Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Glad to Be American With Wilderness and Wildlife

Aldo Leopold :: This is a repost from 2010.

There is something vaguely ridiculous about European hunting with its dress-up clothes and potted birds.

Even some of the descriptions of terrier work can border on the absurd. Does every fox have to be described as a "lamb killer"? I suppose so in a country that has no coyote, wolf, bobcat, mountain lion, black bear, alligator, or grizzly! When your biggest game animal eats worms and bulbs, and your largest predator dines on mice, you may have to dress up your rationale for the hunt every bit as much you dress up yourself. Mere sport with dogs cannot do!

In America, of course, such a claim would be met with laughter. A red fox threatens your farm? A badger? Please! We have real predators from one end of this country to another. No need for tales of Beowulf here! A country full of bears and coyotes does not need to invent dragons.

To be clear, what makes America special is not some extra gene coursing through our blood. What makes American special is the land, and the fact that, unlike Europe, we have not killed off everything big enough to kill a cat.

No one ever said it better than Aldo Leopold who, back in 1925, wrote an essay called "Wilderness As a Form of Land Use," in which he reminded us of what we were (American), and warned us of what we might become (European):

The day is almost upon us when canoe travel will consist in paddling up the noisy wake of a motor launch and portaging through the back yard of a summer cottage. When that day comes canoe travel will be dead, and dead too will be a part of our Americanism. Joliet and LaSalle will be words in a book, Champlain will be a spot on a map, and canoes will be merely things of wood and canvas, with a connotation of white duck pants and bathing "beauties."

The time is almost upon us when a pack-train must wind it’s way up a graveled highway and turn it’s bell-mare in the pasture of a summer hotel. When that day comes, the pack-train will be dead, the diamond hitch will be merely rope, and Kit Carson and Jim Bridger will be names in a history lesson. And thenceforth the march of empire will be a matter of gasoline and four wheel brakes.

European outdoor recreation is largely devoid of the thing that wilderness areas would be the means of preserving in this country. Europeans do not camp, cook or pack in the woods for pleasure. They hunt and fish when they can afford to, but their hunting and fishing is merely hunting and fishing, staged in a set of ready-made hunting lodges, elaborate fare, and hired beaters. The whole thing carries the atmosphere of a picnic, rather than that of a pack trip. The test of skill is confined almost entirely to the act of killing, itself. Its value as a human experience is reduced accordingly.

There is a strong movement in this country to preserve the distinctive democracy of our field sports by preserving free hunting and fishing, as distinguished from the European condition of commercialized hunting and fishing privileges. Public shooting grounds and organized cooperative relations between sportsmen and landowners are the means proposed for keeping these sports within reach of the American of moderate means. Free hunting and fishing is a most worthy objective, but it deals with only one of the distinctive characteristics of American sport. The other characteristic is that our test of skill is primarily the act of living in the open, and only secondarily the act of killing game. It is to preserve this primary characteristic that public wilderness playgrounds are necessary."

Read the whole essay which I have linked to here [PDF].

Are we there yet? Is our land so gut-shot with people that we have lost the wild and become European?

Not quite.

The coyote population is growing, and so too is the population of mountain lion, wolf, black bear, grizzly, and alligator.

We are not yet European, thank God!

Yet we may get there if we do not do more to slow population growth, most of which is now fueled by unbridled legal and illegal immigration. We cannot take all of the world's displeased and dispossesed, and it's high time we stopped trying.

Above all, we need to remember that we need to fight to continue to preserve large blocks of wild lands, including wilderness.

Preserving wilderness and wild lands is about nothing less than preserving America's soul.

Save it now, or someday soon, it may be gone forever.

Angeles Requiem from Tocho on Vimeo. The above video is not just amazing because the camere trap survived a forest fire, or because of what it else it got on tape (thanks Chaz!). It's amazing because it was all filmed by a single camera trap in Angeles National Forest just a 30-minute drive from downtown Los Angeles. Thiry minutes from downtown L.A.! This is still America as God intended, a country made by bear and lion, fire and rain, buffalo and deer. This land is your land. This land was made for you and me. .


Bjarne´s aquarium blogg said...

Patrick ,please don´t lump us all
together as "europeans" when you
are refering to ,I guess mostly GB
and perhaps vaugly to the most densly populated parts like like germany etc.
We still have wolfs and as you can se compered to USA
they are MUCH more evenly ditrubuted.

PBurns said...

Point well taken. Not all of Europe. Just England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, Denmark, LOL.

Having a bit of a poke at Europe is an old American tradition, just as having a poke at America is an old European tradition. On this side we are not all loud and fat, and on your side not all the men wear purses and put on ties to go hunting .... but in both cases, it's the way to bet! ;)

That said the data you supply tells the story. Wolf? Wolf is all you have?

The U.S. has more than 500,000 Black Bear in the lower 48 states (more in Alaska), has more than 2 million Alligators in Florida alone (not including Louisiana, Texas, George, South Carolina, Mississippi, has a population of 2-8 million Coyotes (we shoot and trap over 500,000 a year and the numbers are increasing), and we have over 35,000 Mountain Lion (more lion than all of Africa). Bobcat, of course, are all over.

As for Wolves, we have thousands and thousands (over 3,000 in Minnesota alone), and no they are not isolated inbred pockets as in Europe, but a swimming gene pool that is rapidly expanding by about 20% per year.


Bartimaeus said...

I just spent the weekend in Mogollon Rim country, and have a little photo essay about it here;
Still a beautiful area, mostly because development has been limited as the land is federally owned and managed. Missing Grizzlies and Mexican wolves, although a few lone wolves have made it this far from the reintroduction areas on the eastern edge of the state. If that program ever gets wings, the wolves should make it here. Leopold was the only eloquent witness to the eradication of wolves and grizzlies in Arizona in the early 20th centuries.

PBurns said...

Leopold was not just a witness -- he was a U.S. Government-paid wolfer, paid to shoot and trap them out of existence. He figured it out in the end; we are a nation made from fire and buffalo, rain and lion, snow and bear and wolf. Remove the creatures from the land, and you have removed connecting thread from the tapesty.


Bartimaeus said...

Indeed, his description of killing a wolf and his realization of what it meant to remove wolves is one of the most moving pieces of his writing.

Bigshrimp said...

Wow....quite the pissing match you've started.

Your argument could be used by replacing America with Canada, and Europe with America in terms of the amount of wild land and its destruction.

I think it all boils down to human population density and the available land that humans have to play with.

2010 Population Density (population/km^2):
Western Europe = 170
U.S.A. = 33
Canada = 3


BTW, Canada has Polar Bears and Arctic beat that!

Anton said...

well, USA definantly isnt special with its still existing wildlife. Europe is more special as its pretty much one of the only plces that has managed to destroy all of its raw nature.
No worries, ya'll catch up sooner or later.
In the Netherlands we have literally nothing left. There is no untouched part anymore. All the nature we have was manmade. No forest that wasnt planted, heck a good portion of our land used to be sea :)
So Netherlands has roughly same population as Australia. And we fit about 240x in Australia. said...

For sharing thank you very much good very beautiful work

Rick said...

30 miles from downtown LA! John McPhee describes that area in his book "Control of Nature" (1989), a collection of 3 essays describing large engineering feats of man. One essay, which describes the encroachment of southern California development northward into the San Gabriel Mountains, notes that one of the fastest growing cities in the world is growing up against one of the fastest rising and youngest (from a geological point of view) mountain ranges in the world. And he doesn't seem to think man is so much winning, but rather that man and nature have come to a draw. Wildfires like the one in the video, car-sized boulders tumbling down onto subdivisions, wildlife, and mudslides all play a part in this meeting of man and nature. The fire portion of the video was hard for me to watch, as I lost a lot in the Cedar Fire in San Diego Co. a few years earlier, but on the whole it was very interesting.

Buenzlihund said...

Yeah, I too felt you were poking at he UK mainly. But still, you are right we did a hell of a job to get rid of everything wild. It irks me greatly. And reading text like this often reminds me that a reason for our lagging behind in restoration must be the fact, that "we" on a cell basis lack the experience of living with wilderness. This is a huge advantage Americans have. Here, it is just not out there in the air. Nothing. My colleagues can not comprehend what I see, feel and intuitively understand. It's a gap between me and them. And even if they try, the miss out. They will, however, transform slightly when I take them out on a week-long hike right out he back door. But they are able to pass a wild boar 20 feet on the side of our path without even hearing (!) when it talks. Let alone see things ir feel. It's wondersome. would take a lot to change things.
I'm always on the verge of getting out and bring back nature to the people by means of text, sound and image -but I'm still not sure of how to present it to allow people to learn and understand deep down in their senses. Here is plenty of media around, but I consider it poorly done. Either making nature look cute or harmless, dull or agressive, exageratedly endangered or endemic... take your pick. I see it would be challenging. I also feel it is high time to do something.
When Americans fret about population density... well, I giggle. What should we say? I agree, less would be preferable. For me too. But wildlife and wilderness could be brought back some more, if we were willing. One problem though: most of our land is privately owned by farmers who will never back down from exploiting every inch they can. Most depressingly this is here in Switzerland. Heck, we even mow ALL our river banks once a year! Many rivers (you might consider some of them creeks rather than rivers in American understanding) are dug up over some portion of their run each year in order to change their flow, to reduce building of sand banks, to stop the natural erosion of banks.... really, every strip is somehow managed and hedges and underwood are being trimmed. Where you can't go, we send sheep and cattle up to the mountain tops to graze it neatly. This IS a problem, and one of our mentality.
We do have lynx, a few wolves and even a pack in some places and the occasional brown bear. But we are in a constant conflict of preservation, our land and stock management, touristic behavior, again exagerating dangers and at the same time denial of risks.
So in the mean time, yes we freak out when a fox (or a deer for that matter) doesn't flee in panic upon sighting us -which by the way is a result of the last 20 years of less agressive hunting tactics. We used to never see a fox or deer by daylight when I was a kid still. I remember each time we saw a wild animal during the day we were told that this individual must be fataly ill, healthy wild animals would never walk around in daylight. Today, if they don't flee right away, if they even come up to houses, it is still interpreted as a lack of respect and people consider the animals to encroach on us and invade our spaces ever more. I know this is a sick idea. It is how "Swiss" function. After all, what are wild animals doing in our woods and fields? They belong in the zoo. Or even better would be they would live far away in the wild lands they came from: Africa or Australia (even better, far away with ocean surrounding it).

dp said...

Baloney! Go to the Hohe Tauern. Go to Turkey. Go to Slovenia.

PBurns said...

I supposed the Hohe Tauern National Park seems big at 453,000 acres, but it's smaller than Kings Canyon National Park and no one in the US has even heard of that one. :)

For a partial list and size of our National Forests see >>

This does not include our National Parks, BLM lands, state forests, Indian Reservation, Pittman-Roberts lands, CRP lands, etc.

Buenzlihund said...

You sure can't compare anything here in western Europe with America's National Parks. Not in size and not in quantity. And I have to add, also not in quality -but I must confess I have not yet been to that many of America's treasures as I would like. Our parks, for most animals are either too small or too isolated. With too little useable "everyday" land around them that would be fit to carry a healthy stock of wild animals and connect their secluded habitats. Hence all the uproar if bear, wolf, wild boar or even deer or the rare elk gets tangled up in our neighborhoods.
But it isn't really about parks. It's about the wilderness happening right at your front door. America has it, from coast to coast. We don't.