Reblog: Wonder on the Wing, from Holy Wild

Here is a short excerpt from Alison Leigh Lily’s blog, Holy Wild, which deeply resonated with me. You can read the full article HERE.

Sometimes the very concept of “wildlife management” seems problematic to me. The desire to have a positive impact on the environment can be twisted into the beguiling belief that “technological progress will save us” from the consequences of our past and we need only sit back and enjoy our supremacy. Sometimes I think what we really need is a bit more human management: more self-restraint, more humility in the face of natural forces whose consequences we don’t (perhaps never can) fully understand.

12 thoughts on “Reblog: Wonder on the Wing, from Holy Wild

  1. Part of the problem is that we have destroyed vital parts of many chains, such that we either have to replace what we’ve removed (by thinning trees, culling un-predated deer etc) or let the unbalance we have created continue unchecked. There are no tidy answers, unhapppily.

    • Nope. However, I’m a firm believer that nature will balance itself out if we just leave well enough alone. Take deer culling, for example. If we don’t cull them, then yes, many will starve, and those that survive will be weakened. This means that they will produce less offspring each year, and will eventually balance out to match their food consumption capabilities in a given ecosystem. By culling them, we’re just keeping already too high numbers in place… x

      • And in the meantime, the damage done to woodland by starving deer – who will eat bark if all else fails – is colossal. There’s the woodland wildflowers that have adapted to pollarding cycles and don’t grow if the trees aren’t cut – possibly something that originates with the lost aurochs. I think we’re going to be disagreeing on this one 🙂

      • I try to focus on reasons to hope — though sometimes those reasons are double-edged swords. One ray of hope is that a landscape doesn’t have to be pristine in order to recover from environmental harm. Take the Chernobyl disaster, f’ex. Maybe one of the worst ecological disasters in history, it’s hard to think of anything more devastating to a landscape than the equivalent of a bomb blast followed by long-term radioactive contamination predicted to last possibly for centuries…. But less than three decades after the event, although there have been mutations, shorter life spans and increased infertility in many species living in the area, on the whole the place is now a thriving wildlife preserve. In fact, it’s experiencing a “biodiversity bloom” and species have quickly adapted to deal with the radioactivity. Yay!

        On the other hand, that also makes it clear that human encroachment was, by far, much worse for the environment than the nuclear disaster itself. It was because humans were forced to evacuate the area that the region was able to recover the way it did. So….. yay?

        I think that, if humans were suddenly to disappear from Europe, the deer would probably recover and find an appropriate population balance in a decade or two at most, without doing permanent harm to the forest ecosystem as a whole. But since humans are not going to just disappear, obviously there needs to be some other solution. Even simply stopping the culling wouldn’t mean humans weren’t continuing to affect the deer populations in other ways (probably most importantly, by keeping out the deer’s other predators). So Nimue might be right that merely stopping the culling would just result in further damage to the forest…. but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more effective ways of dealing with deer overpopulation than relying on human hunters, and some of those ways might involve less direct human management and involvement so long as it was applied effectively.

      • Yeup – it’s a thorny issues, with different solutions that are all valid to their constituencies. What was it I read the other day – I think it was a David Bowie interview, where he said something along the lines of “You can’t really solve a problem with the mind that created it” or something along those lines, just with a lot more eloquence and utter gorgeousness than is humanly possible…

  2. Thanks for the reblog, Jo! 🙂

    The deer situation is another great example of how messy it is to attempt “wildlife management”… One of the reasons human hunting makes for such a poor population control on deer is that the predator-prey relationship isn’t just a matter of who lives and who dies, but how survivors (both prey and predators) change their behaviors in response to the presence of the other. Deer are just not as afraid of humans as they are of their natural predators (such as wolves, bears, cougars) because, evolutionarily, we’ve been a threat to them for a much shorter time (and as a species, we’ve also provided them with a lot of benefits, like beautiful manicured lawns and gardens for them to hang out in!). Even if humans were to kill “enough” deer in a given season, the deer would continue to overgraze and overbreed because of this lack of fear. But even a few natural predators in the area will lead deer to behave differently — lifting their heads to check their surroundings more often, moving on to a new grazing area more frequently, behaving more skittishly in general — every action they take is now weighed against the potential threat of a predator being nearby. As a result, they eat less and they breed less frequently. And so, even a small wolf pack can control a deer population more efficiently and effectively than a larger-scale human-directed culling ever could (and, ironically, with a smaller actual death count in some cases).

    But then, of course, with an increase in large predators you get an increase in human-wildlife conflicts that can do harm to both — especially with territorial animals that need large areas to survive. Conflicts with cougars out here, f’ex, are almost always the result of a young male being driven out of his parents’ territory and needing to establish his own. He ends up wandering too close to human habitation, usually because he’s not old enough or experienced enough to know better, and then next thing you know, you end up with a dead cougar on the highway, or a couple of worried pet-owners freaking out because their yippy chihuahua is missing from the backyard…. or both. Sigh.

    What’s the solution? I have no idea. And it doesn’t help that the study of ecology and landscapes as interconnected ecosystems didn’t really get started until many of those systems had already been severely damaged and distorted by human intervention, so that we don’t always even know what a healthy natural system looks like. (In a bit of good news, that’s what’s happening with whale populations right now — turns out, their recovery over the past few decades is having a hugely beneficial impact on ocean ecosystems, much more than scientists had predicted!)

    Which is why I throw my hands up and err on the side of biodiversity. Because if humans don’t know how to help… well, maybe some other species will know what to do. 😉 The more contributing voices and influences we have, the better.

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