“Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them.”

Bill Vaughan (1915-1977)

Today’s quote of the day got me thinking about a passage in State of Fear (check out the looonnngggg comments by Ian and me…). The writer mentions the situation in Yellowstone National Park in the US. It was the first national park in the world, and is pretty big and impressive. However, not long after it was set up, the park officials were worried about the number of wolves in the park and set an order to cull them. Due to the lack of predators, animals like elks became much more abundant in numbers, and hence consumed more food. The plants that they eat are the same that the beavers eat…hence leading to a decline in beavers, and a reduction in the number of ponds because they build less damns.

Less ponds in turn led to less succulent plants, a particular delicacy for a number of other animals including the grizzly bear when it emerges from that lazy time it calls hibernation. But also, the change in the water flow (from standing water to running water) saw a decline in the number of trout and other species that lived or thrived on the ponds.

A decision made in recent years to reintroduce the wolf has seen changes that were unexpected. Beaver numbers increased and elks numbers decreased, but many other animals were also affected. Coyotes numbers have declined due to the presence of a larger predator, and smaller predators have been able to feed off the wolves leftovers giving rising numbers of grizzlies, eagles, magpies and ravens. A decline in coyotes however, saw a huge increase in smaller animals that they feed on such as field mice and other rodents, which in turn provides more food for foxes…who’s numbers are on the increase.

This example does a fine job of pointing out how little we actually know about nature. Man is too quick to jump to conclusions due to his constant belief that he knows best. However, it also points out that there is no harmony in nature. We cannot attempt to preserve the world just the way it is (we can’t even manage our own gardens)…it is constantly changing, what we have to do is adapt. I’m not saying we should try to change it…just that we should let it run it’s course and do our best to fit in with it.

Tree, Plain of Jars, Laos

I reckon that our impact on this earth can be likened to pulling a leaf off a 50 foot tree (not a 50 foot tree pictured!). Sure it may not obviously be seen to be in the best interests of the tree (though not necessarily bad for it) but it is a truly minor event for such a large tree. The world is billions of years old…and will be here for quite a while too…we are but a spec on it’s timeline…and we will be washed away like the dinosaurs before us…and everything else that we don’t know about. I’m not saying that we should try and harm the planet…quite the contrary…we should do our best to not leave footprints…but we should spend less time worrying about the ones that we think we might be leaving, as we really have no idea how big the next foot to stand in it will be.

Reference for Yellowstone situation (new window).

7 thoughts on “Yellowstone

  1. Sorry, i had to. And i just finished a second comment on the earlier one…

    “However, it also points out that there is no harmony in nature. We cannot attempt to preserve the world just the way it is (we can’t even manage our own gardens)…it is constantly changing, what we have to do is adapt”

    I would have thought that the whole incident showed something rather different.
    Humans get rid of wolves – normal balance of things go out of tune and species begin to rise or decline in unpredicted ways – reintroduce the wolf and things happen unpredictably again.
    To me this shows what happens when you change things without thinking about them (ie pumping billions of tonnes of CO2 into the air or culling a top predator) you get a change to the status quo. You might ask ‘well who says its a bad change for the Earth?’ The Earth is a big rock – it doesnt have an opinion on the change – anything short of crashing into the sun us a neutral change for a planet. But for us (or indeed the wolves, beavers etc) things can change for the better or for the worse. Removing the wolves was good for the elks but bad for the beavers. For humans it was seen as bad because there were undesired changes.
    This simply illustrates why conservation ideas focus on trying not to alter things in the first place. I think its obvious how this fits into the much larger ‘global warming’ picture.

  2. Oh and that there was a natural ‘harmony’. Not static but there none the less and completely ruined by interference on such a scale.

  3. “Man is too quick to jump to conclusions due to his constant belief that he knows best.” How long did it take you to reach that conclusion? 😉

    Ian, have you considered the impact that beavers have on their environment? By building damns they significantly alter their local environment, thus causing some species to flourish and others to wither. Is that unnatural?

    What about species that are now extinct? The obvious example is of course the dinosaur. Is nature a static harmony? Why are those big guys not here any more? Or is, in fact, nature a constantly changing continium of which we are a part. Currently, the part with the greatest ability to effect influence, but a part nonetheless.

    I’m also curious as to your opinion on global warming. How would you define “global warming”? Is the planet getting hotter? When compared against what period of time? Based upon what data? Are polar ice caps melting? Are sea levels rising? Based upon what evidence? Have you researched the subject or are you simply agreeing with common media opinion?

  4. Hey, just to say i didnt say nature was a static harmony – i specifically said it wasnt static infact. Ultimately though things at any one time tend to be in some form of equilibrium.

    As to the global warming stuff i have said my piece on the other post. The things i mention there i have read about previously. For more detailed info i suggest a geographer or climate scientist.

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