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Otters (video footage), connectivity, and Bison

Today I went back to Abbott’s Lagoon to do some tracking on my own.  I arrived late, around 11, and by then at least a dozen people, kids and adults, had tracked around the dunes.  Being vacation week, there were more people than usual during the weekday.  But I managed to find a lot of tracks regardless.

The first thing I came upon were four otters playing right under the bridge.  No other people were around so I took the opportunity to stay quiet and watch them with my camera.  They swam in and among the vegetation, then three of them got up on the sandy bank and rolled around.  Here’s a link to my YouTube video of them rolling.  From watching them, it appears they were cleaning and drying themselves with all that rolling, helping to maintain the insulative quality of their fur.

Otter print

Otter fresh scat (you see the otter leaving it in the video link)

Despite all the human prints, there were lots of pristine areas on the dunes with only animal activity, and boy was there a lot of it.  Bobcat, coyote, rodent, raccoon, and skunk as well as birds and these otters were visible.  Black-tail deer hang in the fields on the hike in.   The dunes are alive at night when the people are gone.  Its amazing to think all these animals are living and thriving so close to humans.

Every morning I walk the five minutes to Muir Beach and run the dog.  This morning the weekend crowds were gone and I was the only person out there at 8am.  On the way back to the parking lot, I noticed some fresh scat, left while I was at the beach, by a bobcat.

Marin County, which is part of the North Bay, is a fairly unique area being so close to the city.  Just across the Golden Gate bridge, it has tremendous amounts of open space.  Besides the Golden Gate National Recreation area, Muir Woods National Monument, Mount Tamalpais State Park, Point Reyes National Seashore, and Samuel P. Taylor State Park, all in one county, Marin has protected its watersheds.  Unlike San Francisco which imports its water from Hetch Hetchy in the Sierras, Marin supplies its own water from rainfall, with some imports from the Russian River in Sonoma County.  Mount Tamalpais is the weather-keeper mountain in the county.  Fog and rain patterns are determined by the mountain and all of its surrounding lands are part of Marin Municipal Water District.  The drainages providing the water runoff feeds into several lakes and reservoirs on the mountain slopes.  These are all protected lands, never to be developed.  In addition, Marin topography is a series of valley and hills.  The hills, in general, are protected Open Space, while the valleys are populated.  There are few connecting roads between the valleys over these hills.  Throw into the mix Marin Agricultural Land Trust, a trust formed by the large ranches patchworked around Point Reyes, and you have a lot of open space.

What makes this unique is that animals have a chance to move; there is a corridor of connectivity of open, protected lands that allows movement of animals all the way to the next county north.  Marin provides a template of how we can protect land in urban highly populated areas that allows for wildlife as well.  Cougars even live here and there has never been any incidents with people or dogs.  Even an occasional black bear has been sited here and probably there will be more in the future.  These are not wild lands, but urban lands with connective open space for humans and wildlife to live side by side.

The other night I was having dinner with some friends.  They indulged me for 10 minutes and listened to my impassioned spiel on how important our last remaining wild lands are, for our soul, for our grand children, and for the great megafauna of North America.  I can get lost in these passions.  At the end of it, my friend asked me “If you could suggest one thing I could do, what would it be?”  What a great question.  At that moment I had no answer.  I told her that I’ve racked my brain thinking about that myself.  I didn’t think what she wanted to hear was ‘Donate to such-and-such an organization’.  What she wanted to hear was what the one thing she could do to make a difference, despite the fact that it’s not her main passion and she lives in a city.

So today, at the beach, I thought about one main thing.  Its the one main thing I have for today.  Tomorrow I could change it.  I suggest the one main thing would be to visit Yellowstone and see the bison.  As you see the bison, read a one or two page article summarizing their complicated situation and plight.  Sure, everyone knows something about the wolves and their plight.  But the bison situation really tells the story about everything that is constipated and locked up right now with megafauna.  They are managed not as wildlife, but as livestock under the completely wrong federal agency.  They are not allowed room to roam.  And all the reasons why, the issues between the Cattlemen’s Association and bison advocacy groups, the culling that goes on by the Park, the difficulty acquiring winter habitat outside the park with connectivity, and the fact that bison are America’s iconic animal, one that was almost slaughtered to extinction…I think the plight of today’s bison should be the one thing every person in the United States should learn about.  The story of the bison might communicate to even a person living in New York why we must advocate for connectivity, wildlands, and room to roam.

The Iconic Bison

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3 Responses

  1. Hi. Love your posts. Hope to meet you one day. I currently live in southern Oregon but lived many years in Joliet, Montana and am familiar with the country where your cabin is. Every year I come to Cody and show at Cody High Style in September at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. I drive thru eastern Oregon (Malheur Bird Sanctuary), thru Idaho to West Yellowstone and over Sylvan Pass and thru Lamar Valley to Cody. To see the bison. Yellowstone is like the grand naval of the country to me and if I do not get that trip each year to see them, to marvel, to love them, to weep over them, something is off. I went through one year from Gallatin to West Yellowstone day in the early Spring. There were buffalo everywhere around Madison…one bunch of new mom’s close to the road. I stopped to take photos and watched a birth. I will never forget it. It was perhaps the most spiritual thing I ever saw in my life. I am a historian, I know the bison story. It meant alot to me. I have fought for their freedom. I still wish the Ghost Dance would have worked. Thanks. Happy New Year.

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  2. Makes me wonder how bison aid in creating habitat for other animals. The perceived negative effects of bison must be balanced by equally good effects somehow, we just can’t see them through our human lens ;).

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  3. I need to refresh my memory on that but a few things come to mind so I’ll take a crack at it. Their wallows were important sources of water in the dry-up season. Instead of just hanging around in one spot like cattle, they tend to graze really heavily, trample the ground, then move on. Prairie grasses evolved to adapt to bison and that kind of ‘abuse’ is important for their regeneration, akin to fire. I’ve watched bears in the spring spend a lot of time turning over buffalo pies, looking for earthworms, grubs, etc. Unlike cattle, they don’t congregate and just hang out around water, totally messing up a watershed and denuding it of vegetation, making it uninhabitable for fish as sediment accumulates from the run-off. In addition, I understand there is a connection between prairie dog and bison in preserving prairie biomass http://www.nps.gov/wica/naturescience/abstract-prairie-dog-and-bison-grazing-effects-on-maintenance-of-attributes-of-a-prairie-dog-colony.htm

    There is more which I will have to refer to my bison library.

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