Sunday, February 14, 2010

So What Are You Gonna Do About It? "In the space of a few generations we have laid waste to paradise."

In 1830, John James Audubon sat on the banks of the Ohio River for three days as a single flock of Passenger Pigeons darkened the sky from horizon to horizon. He estimated that there were several billion birds in that flock. It has been said that a squirrel could travel from the Atlantic seaboard to the Mississippi River without touching the ground so dense was the deciduous forest of the East.

At the time of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, an estimated 100,000 Grizzlies roamed the western half of what is now the United States. The howl of the wolf was ubiquitous. The California Condor sailed the sky from the Pacific Coast to the Great Plains. Salmon and sturgeon populated the rivers. Ocelots, Jaguars, and Jaguarundis prowled the Texas brush and Southwestern mountains and mesas. Bighorn Sheep ranged the mountains of the Rockies, the Great Basin, the Southwest, and the Pacific Coast. Ivory-billed Woodpeckers and Carolina Parakeets filled the steamy forests of the Deep South. The land was alive.

East of the Mississippi, giant Tulip Poplars, American Chestnuts, oaks, hickories, and other trees formed the most diverse temperate deciduous forest in the world. In New England, White Pines grew to heights rivaling the Brobdingnagian conifers of the far West. On the Pacific Coast, redwood, hemlock, Douglas-fir, spruce, cedar, fir, and pine formed the grandest forest on Earth.

In the space of a few generations we have laid waste to paradise. The Tall-grass Prairie has been transformed into a corn factory where wildlife means the exotic pheasant. The Shortgrass Prairie is a grid of carefully fenced cow pastures and wheatfields. The Passenger Pigeon is no more; the last one died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. The endless forests of the East are tame woodlots.

With few exceptions, the only virgin deciduous forest there is in tiny museum pieces of hundreds of acres. Fewer than one thousand Grizzlies remain. The last three condors left in the wild were captured and imprisoned in the Los Angeles Zoo. (An expensive reintroduction effort has since been started.)

Except in northern Minnesota and northwestern Montana, wolves are known as scattered individuals drifting across the Canadian and Mexican borders. Four percent of the peerless Redwood Forest remains and the ancient forests of Oregon are all but gone.

The tropical cats have been shot and poisoned from our Southwestern borderlands. The subtropical Eden of Florida has been transmogrified into hotels and citrus orchards. Domestic cattle have grazed bare and radically altered the composition of the grassland communities of the West, displacing Elk, Moose, Bighorn Sheep, and Pronghorn and leading to the virtual extermination of Grizzly Bear, Gray Wolf, Cougar, and other “varmints.”

Dams choke most of the continent's rivers and streams.

Nonetheless, wildness and natural diversity remain. There are a few scattered grasslands ungrazed, stretches of free-flowing river, thousand-year-old forests, Eastern woodlands growing back to forest and reclaiming past roads, Grizzlies and wolves and lions and Wolverines and Bighorn and Moose roaming the backcountry; hundreds of square miles that have never known the imprint of a tire, the bite of a drill, the rip of a `dozer, the cut of a saw, the smell of gasoline...
Pave It Over Not!If you want to help keep what's left of the planet as an environment worth living on, get your own fully illustrated (HTML) copy of Dave Foreman's Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching... A how-to civil defense/resistance manual for citizens of the Earth... [HERE], and then get active.

Take it easy... But TAKE it!


doug l said...

Uh..I think you mean Dave Foreman, not George Foreman. George is the ex boxing champ who sells grills on TV. Dave is the Earth Firs! guy.
No dispute that the place has been messed up, though it's lately been more or less acknowledged that the skies blackened by pigeons may have been due to the fact that by the time Audubon made it into their flyway the natives that used to occupy the eastern woodlands and Mississippi/Ohio valleys had been all but wiped out due to diseases etc. Check out Charles C. Mann's "1491". Excellent book you're sure to love.

Da' Buffalo Amongst Wolves said...

Thanks for noting the typo Doug.

If you're implying that Audubon made his observations after the Pigeon population was restored from being under threat due to native overuse of resources, I find it a little difficult to believe. I know small game was a mainstay of the native diet, but that would have been a bunch of Pigeon Pies (or the woodlands would have been denuded to make roasting skewers ;)

doug l said...

Well, that is kinda what I'm implying,or I should say that's what the science is saying, and I'd add that even some of the most informed among those of us who are interested in the qualities we associate with wilderness and attribute to pre-columbian America, are often basing those perspectives based on some pretty weak understanding dating back to a time when archaelogy was about collecting arrowheads and pottery while overlooking the vast amount of data that modern archaelogy can identify, analyze and use to create a more accurate picture of the past. There's been quite a bit of archaeology done since our foundational myths became integrated into our consciousness. I again recommend that you check out Charles C. Mann's "1491". It's a very interesting book and whether or not he's got it exactly right is besides the point. The fact remains that in objectively viewing the archaelogy, our understanding of what the true impacts were of the indegenous peoples in both North and South America is profound. As for wild game specifically...well, the data is pretty clear.
Read the book and see if it doesn't expand your perspective and become fodder for many more blogs topics. If for no other reason that to read "squanto's tale" you owe it to yourself.