentations to the public and the press about the purpose of his walk and the intentions of the Y2Y Conservation Initiative. You can imagine the kind of reactions he got. You may also be surprised how much appreciation and support there was from landowners, locals, and hunters.

The Y2Y Conservation Initiative was founded in 1993. Karsten completed his walk in 1999. 20 years later the program is still going strong. There have been ups and there have been downs. In 2004, Y2Y was recognized by the Canadian Geographic Society with a silver medal. Some parks were expanded, a lot of land has been developed. Reserve networks have been proposed in other states, such as New Mexico, Oregon, and Florida. Unfortunately, it appears we are just (2018) about to loose the last herd of caribou in the lower 48s. For them, it was too little, too late. This is the world we will be living in: land development and other human activities reduce the habitat required for sustaining healthy populations of wildlife. What was present in large abundance in the past, can be seen now only in parks and reserves. Tomorrow, you may have to visit a zoo, or go to your library and read about it in books…

The work is not done. I can only recommend this book. If you like it, there is a follow-up adventure: “Being caribou”. The author and his wife spent their honeymoon following the great caribou migration in Alaska. I would suggest, read the book first, then watch the amazing documentary.

If you want to follow up on the ongoing work of the Y2Y initiative please visit www.y2y.net.

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wildlife

White Buffalo

blogThis morning I had planned to shoot trees covered with hoarfrost, but when I opened my cabin door I had a bison browsing just off the porch. These bull bison are up to 2000 pounds and they are very agile, although most of the time they move very deliberately. Well, the fellow this morning took his time to munch on dry grass and scratch his head on one of the posts that mark the path between cabins. The bison was less than 20 feet away. I had just cracked the door wide enough to take pictures through the gap. I could hear his breathing, his jaws moving, and his hoofs in the snow. My hope was that he would not attempt to walk into the door…

He didn’t.

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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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Into the Wild

Wild harmonies

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Hélėne Grimbaud was labeled an uncontrollable, unmanageable and unpredictable child. Good for her. I think, some of these traits helped her to succeed as a classical pianist later in life. “Wild Harmonies” is an account of her upbringing in France, concerts all over the world, and her move to the US. In Florida of all places she would have her first encounter with a wolf that changed her life. Her life and work between wolves and music make this unconventional biography a worthwhile read. I can only imagine what a pleasure it must be to read her book in French. The English translation is stellar.

Seeing a wolf in the wild is an unforgettable experience. They are magnificent animals. Native American tribes recognized the wolf for its extreme devotion to its family, and  drew parallels between the society of a wolf pack  and that of a tribe. Also, the wolf’s superior and cooperative hunting skills made it the envy of many tribes. Unfortunately, the rest of the world attached an undeserved stigma to the wolf. It has been severely diminished in many of his previous hunting grounds in the Northern hemisphere. Russia and Canada have the largest populations of the Gray Wolf.

“The caribou feeds the wolf, but it is the wolf who keeps the caribou strong.”

Inuit proverb

 

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