Category Archives: Guest Posts

Guest Post: Scott Thompson on Overpopulation in the American West

From Western Colorado welcomes Scott Thompson’s return with his essay about the implications of overpopulation in the American West.  A timely warning in light of congressional battles over Title X funding cuts and proposed legislation in Georgia, which passed the state senate last night and would allow wrongful death suits on behalf of fetuses.  Thompson’s essay was originally published in the August/September 2010 issue of the Canyon Country Zephyr and in it, he challenges assumptions about immigration and entitlement.  While Thompson does not discuss abortion or the fervor of the pro-life movement, his words suggest that a women’s right to choose isn’t the only thing at stake. 

Enjoy and…thanks for listening.

Overpopulation and Liberal Taboos: In the Lands of Entitlement

By Scott Thompson

You’re damn right there’s an immigration problem in Arizona: far too many white people have been emigrating there.

If you doubt that, here are the numbers: while the Hispanic population in Arizona increased by 856,000 between 1980 and 2006, the white population escalated by 1.2 million. (Population Brief for the State of Arizona, Western Rural Development Center 2008, p.2).

Yet we don’t hear about Latinos in Arizona strutting around in the dry heat, demanding that the white folks move back where they came from.

Why is that?

I think the reason is good ole white entitlement; an attitude that has complicated if not contaminated the touchy subject of overpopulation. I know more about white entitlement than I care to, having grown up in the small town South before the civil rights movement took hold. The year I spent in Mississippi in 1962 is burned into my mind like they did it with a branding iron. And even though the right wing is (officially) no longer racist, sometimes I hear the same tone of self-satisfied superiority and indignant outrage in the voices of those who fairly spit out the words “illegal immigrants.”

Within these words lies the assumption that we Americans have some righteous claim to the lands comprising Arizona and the Southwest, when the facts plainly show that’s bullshit. That attitude does remind me of the white people in Mississippi in 1962, who thought they were entitled to the de facto slave labor of the African Americans living there.

The only, repeat only, reason all that land is within the territorial United States is because we stole it at gunpoint from Mexico. Which in turn took it from Spain, which stole it from Native Americans, some of whom stole it from other Native Americans.

It’s quite a daisy chain.

A brief recounting of how America came to possess the Southwest is instructive. In 1846 President James K. Polk concocted an excuse for invading Mexico in order to grab as much of their land as he could get his hands on. Some members of Congress did have the integrity to question the necessity for war, among them a young, gangling Abraham Lincoln.

But as is true with power-hungry people, Polk would not be stopped. The crushing blow to Mexico was delivered by General Winfield Scott, who in 1847 invaded the port city of Veracruz and marched toward Mexico City, which he took after six months of brutal fighting. Scott himself admitted that his soldiers had “committed atrocities to make Heaven weep and every American of Christian morals blush for his country.” Translation: they slaughtered civilians.

In the end, the United States paid Mexico $27 million for all that land; a farcical sum in order to whitewash its dishonorable aims.

The great Henry David Thoreau spent a night in jail to protest the taxes to support this war, and then went to his cabin to pen his classic essay, “Civil Disobedience,” which championed an individual’s right to oppose an immoral government. Gandhi himself was later inspired by this essay. (See the textbook Out of Many: A History of the American People, by Faragher et al, 2005, pp. 416-419).

In short: we Americans are in no position to wax indignant about “illegal immigrants” from Mexico entering the Southwest, given that we stole that land from them in the first place.

For the irony-challenged reader: I am NOT talking about giving the land back to Mexico. This is about attitude.

The reason I have written first about racial or ethnic entitlement, whoever may perpetuate it, is that it is the one attitude that will make resolving this great problem of overpopulation impossible. If people fear that the call to reduce our numbers is merely a ruse to weaken them in the face of an enemy, their willingness to cooperate will disintegrate.

Unfortunately, Latinos have grounds to fear just such an attitude. Consider, for example, the recent Arizona statute (Senate Bill 1070) that will inexorably lead to the racial profiling of Latinos who are American citizens in order to locate “illegal immigrants.”

But not all entitlement is about racial, ethnic, or cultural prejudice. When it comes to overpopulation, there are diverse layers of entitlement spread out among different groups. Challenging them all is what makes me want to drink twelve Budweisers at the end of the day (and I gave all that up a long time ago).

I would like to explain what’s driving me to get into the turd-laden issue of overpopulation. It’s this: in the late 1960s I fell in love with Arizona. The way it was before its developers, business tycoons, and state leaders systematically destroyed it with their culturally sanctioned avarice. It was as though they had tied a Javelina to a stake and scourged it with tendrils of hairline glass, all the while thinking, hey, this is what good people do.

You don’t forget witnessing something like that.

Edward Abbey had a similar experience. In 1959 he rafted through Glen Canyon on “the golden, flowing Colorado River,” to use his words. Later he worked there as a seasonal park ranger. Ed knew the river and the canyon before Glen Canyon Dam stopped it up like a vast, stinking toilet. He said, “The difference between the present reservoir, with its silent sterile shores and debris-choked side canyons, and the original Glen Canyon, is the difference between death and life. Glen Canyon was alive. Lake Powell is a graveyard.” (The Damnation of a Canyon, pp. 1,3).

Ed loved Glen Canyon the way it was.

In the late 1960s Arizona was a shifting, turning mosaic of brilliant colors; everywhere there were crystalline expanses of space and light; the outline of a mountain peak 80 miles away was as clear and sharp as the verdant trunk of a paloverde that you touched with your fingers.

Arizona was: the pervasive beige of the sun-blasted Sonoran Desert outside Tucson, studded with enormous green stalks of Saguaro cacti; the red and gold evening light atop etched black horizons; the state roads heading north, twisting into sharp green blankets of juniper and pinyon pine and red striped sandstone; the rough black lava rocks and the sweet smooth lava cone near Flagstaff, adorned with spare, regal stands of Ponderosa Pine; the burnt-brown edge of the Mojave Desert, stippled with rough-barked Joshua trees, their limbs curving into clusters of spines.

My microbiologist mother first drove me from Tucson to the Navajo Reservation when I was 18. I had no language of description for the Navajo world; I just I called it “the place with no telephone poles.” It took me a long time to find the words for what I discovered there: that once beyond the telephone wires I was in a sacred land, and that these people knew something about the power of the landscape that my own culture had lost.

In 1971 my mother died of heart failure in Holbrook, Arizona, while driving to the sacred land.

Now here’s what tripling the population of Arizona in less than a generation did.

In the summer of 2005, as Gail [Thompson’s wife] and I flew into Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, we glided over forty contiguous miles of tract houses; the many thousands of tiny yards and blue dotted swimming pools were packed against each other like cells in a massive tumor. We sped north on the interstate in our economy rental car, but even sixty miles beyond the metropolitan melanoma of Phoenix, scattered human structural litter occluded the adamantine splendor of the land.

On it went like this. North of Prescott a shapeless growth of bright green golf courses and oversized luxury homes had metastasized far beyond the once compact, historical shape of the town. It went on for miles. The primordial majesty of the Arizona landscape did not open up until we neared the Hualapai Reservation in the far northwestern corner of the state. A territory for refugees, it now seems. For people like me.

In Arizona, you ought to be able to go outside any city or town, look out over the crystalline vastness of the land, and feel something dazzling inside. I call this the enchantment of the land. That’s what’s been destroyed in Arizona. Now you can only find it in special spots: in the national monuments, wilderness areas, Indian reservations, and remote corners of the state.

The enchantment of the land is not some trifling pleasure. It is the fundamental signal the landscape has always given our species that the relevant ecosystem is in adequate health. It is infinitely more significant, more real, than the Gross Domestic Product or growth in consumer spending or construction starts or even the unemployment rate. Its absence in the landscape is a blunt warning, like a mass in our lungs on a CT scan.

But our culture, through its self-perpetuating frenetic activity, much of which is crazily entertaining, has long tuned out this signal (witness the Dust Bowl of the 1930s). The destruction of the enchantment of the land in Arizona was specifically caused by massive overpopulation, overconsumption, and overdevelopment.

For me it’s clear: no human being, whether White, Latino, African-American, Asian-American, Native American, Australian, African, Middle Eastern, European, Asian, or whatever, has a right to overpopulate any ecosystem, be it in Arizona or anywhere else. The main point is not whether people cross a border or a state line, but whether the carrying capacity of the ecosystem for humans is being exceeded. If so, the population there needs to be gradually lowered by reducing birth rates, emigration from other states, and immigration from other countries, until our numbers are within the ecosystem’s carrying capacity. Probably over several generations.

Which is a politically incorrect position to take. 

That’s because a series of perceived human entitlements have grown up over time that are in conflict with the health and well being of our ecosystems. That’s why it’s politically incorrect to broach the subject.

Let’s look at some of these entitlements.

But first, I ask you to bear in mind that that a trend that characterizes a group – think of a bell curve – will often not apply to many of that group’s members.

Epistemologically challenged readers may find that fact a bitch to deal with.

The basis for liberal entitlement is a compassionate, but ideologically utopian worldview, often rigidly held, which aims to protect people perceived as oppressed or otherwise vulnerable. I think that as a group, liberals have been avoiding serious public dialogue about overpopulation because they are afraid that efforts to reduce it will be used as an excuse for persecuting vulnerable groups. That’s an understandable fear, but silence isn’t a rational strategy for them in the long run. By silencing each other and most of the rest of us, liberals may well be endangering the lives and well being of the very people their ideological commitments have sworn them to protect.

Liberals may have another problem with addressing overpopulation. For decades the foundation of their politics has been wealth redistribution based on continuing economic growth: they claim that everyone should get at least a narrow slice of the pie. Certainly including themselves. Radically reducing our numbers, however, will bring an end to cornucopia economic expansion. It will mean a satisfying but far less materialistic way of life; something many liberals may not be prepared for.

Right-wing business entitlement is barefaced; right-wingers see themselves as the realists, after all. In order to maximize business profits, and therefore growth, and therefore spiraling profits, they need hordes of frightened, desperate, and therefore compliant laborers to hire and underpay. Cheap labor is to soaring profits as warm ocean water is to growing hurricanes. Reducing the human population will make inexpensive workers more difficult to find, therefore making wages climb, therefore reducing profits, therefore dampening business growth. And it will reduce consumption, exacerbating the downward cycle. Our metaphorical hurricane will transmogrify into an unremarkable series of thunderstorms, perhaps with interesting displays of lightning.

I enjoy a good thunderstorm.

Right-wingers revere individual property rights. I cannot imagine them putting the health of an ecosystem first if that will limit the profits they can derive from their investments in private property, or will reduce the market value of that property. They will see changes of this nature as de facto communism (some will decry climate scientists as henchmen in a sinister Marxist plot and hack into their e-mails).

Yet another entitlement is pronatalism, the perceived right to have children up to one’s biological capacity. This has been the predominant tradition since the end of humanity’s hunter-gatherer days.

Pronatalism is backed by big time Western religion. Consider, for example, the Old Testament’s “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it…” (Genesis 1:28). In general, Judeo-Christian religious authorities have felt entitled to perpetuate the credibility of their traditional teachings and scriptures, despite Sinai-sized evidence that their pronatalist stances are a disaster for living systems (the Catholic teaching against birth control deserves its own Flat-Earth award, with a free coupon for all the credible books on climate science and climate change biology Pope Benedict and the College of Cardinals are willing to read).

Given that mainstream religions do have a lot of good teachings, why can’t they figure out that to “fill the earth” with homo sapiens means up to, but not exceeding, each ecosystem’s carrying capacity? That they refuse to figure this out in the face of escalating danger to us all is religious entitlement.

Nevertheless, there is a helpful trend. It’s become clear that as more women are educated and given opportunities outside the home, as well as access to birth control, birth rates predictably drop; at least they have thus far. If humanity does somehow avoid a series of population-related catastrophes, women and the women’s movement will deserve the credit.

The danger, as ever, is complacency. It’s easy to forget that even with lower fertility rates the world population will continue to grow at an alarming rate, simply because there are more people around to reproduce. And that the climate is now unstable for the first time since the beginning of the Holocene 11,000 years ago, and that it will steadily grow more unstable for centuries to come, imperiling fresh water supplies, agricultural production, and of course the ecosystems that vitally sustain us.

Centuries from now, as teams of archeologists turn their trowels through the debris of our ex-civilization, I wonder if they’ll conclude that we trivialized the most important signal of approaching disaster: the loss of enchantment of the land. Perhaps after a scorching day sifting through the ruins, one of them will lean back and say to her team mates, “You know, it’s like a critical mass of Arizonans way back then, certainly the most influential ones, were walking around with their eyes shut. They literally didn’t see what was happening to the landscape.”

The crew will nod and smile sadly.

Over the years Gail and I have visited the following Indian reservations: Mescalero Apache, Wind River Shoshone, Arapaho, Flathead, Blackfeet, Taos Pueblo, San Ildefonso Pueblo, Navajo, Hopi, Hualapai, Havasupai, Yavapai, Acoma, and Zuni. On every one of these reservations, wherever the tribe has retained enough land and political power, it has carefully preserved the enchantment of the land. While the tribes may explain this differently according to their own paradigms, that’s what they’ve been doing.

My opinion? Native Americans are walking around with their eyes open.

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Of Wild Horses and Pine Beetles: Guest Post by Scott Thompson

From Western Colorado is pleased to welcome words from West Virginia writer and therapist, Scott Thompson.  After a visit to C0lorado’s Spring Creek Herd Management Area, Thompson waxes philosophic and a wee bit scientific about mustangs, climate change, and the consequences of managing the wild.  This story was originally published in Jim Stiles’ Canyon Country Zephyr out of Moab, Utah (“All the news that causes fits”).  Thanks, Scott! 

Silence Has A lot of Mojo: Wild Horses and Brains Gone Bad

 By Scott Thompson

 “It not only takes a long time of watching the animal before you can say what it is doing; it takes a long time to learn how to watch. This point is raised, deferentially but repeatedly, in encounters with Eskimos.” – Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams

On a cobalt blue morning back in July Gail and I piled into my buddy Amy Marsh’s 2001 Suzuki Vitara 4-wheel drive, named Green Tara. She drove us west from Montrose, Colorado, over the Dallas Divide, west from the Uncompahgre Plateau, into the sunblasted Colorado semi-desert; land of saltbush and saline scrub. Green Tara rattled along the washboard road across Disappointment Valley, into the Spring Creek Basin Wild Horse Herd Management Area (HMA).

 She parked along a low ridge that looked out on a broad auburn valley flanked on the left by the curving wall of a mesa that was coated with smooth grass. The cool blue ridge of the San Juan Mountains swerved down the horizon, capped by a line of tiny, cotton-ball clouds. Silence has a lot of mojo. Standing there, I felt the bone-deep fit of a mis-aligned animal that has finally returned to its evolutionary niche. There the tension from the ceaseless, discordant hum of a society alienated from wildness was gone: the faint whine of air conditioning, the whir of appliances and small-scale machinery, the background music, the chiming and buzzing of cell phones, the endless human chatter, live or on television, the manic clicking of hard drives, the distant hiss of tractor-trailer brakes, the circular swirling of toilet water.

Intent on finding wild horses, Amy drove deeper into the HMA, toward the juniper uplands; nearing the McKenna Peak Wilderness Study Area. I was content with the high voltage solitude we’d already found, regardless of whether we encountered any horses. Gail was simply enjoying Amy’s company in her usual open-hearted way. She abruptly parked Green Tara on a precocious high spot and we fanned out, walking in the direction of the road.

Amy and I have been friends for nearly twenty-five years. She is blessed with a no-bullshit internal ethical compass and ready laughter. She seems incapable of the dreary compromises in principle typical of the so-called pragmatists who hold positions of influence almost everywhere you go. That’s probably because she’s never shown any interest in diving into our culture’s supersized financial hog trough.

Several years ago she left her work as a drug and alcohol counselor to enter a master’s program at Regis University in Denver. She’s writing her master’s thesis on wild horse herd management in the American West. It’s a thorny subject, and just right for her: her passion for being with the horses and seeing through the horseshit is total.

I think we all spotted the white stallion at the same time. It stood just behind the crest of a shallow ridge, studying us with exquisite care. Amy walked back and handed Gail her binoculars. It turned out that the stallion was protecting a herd of four mares, which we later saw feeding on grass along a thin creek tucked behind the ridge.

Motionless, the stallion fixed its attention on us for a long, long time. Reflexively I studied it as well, and in so doing slipped into a light hypnotic trance. Hardly moving myself, I utterly lost track of time. Yet paradoxically, I knew a long time was passing.

I had never realized that there is something about the way the human eye evolved that allows it to focus on the stance and movements of wild animals with uncanny precision, even at a great distance. When Gail passed the binoculars to me, they added nothing to the exactness of my perceptions. They only made the image of the stallion larger.

Shortly it was joined by a chestnut mare. She was the alpha mare, co-protector of the herd, as Amy pointed out us to us on the way back to Montrose. The mare and the stallion assumed exactly the same posture and gaze; side by side. I had the eerie feeling that one mind was studying us instead of two.

Reflecting on this afterward, I concluded that throughout the 200,000 year history of our species, until the domestication of animals began just 10,000 years ago, it must have been a daily practice for humans and animals to spend hours upon end observing each other in vast detail. This certainly includes horses, since humans didn’t start riding them until circa 6,500 years ago. (See Spencer Wells, Pandora’s Seed, 2010, pp. 14, 73, and “Equestrianism” in Wikipedia). Not only because they were afraid of each other, but because they were fascinated as well. Today we humans dominate whatever creatures we wish, often altering their genetic structure to suit our whims and confining them to environments to which they are poorly adapted. During almost all of our history as a species, however, we have not experienced that kind of control.

By contrast, natural environments in which one species cannot dominate all the others are usually characterized by reciprocal relationships that function for the ultimate benefit of all: even predators and prey help each other survive in niches to which they are each fully adapted. There is a parallel in human relationships; those which are NOT based on domination require a much greater investment of time, care, and attention by all parties.

And are much, much healthier for all concerned.

One thing my work as a counselor has taught me is that a focus that is enjoyable for a person is much, much easier to sustain. And if that focus also helps pull her out of a depression or an addiction, which it often does, it has enormous survival value. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that where a focus having evolutionary survival value has to be sustained for extended periods of time, that it is likely to have a relaxing, even a fascinating, quality? I think so.

In West Virginia, where I practice, I encounter that quality of focus most readily in the plenitude of hunters. The culture of hunting pervades here; that’s because the woods are filled with deer and other game; that’s because the landscape consists of wooded hills and low mountain ranges that have never been put to the axe for farming. I can see hunters’ bodies start to relax and their faces soften as soon as I merely mention hunting. They readily admit that as hunters their chief delight is simply being “out there,” deep in the woods, waiting for game.

Back to the HMA. After standing together another long while, the mare and the stallion turned to the right at precisely, and I mean precisely, the same moment, in graceful synchrony, and vanished behind the ridge.  They had obviously agreed that they had studied us enough and needed to get back to the herd along the creek below to stand guard.

What blew me out is that I was certain they didn’t glance at each other before turning, nor did one of them turn even a millisecond before the other. Later, Amy and I watched the videotape she had made of this moment and could find no clues about how the mare and stallion knew to turn at exactly the same moment. I was left wondering if horses in the wild are telepathic or have other powers of communication outside the ken of human experience. In this regard, note the following from the late Sioux writer Vine Deloria, Jr.: “The Sioux…came to know the full scope of bird and animal powers. Eventually the people came to realize that birds and animals had more knowledge than we do, and thereafter sought animal aid in the chores and hazards of everyday life.” (See C.G. Jung and the Sioux Traditions, Spring Journal Books, 2009, p. 116).

Amy said, “Last summer, I witnessed the Pryor Mountain herd on its home range, high in Montana’s Arrowhead Mountains, and was astonished at how different they are from, say, my neighbor’s horses. There was a liveliness and interaction between the horses and their surroundings I couldn’t explain but that I knew was completely different from that of domesticated horses in a private pasture. The wild ones are constantly moving, constantly touching each other, always playing, fighting, grooming. There was a dynamic within the herd that was missing from the other horses I’d seen in my lifetime, all of which were domesticated. That dynamic, I found out, is the difference between a wild horse and a domesticated horse.” (See “From Western Colorado,” amyhm.wordpress.com; posted 16 Jan 2010).

We all agreed being out there was magical.

***

That afternoon with the Spring Creek Basin herd allowed me to draw tentative conclusions about some of their behavior: that they tend to observe humans from low rises that give them a good vantage point while allowing a fast retreat, and that they keep the body of the herd on lower ground nearby, perhaps along a creek where the grass is thicker. If I’d had the opportunity I would have kept up my observations, fascinated I’m sure, and would have tested the conclusions I’d already drawn until I had a sharp picture of their behaviors, and with it a refined depiction of their relationship with their habitat.

Pre-agricultural societies needed extraordinarily thorough descriptions of each animal and plant habitat in order to reliably find their food and prey, as well as medicinal plants and the animals they saw as allies. And to avoid a range of dangerous creatures and plants.

The following is an example of this level of awareness in a contemporary indigenous culture: 

Two Shuar men – Shakaim and Twitsa – and I hiked into the Cutucu mountains…The next afternoon, on our way back, only an hour away from their community, Shakaim raised his arm, signaling for us to stop. He and Twitsa stepped off the trail. They squatted behind a small plant, examined it, and exchanged words.  Shakaim cupped his hands around the plant and blew gently into it. Twitsa looked up at me. ‘It’s sick,’ he explained, pointing at the leaves. ‘It was healthy yesterday,’ Shakaim added, ‘when we came along this trail.’  He stood up. ‘We have to report this to the elders.’

They resumed walking; I stood there gawking at that plant. I could see nothing exceptional about it, no reason why these men would have noticed it in the first place. A couple of leaves had turned brown and fallen to the ground, but that did not seem sufficient cause for concern.                                                                                                                                                                              

That night, I received an education. Shakaim, Twitsa, and their families gathered around a fire with other members of the community. They described in detail the state of the plant on the morning when we headed up to the waterfall and the changes that had occurred during the ensuing thirty-six hours. Their accounts were followed by lengthy discussions. The circle of participants paid particularly close attention to an old lady who was highly respected for her ability to prepare healing herbs. She suggested that the plant had delivered a message: The trail was overused.

A vote was taken. Although several people pointed out that there could have been other causes for the sickness, the decision was unanimous. If there was any possibility that people were contributing to the problem, then people had to take remedial action. A new rule was adopted for the entire community. That trail would be closed.” (See John Perkins, Hoodwinked, 2009, pp. 188-189).

The arrival of agriculture and then modern civilization, however, upended such careful practices. Because humans now controlled the habitats of their domesticated animals and plants, survival was plausible without the exhaustive traditional awareness of wild habitats. So the old customs slowly eroded; people first became insensitive to such knowledge, and then oblivious to it. The fragmented comprehension that remained was left in the hands of over-focused specialists: herders, farmers, ranchers, forestry rangers, biologists and agri-business technicians.

It is in this sense that over time our brains went progressively bad.

Let’s see what sort of thing happens when we combine the myopia of such experts and the obliviousness of the public with 0.8 degrees Celsius of global warming above pre-industrial levels. Note – I don’t like to quote textbooks at length but in this case it’s worth it.

Act I: In Which the Stage for the Disaster is Properly Set

“Prior to human arrival, burning of lodgepole pine occurred randomly, resulting in a patchwork of fire scars, time-since-fire histories, and age stands of lodgepole. After approximately 1920, effective fire fighting [watch your ass, geniuses at work] changed this pattern. Fires no longer raged out of control; the random mosaic of past burns was gradually turned into large areas of even-aged stands, interrupted by areas that had been logged.” (See Lee Hannah, Climate Change Biology, 2011, p. 108).

Act II: In Which a Vast Horde of Crazed Beetles Descends

“Outbreaks of mountain pine beetle Dendroctonus ponerosae in western North America have resulted in the death of more than 100 million lodgepole pines (Pinus contorta). In British Columbia alone, more than 80 million trees have been lost across an area in excess of 450,000 ha [hectares]. The beetle is killed by winter temperatures below – 35 degrees C. Successive winters without killing temperatures resulted in population growth in mountain pine beetles in the 1980s and again from 1997 onward. Warmer winters and earlier springs meant that bark beetles could complete multiple life cycles in a single growing season, resulting in population explosions…The beetle is a natural occupant of healthy forests, but its numbers are kept in check by a diversity of tree species and ages. [However,] Fire suppression and logging have resulted in large areas of even-aged, mature trees susceptible to beetle attack, whereas warm winters have promoted population growth sufficient for an outbreak causing widespread devastation.” (See Hannah, p. 95).

Act III: In Which This Cascades Into Killin’ Critters

The pine beetle has also invaded the high elevation, long-lived Whitebark pine in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Grizzly Bear cubs feed on the fat-laden Whitebark pine seeds in the fall and early spring, and because there are fewer such seeds, there have been fewer such cubs in Yellowstone National Park. Which in turn has affected the populations of animals upon which the bears feed. The demise of these trees is also resulting in reduced stream flows, which in turn is offing the number of trout in the streams. (See Hannah, pp. 111-113; Michelle Nujhuis, “Global Warming’s Unlikely Harbingers,” July 19, 2004, issue of High Country News).

Hannah’s textbook doesn’t say whether the geniuses who set up 100 million lodgepole pines to get mowed down by pine beetles also helped make the Whitebark pines more vulnerable to beetles.

But common sense tells you, yes.

Act IV: In Which Pine Beetles Invade the Universe

Warming has allowed the beetle to extend its range northwards in British Columbia, breaching the Continental Divide, the last effective barrier between the beetle and eastern pine plantations…Eastern forests of jack pine [stretching way the hell across Canada] may now be vulnerable to mountain pine beetle outbreaks. If the beetle is able to establish and move through jack pine, it is likely to extend its range across Canada and into the forests of the eastern seaboard…the range may eventually extend into the great loblolly pine regions of the U.S. Southeast [stretching from eastern Virginia down through the Carolinas, into the Deep South and over into East Texas], decimating stands of large commercial and biological importance (Hannah, pp. 109-110).

With the hindsight that innumerable climate change disasters will someday offer, pissed off future generations will see that a factor in our throwing away their future was our civilized ignorance of wild habitats. They will say to themselves, those mothers’ brains went bad.

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