I just returned from helping my son with location scouting at Niagara falls. Its strikingly beautiful, especially in the winter. The crowds are gone and its bitter cold, but there are ice floes in the river and parts of the falls are frozen. The Canadian side still lights up the falls at night and the sheer power and magnitude of so much water flowing (in fact only 50% is allowed to release as the other 50% is used for power) overwhelms and puts us humans in our proper perspective relative to the awesome power of nature.
Falls at night
Power of the falls
But along with my visit to Sedona, Arizona last year, (which also is a natural wonder but not a National Park) what really stood out was its contrast to where I live now, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
Although I live next door to a National Park, I don’t of course live within the Park, but within what was designated a few decades ago as its larger ecosystem. This is an actual mapped area, you could call it a ‘buffer zone’ where its recognized these large megafauna need room to roam to survive.
And, true to its name, I regularly see all the large and small animals that make up this complete ecosystem in the lower 48, which includes wolves, grizzlies, elk, and the occasional bison that is allowed to leave the Park.
So what’s so great about this area you might say, as opposed to Niagara or Sedona? Both have the power to overwhelm through their sheer beauty and immense landscape. The difference are the animals. Even the Sierras, as incredible a jewel as they are, are NOT a complete ecosystem. Many animals that were there just 150 years ago are gone forever.
What Lewis and Clark encountered 200 years ago on their journey West is no longer, but a sliver of it can be glimpsed here in the Yellowstone Ecosystem. Just a sliver, but that sliver is our history, our heritage. No one would think of selling Monticello to create senior housing or a Walmart! Why should we not value our original landscapes and the animals that were here before us in the same way?
Everywhere in the United States, with the exception of Alaska, animals have been pushed out to accommodate the biggest and toughest animal–humans. And that is no exception in the Yellowstone ecosystem. The controversy rages here too as to who should have primary use of the lands–hunters, atvs, developers, ranchers, oil and gas?. Wolves are villified for killing elk that hunters could have taken. Grizzlies are constantly moved around when they get into lands too close to homes or into unprotected garbage. Bison are not allowed to leave the Park boundary. Ranches are sold to developers who parcel up the land into lots, crowding out habitat for large animals. Snowmobilers feel they should have the right to go wherever they choose, including the Park even when the science says differently. The animals are last on the list. And when that is how the priorities are set, what becomes of the land is Niagara Falls, Sedona, or at best a ‘safe’ wilderness like the Sierras; at worst we become like Europe, where their natural history is in the so-distant-past that its entirely unreachable in present-time.
Yellowstone and its ecosystem, unlike Alaska, is easily accessible by car to people from all walks of life, rich or poor. It is an opportunity to view in the flesh our rich natural past. Any person can do that from the safety of their car, and watch wolves or bears in the Lamar Valley. Or one can take more risks and venture into the back country. Even today, with this area protected and the reintroduction of the wolves, thereby completing the ecosystem fauna, the landscape doesn’t hold a candle to the enormous amounts of wildlife that was once beheld by the mountain men in the 1830′s. Yet, they are all still here, thanks to the enormous efforts of many men and women conservationists through the century.
In the U.S., there are many unique and beautiful areas, but there is no where like this area. Here we have the Serengeti of North America. And in my mind, we are not valuing nor protecting it enough, nor are we holding it in the proper perspective.
The proper perspective: This area, as well as more large tracts of contiguous land (Yellowstone to Yukon idea) is a wildlife first policy. This is our gift to our children and the future. This is our gift to the wildlife here.
Once we all realize what we have here, a jewel that is found no where else in the U.S. (Do we really want the last place where wild animals roam to be in Alaska, out of the reach of most ordinary folks?), we will change our approach and our views on a daily basis. No longer will we have on the Wyoming books archaic 1890 laws that allow trapping, an indiscriminate way to kill wildlife. No longer will we confine bison to the tiny Island of the Park because the cattle industry fears losing their brucellosis stamp. Nor will people call for the extermination of the wolves because they are having a harder time hunting in the spots they are used to.
We will make new laws to help support the wildlife in any way we can and preserve this area; not for ourselves or for any use we desire today, but because we recognize its’ specialness, and because, frankly, its the right thing to do.
There was a time, not long ago, when out of 60 million Bison that once roamed the entire United States, only 100 survived. In fact, it was thought that all bison were extinct, and that was what we, as a country, as a government, was trying to achieve. But in the early 20th century, around 100 Bison were found living in Yellowstone. An immense effort was made to bring at least some bison back and the bison that you see today living in Yellowstone are the result of that effort–the last pure genetic stand of bison living today.
When you go to Yellowstone, there is a power, a respect, a wordless reverence that wells up in your being just seeing these animals. Something deep and ancient reverberates in their presence. Imagine if those bison hadn’t been preserved? Those conservationists who helped preserve the bison of Yellowstone did an incredible service to future generations. We, living today, are the beneficiaries of their efforts.
We must make those same efforts today for generations that will be living 100 years from now, just as they did for us 100 years ago. That is how we should be looking at the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. That is how we should be making our laws, our plans, our actions.
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…”
Filed under: Wildlife Corridors | Tagged: Bears, Elk, Grizzly bears, Moose, Wolf, Wolf pictures, Wolves, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park | Leave a comment »