Posts Tagged ‘earth’

The Incredible Shrinking Megafauna

An Elk With Majestic Racks

Elk With Majestic Racks

The Incredible Shrinking Megafauna 

 By Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

Part 1 – Of Wolves and Elk

Doug Smith, who is in charge of the Wolf Recovery Team in Yellowstone National Park (YS) said, during a December 17, 2009 interview by The Billings Gazette, that he had recently been seeing something that he never before witnessed. Several times he had watched a bull elk successfully fight off a pack of wolves. Smith said that the bulls had become so large and had such massive racks, that they were now a match for the wolves. What has happened to the Yellowstone elk to bring this about, and why?

As background to this question, you should know that a fascinating, natural experiment has been taking place in YS ever since wolves were reintroduced there in 1996. By “natural experiment,” I mean one that was unplanned and unforeseen. The last naturally occurring wolf in Yellowstone was killed in 1927. Lacking natural enemies with the wolves gone, and with hunting also prohibited in national parks, the elk proliferated over the years. By 1996 the YS elk population had burgeoned to from 15,000 – 18,000. They overran the area, overbrowsing and damaging the ecosystem in many ways. Then came the wolves, 45 of them. In the 17 years since then, the wolf and elk numbers have changed drastically. The wolves increased, up to around 160 individuals, and thereafter they have fluctuated periodically between that and to less than 70 animals, while the elk have decreased to between 5 – 7,000 animals. You can say that the elk and wolves are participating in a mutual dance of death. The wolves reduce the number of elk by preying on them until the elk become scarce enough so that the wolves find it hard to continue to maintain their own numbers. That situation, together with other stresses, such as hard winters and disease, reduce the number of wolves. Up come the numbers of elk until the wolves, with prey easier to obtain, become healthier, less stressed, and begin to increase their population again. This dynamic fluctuation of the wolf and elk populations has occurred several times during the relatively short span that these animals have been interacting in Yellowstone.

Erosion On A Yellowstone Creek

Creek Bed Erosion

Other dramatic changes have taken place in the Park during this period. William Ripple and his colleagues have documented several changes in YS riparian habitat.  It is rapidly being restored, with cottonwoods, willows, and aspen again growing along the hitherto eroded stream banks, which have regained stability. This has resulted in clearing the water of turbidity and debris. Expanded tree coverage along creeks and rivers has also lowered water temperatures, bringing back cold water fish, such as trout, along with song birds, and many amphibians.. The presence of more carrion, a byproduct of wolf predation, has proven beneficial to a whole string of scavengers, like vultures, crows, ravens, foxes, and coyotes.

Young Willows, Growing on the Bank of a Yellowstone NP Creek

The presence of wolves in Yellowstone National Park has changed the habits of elk there. They no longer overbrowse riperian vegetation, but have moved away from stream beds where they used to provide tempting targets for wolf predation. This has resulted in new growth of willows (shown here), cottonwoods, and other stream side vegetation.

Ripple attributes these changes to the presence of wolves, and indeed he has documented similar changes in Banff National Park in British Columbia, as well as in other locales. But aside from all these changes, the one that strikes me from an evolutionary point of view, is the vision of these elk bulls, with their majestic racks. Why has this happened? From the point of view of genetics, the answer seems simple enough. Wolves prey mostly on the weak, disabled, and sick, as well as on bulls, calves, and does, simply because the former are the easiest to kill. Thus, the wolves are removing genes from the elk population for smaller, less robust bulls. If you think about it, hunters do the opposite. They go after the big bulls with the most imposing racks. Their success therefore removes the very genes they most prize, and results in smaller, weaker elk. Now, you may find it hard to believe that humans can have such drastic effects on the genetics of wild animals. However, I have come across some rather startling evidence that I believe will convince you.

First of all, we can turn to the father of the theory of evolution himself, Charles Darwin. Much of the evidence that Darwin accumulated in the eighteen hundreds for his then revolutionary theory, was obtained through observation of and breeding experiments on domestic animals.

The Father of the Theory of Evolution, Charles Darwin

A portrait of Charles Darwin, who is credited with the theory of evolution.He was particularly interested in pigeons, and actually became a pigeon fancier and breeder himself. Along the way he grew convinced that all pigeons in their incredible variety, were descended from wild doves, an idea that contemporary geneticists, using DNA studies, have shown to be accurate. Pigeons, and other domestic animals, have been derived from populations of wild animals, and deliberately bred for characteristics that humans wanted, resulting in present day cattle, sheep, chickens, and so on.  Even man’s best friend, the dog, originated from wolve

 Part 2. The Tuskless Elephants

The breeding of domestic animals was deliberate on our part. What is more surprising is the inadvertent effects that man has had on a wide variety of wild animals. I recently came across an article in Newsweek Magazine, of January 2, 2009 that describes some of these effects. The most startling one was the discovery of the tuskless elephant.

An African Elephant Without Tusks

A new Variety of Tuskless African Elephant

Elephants use their tusks to root around the ground for food, and in fighting between males during their rutting season. We also know that historically, and from the study of fossils, about two percent of elephant bulls have been tuskless. This was obviously caused by recessive mutations, which have put these animals at a disadvantage from their tusky relatives. Their loss of these useful appendages has undoubtedly been the main factor in winnowing out these genes from the population, thus keeping the number of such elephants low – until recently.

The number of tuskless elephants  has lately climbed to  38% in Gambia, and even more startlingly, to 98% in one South African population. The factor that brought about this change is the poaching of elephants for their tusks. The price on the market for tusked animals has recently risen to $10,000 per animal. That is a lot of money for a poor African, thus making these animals tempting targets. Furthermore, this is not just an African phenomenon. In Asia, female elephants do not have tusks, but the proportion of tuskless male elephants has more than doubled in recent years, rising to  greater than 90%. This has happened even on the island of Sri Lanka, where male elephants are used in the work force, and their tusks are valued as tools. As scientist, Mario Festa Bianchet of the University of Sherbrook, who has been documenting this phenomenon, pointed out, “You end up with a bunch of losers to do the breeding.” Both sexes of these elephants are also getting smaller. “These changes make no evolutionary sense,” he said.

 Part 3. A Whale of a Tale, or Floundering Around in the Mediterranean

Lest you think that these strange goings-on are confined to pachyderms, there is another, perhaps even weirder story about fish. It seems that fishermen as well as scientists have noticed that several different kinds of commercially valuable kinds of fish, such as flounder and groupers in the Mediterranean Sea, are getting smaller. Once again, the cause is painfully obvious. Fishermen, using more and more trawlers equipped with dragnets that cannot distinguish between species or size, have made it a practice to keep only the larger individuals of fish such as groupers. After sorting the fish on deck, they throw the smaller ones back, perhaps in the mistaken belief that they are being good stewards of the sea in doing so. This practice has resulted in the removal of genes for larger size from these fish populations, producing ever more smaller cod, salmon, flounder, and groupers, at least since the 1980s.

Scientists have been curious to know how far back this trend of the shrinking fish goes. After all, fishermen have been plying the Mediterranean for thousands of years. As Samir Patel reported in the January/February 2013 issue of “Archaeology,” scientists from Stanford and the University of Salento, Italy  hit upon an ingenious and novel way to find out. They went to various museums, examined mosaic tiles of fishing scenes from antiquity, and measured the fish depicted there by comparing them with objects in the mosaics whose size was known. Lo and behold, they found out that dusky groupers (Epinephelus marginatus) have been shrinking considerably for thousands of years. Even if the man-swallowing grouper in the mosaic pictured here is more than a slight exaggeration, it is obvious how far back the phenomenon of the shrinking fish goes.

Grouper Mosaic

Tile Mosaic of a Large Grouper

Man’s unknowing tinkering with nature is widespread. Big Horn sheep from Horn Mountain in Alberta, Canada have had a 25% decrease in horn size because trophy hunters  only go after the ones with imposing horns. In Australia, red kangaroos have become smaller in size because poachers target the biggest  ones for leather.

None of this information will come as a big surprise for readers of this blog. Last year, I posted a summary and analysis of an article appearing in the journal, Science, entitled “Trophic Downgrading of Planet Earth.”Its author, James Estes, along with 22 eminent collaborators, describes how apex predators, such as wolves, sharks, tigers, and lions, are being rapidly eliminated  by humans, and that this loss is having profound effects on the Earth’s ecosystems through the phenomenon of trophic cascades, by which an ever widening number of other animals and plants are being negatively effected.

Wolves' Effects on Their Enviroment

A Cascade of Effects Come About from Wolf Predation

 Part 4. How to Make More Coyotes

Doctor Robert L. Crabtree, is Research Associate Professor at the University of Montana. He is one of North America’s foremost researchers into predator/prey relationships, and an expert particularly on the coyote (Canis latrans). He has recently described a similar situation with regard to the coyote populationin the western United States. It seems that the US Wildlife Services (WS), a little known federal agency that kills millions of wild animals every year, mostly at the behest of ranchers and farmers, has unknowingly  gone into the coyote growth business. Apparently most of WS ‘s “predator control” programs are indiscriminate, in the sense that the animals killed are probably not the offending ones. (The same is true for wolves. Their haphazard removal by WS and others is grimly reminiscent  of the slaughter of Greek villagers in WW II by SS troops, in retaliation for partisan attacks on German soldiers. Most of the villagers killed were not the same people as the partisans, but the act satisfied the blood lust for revenge on all Greeks).

A trappers Idea of "Fair Chase."

Trapped and Attacked

Crabtree reports that coyote populations compensate powerfully for reductions in their populations, and WS ‘s widespread control measures (traps, poison, explosives, shooting from the air, etc.) only increase immigration, reproduction, and survival of remaining coyotes. He makes the following observations:

(1) These control campaigns result in immediate immigration into the control area by lone animals and/or invasion by other neighboring coyote groups.

(2) Litter size increases, probably due to better nutrition, caused by greater availability of prey, which results in higher birth rates and better pup survival.

(3) There is recruitment of adults from outside sources into the pack. This situation results in a doubling or tripling of the number of hungry pups to feed, and recruitment of larger and more available prey (usually sheep) to do so. Therefore, these control measures result in the opposite effect from that wanted, with more attacks on domestic animals (Note: coyotes are responsible for over 60% of livestock killings, while wolves account for less than 0.1% This means that for every sheep killed by wolves, 600 are killed by coyotes. The constant clamor by ranchers to WS and state authorities to kill more wolves is not exactly cost-effective, but what the heck, its not the ranchers, but the tax payers who are paying for this).

(4) Coyotes (and also wolves), learn what constitutes appropriate prey when they are taught as pups by adult pack members. The removal of these adults by control actions makes the pups’ education more problematical.

(5) Reduction in coyote population by control methods results in more females becoming breeders. This increases the number of pups in the ensuing generation.

(6) Removal of coyotes from a pack results in a reduction of the average age of pack members, so that more of them are reproductively active.

(7) Reduction in pack size also induces more young adults not to disperse, but to remain and become permanent pack members. Either that, or they secure breeding positions in the exploited area.

Coyotes Find a Way to Increase Their Numbers

The Wiley Coyote Outsmarts the US Wildlife Services

It is clear from these examples how humans can inadvertently and mistakenly have profound effects on the genetics and behavior of wild animal populations, and that much of the time these effects are either unintended or even contrary to the hoped-for results.

 Part 5. Of Wolves and Men

This returns us to the wolves. In 1996, wolves were reintroduced in the West. It was hoped at that time, that wolves would resume their natural role in our forests as top predators, bringing more balance into western ecosystems. At their peak, in 2011, the three states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming had a combined wolf population of 1,804 animals. Adding in the Great Lakes states’ wolf population, there are about 4,800 wolves in this country. At first glance this might sound like a lot of animals, but compared with other predators in the US, such as black bears (630-725,000)  and mountain lions (24-36,000) , prey such as elk (1 million) and white tailed deer (30 million), as well as domestic livestock (169 million),  it is a proverbial drop in the bucket.

Wolves were removed from the Endangered Species list in 2011. Since that time each of the three western states have instituted wolf hunting seasons unlike those for most other wild creatures except those considered varmints, such as coyotes and prairie dogs. For instance, Idaho’s season is yearlong, thus overlapping the wolves’ breeding and denning seasons. Methods of killing wolves have been expanded to trapping, use of snowmobiles,  electronic wolf calls, along with WS ‘s shooting them from airplanes. How has Idaho’s wolf management plan fared so far?

I was struck by a recent report from Idaho Fish & Game (IF&G) on wolves in Idaho. IDF&G stated that  the wolf population there at the end of 2012 was 683 wolves, a decrease of 11% from 2011. Extrapolating from the numbers in the report, only one pack in two has a breeding pair. (I must add the caveat that wild animal populations are notoriously hard to count and IDF&G terms these numbers minimum ones). These figures are in contrast to most wolf populations that I know of, including those in Canada’s Algonquin Park and in YS, in which each pack usually  has at least one breeding pair.

Furthermore, 70 wolves were killed by hunters in Idaho’s Panhandle. One of the main reasons given by IDF&G for institution of a wolf hunting season was to decrease livestock depredation by wolves. Yet, there has never been a case of livestock depredation by wolves in northern Idaho. I do not know for certain what has led to these skewed numbers, but the year-long hunting season, together with a limit of six wolves per hunter (which is to be raised this year to ten per hunter) with no upper limit on the number of wolves to be killed, may have damaged both the physical and social structure of these wolf packs.

Wolves are an extremely social species, and the complexity of their interactions is rivaled only by that of ourselves and ants. Within most packs there is a network of adults, sub adults, breeders, hunters, pups, and their caretakers (usually the sub adults). Intricate vocalizations, smells, and body language help them to communicate and coordinate with each other. Teaching and learning appropriate wolf  behavior is an important pack function. For example, it is the sub adults who usually teach the pups what is appropriate prey. Therefore the wolves grow up being attracted to elk or deer as the case may be, and not to cattle, sheep, or human beings.

I, along with many wolf biologists, believe that an intact and healthy wolf pack is one of the most important keys to low livestock depredation. One way to test a hypothesis, such as the importance of an intact wolf pack to their appropriate choice of prey, is to examine the effects of damaging that structure. There is an unplanned, inadvertent experiment going on in these three states now with increased hunting and “control” actions considerably lowering the numbers within, ages, and mix of wolves in  these packs. In the next few years, we should be able to see the results of this “unnatural” experiment. What sort of effect will these haphazardly reduced wolf populations have on livestock numbers and comparisons of wolf numbers to depredations? Will the reduction in wolf numbers lead to inbreeding and development of birth defects as it has in Isle Royale NP and Scandinavia?  This is one experiment that I wish was not taking place.

Are the Beliefs of Earth-Based Peoples a Valid Guide to Their Behavior?

Are the Beliefs of Earth-Based Peoples a Valid Guide to Their Behavior?

Ken Fischman, Ph.D

Jon Young with Bushmen in Botswana

Jon Young with Bushmen in Botswana

Is there any validity to the oral histories of indigenous peoples? Typically, the avatars of western culture do not put much stock in the legends, stories, and myths of indigenous peoples. Being people of technology and the written word, we especially look down on those who have no written language, regarding them as “primitive,” and therefore not worthy of being taken seriously if we bother to study them at all.

When we study another culture, we usually take only so-called hard evidence seriously. Evidence such as bones, implements, hieroglyphics, and ruins can be touched, photographed, categorized, and put in the form of graphs and tables. We even define whether a people had something called a “civilization” in such a way as to downgrade the importance of  any people unless they had monumental ruins, a written (and decipherable) language, hierarchical social orders with division of labor, and whether or not they made war.(Guess which one counted highest.)

My point here is that I do not think that we attach sufficient significance to the beliefs of Earth-based peoples. Imagine if you can, that a future historian dismissed the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution as not having any bearing on the way people lived in North America during the past 200 years. I think that you would agree that such an attitude was ludicrous and showed sloppy scholarship indeed.

Yet, in a very real sense, this is what many scholars do when it comes to the beliefs and behavior of people whose traditions are oral. I believe that we should take these beliefs more seriously and give them more weight when we attempt to reconstruct events in pre-history. I came across the following story some years ago and found it a good example of this principal.

 

The Legend of Mount Mazama

 (As told by a Klamath elder to a soldier in 1865. Retold by Ella E. Clark In: Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1952.)

The story begins when the spirit of the Below-World fell in love with the chief’s daughter and demanded that she marry him. This overture was denied and the rejection did not sit well with the spirit, who threatened to destroy the people. “Raging and thundering, he rushed up through the opening and stood on top of the mountain.”

The spirit of another great mountain now intervened and the two mountains began some sort of combat. “Red hot rocks, as large as the hills hurtled through the skies. Burning ashes fell like rain. The chief of the Below-World spewed fire from his mouth. Like an ocean of flame it devoured the forests on the mountain and in the valleys. On and on the curse of the fire swept, until it reached the homes of the people. Fleeing in terror before it, the people found refuge in the waters of Klamath Lake.”

The Klamaths decided that someone should sacrifice him- or herself to appease the spirit. Two medicine men climbed the mountain and jumped into the opening [Caldera?}

“Once more the mountains shook. This time the chief of the Below-World was driven into his home and the top of the mountain fell on him. When the morning sun arose, the high mountain was gone.” Then, according to the Klamaths, rain fell. For many years rain fell in torrents and filled the great hole that was made when the mountain fell …”

Note: This legend appears to be describing the simultaneous eruptions of two volcanoes. The very language seems to be evocative of volcanic eruptions. The Klamath’s legend appears to be about Mt. Mazama in Oregon, and its twin, Mt. Shasta in northern California, as having spirits who lived in them, and openings [vents?] which led to a lower world through which the spirits passed. The Klamaths apparently knew when the mountain was active because when he [the spirit] came up from his lodge below, his tall form towered above the snow-capped peaks [smoke, steam?].

volcano erupting

 

After all, how would the Klamaths know about such things unless they had actually witnessed them? The only trouble with believing that this legend was a kind of transposition of an eyewitness account is that there have been no volcanic eruptions in the Pacific Northwest since Mt. Mazama blew its top three thousand years ago. Could the story have been passed down from generation to generation for such a long time period?

Before you dismiss such an idea as fanciful, consider the part about the rain filling the great hole made when the mountain fell. It seems to be describing Crater Lake, which was formed in exactly that fashion when Mt. Mazama collapsed.

Our culture, which depends on the written word and now also on electronic bytes, can hardly conceive of such prodigious feats of memory. However, many other cultures, which depend on oral history to keep accounts of their people’s stories, developed this capacity over millennia.

Crater Lake, Oregon

One startling example of this capacity is cited by anthropologist Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty in her delightful book, Other People’s Myths. O’Flaherty states “ India has two sorts of Sanskrit classics, typified by two great texts, the Rig Veda and the Mahabbarata.  The Rig Veda is a massive collection of hymns, a text of over 350,000 words (as long as the Iliad and the Odyssey combined); it was preserved orally for over three thousand years. The Mahabbarata is one of the two great Sanskrit epics (the other being the Ramayana), a text of over 100,000 verses, or three million words (almost ten times as long as the Rig Veda, and fifteen times the combined length of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament); it was preserved both orally and in manuscript form for over two thousand years. “

These texts were recited flawlessly in villages from one end of the Indian subcontinent, to the other without a single mistake. Doniger tells the perhaps apocryphal story that it was only when these classics were translated by an English Consul into print that mistakes began to appear.

Navaho “singers” are capable of memorizing three-day ceremonies so flawlessly that no mistake creeps in. In fact, these ceremonies are never written down, but are passed from one singer to another down the generations. Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist, tells the amusing story of one such singer, Jeff King, who, in 1966, recited his ceremony and made a sand painting for a distinguished audience at the New York Museum of Natural History. When he had appeared to finish, he was confronted by one very knowledgeable woman, who insisted that he had left something out. “No” he said. “Yes” she said, and insisted that he put it in. “I cannot, he said, if I did so, every woman in Manhattan would become pregnant.” As Campbell put it, “Those Navaho ceremonies had power!”

(Jeff King Sand painting below)

In sum, I believe that western scientists and anthropologists are mistaken to dismiss the oral histories of these people. In doing so, they are losing a lot of valuable knowledge, that may have at least as much validity as Carbon 14 isotope studies.

The reason why I emphasize that oral histories should be taken more seriously is that I have trouble with people who tell me that the only reason that Native Americans and other indigenous peoples did not destroy their environments just as thoroughly as we seem to be doing, is that they lacked bulldozers and insecticides.

On my side, I find it hard to believe that people who regarded the rivers as their sisters, would have raped them by pouring toxic waste into them, or thought of their forests as brothers, would have clear-cut them. Explain to me how people who looked at wolves as older brothers and whose scouts emulated them, like the Cheyenne did, would have turned around and shot them from Cessnas if only they had they possessed such equipment.

Wildlife Services airplane displays killed wolf decals on engine cowling

 

The Bear Hunter

 

THE BEAR HUNTER

  by Ken Fischman                                          

Published in The Sandpoint Reader, 1/31/05

The phone rings in a plush office of a high rise Boise office building. An elegantly dressed, middle aged man, answers it at his desk. He hears a woman's, voice. “It is now 0900 hours on the ninth of September, year 2005. Your Super Remote Teletronic Animal Harvesting Device has made a bear-kill at 0700 hours of this day in sector B345 of the Payette National Forest. Please refer to your electronic map for the best route to this location".

The man is delighted. This hunting season he will get his trophy head. He cancels his appointments for the rest of day and heads home, where he exchanges his vintage red MG sports car for his $45,000 Mitsubishi pickup, which is carrying a John Deer Special remote-control all-terrain vehicle in its bed. He hastily loads it with a sealed package containing, among other things, a canvas bag, rope, and small chain saw, and heads north on Rt. 55.

During the two hour ride he reminisces about the vicissitudes of the old days of bear hunting, when he used bait and dogs, and the failed campaign by those "lunatic animal lovers" to infringe on the rights of hunters to hunt bears in the most efficient manner possible. He chuckles, and thinks “You cannot stop progress", He muses further on how primitive man used to hunt huge cave bears with only spears and pit traps, and how physically  exhausting and dangerous it must have been.

         What a great improvement these new high tech methods over the 1990s hunting methods.  Now the odds are more on our side, and there is no need to get up at 5:30 AM, bundle up, trudge into the mountains, get cold, wet, dirty, and then sometimes not even get a bear.

         In his mind, he goes over the new high tech hunting methods, such as remote sensing devices, laser-aimed, computer-controlled weapons, and satellite tracking game locators that can be set for any kind of animal.  He then remembers with chagrin that the previous model he had sometimes misidentified the game animal. One time he took off a whole day to go up there, expecting to harvest an elk, and instead found a cow! However, the dealer had assured him that glitch in the harvesting software had been.

corrected in the new model that he had recently purchased. It had better be. He had paid a mint for it!

He arrives at the trail head, and still in his business suit, he unloads the ATV, places the package in it, and climbs in. He turns on the computer, punches some keys, and away he goes, automatically being driven to his "kill". The ATV's computer ascertains the shortest way to the kill and maneuvers expertly, using its universally jointed, independently suspended wheels to get over and around all obstacles. The man sits, back, mixes himself a drink, and turns on the TV. Not finding anything interesting, he switches it off and his mind turns to how he and his wife had argued about this new hunting device.

         “I really will never understand that woman, how she can prefer to hike into the forest, insisting that she enjoys 'experiencing nature first hand." Several times she had actually tried to entice him to go with her! No way. He did not want an that effort and discomfort. He saw with distaste the way she had to bundle up with boots, gloves, down coat, and her silly red wool beret.

The ATV arrives at a shallow but steep ravine, that it cannot negotiate and cannot find a good route around due to heavy alder thickets. The ATV's computer informs him of this, and that the kill is located only thirty feet away. "Damn", he thinks, "I should have spent the extra money and gotten the model with tree-cutter capacity." He curses, because it has become obviously windy and colder. He gets out, unzips the packet, pulls out and puts on Mylar coveralls. He starts to carry the canvas bag and chainsaw down into the ravine. His patent leather shoes slip on the scree, and he tumbles to the bottomtwisting his knee and hitting his head on a rock.

         He regains consciousness, minutes or perhaps hours later, finding himself at the bottom of the ravine and in a full-scale blizzard. He cannot see more than a few feet ahead. He realizes that his knee is hurt badly enough so that he cannot walk, and he feels panicky. He tries to calm himself but soon begins to drop into hypothermia.  He thinks “I’ve got to get back in the ATV, and order it to get me back to the trail head. I can also radio for assistance, and the satellite tracker will guide the Medic copter to me." As he drags himself laboriously over the lip of the ravine, he lifts his head and sees a beautiful fox standing in the snow, looking at him. He feels a strange kinship with it, but the fox just flicks its tail and calmly trots into the storm. "Wait, don't go," the bear hunter mumbles.

He looks ahead and dimly perceives a snow-covered form lying on the ground ahead of him. "Damn" he says. "It's the bear. I climbed up the wrong side of the ravine!" He reaches out to the form and grasps something that comes away in his hand. He looks at it. It is a red beret.

He lapses into unconsciousness again. The storm grows in intensity. It will be very cold that coming night on the mountain, just as it has been for millennia

 

 

Newsletters, 2011

Our Newsletters will begin in July, 2011.

With respect to our wild lands,  it will cover topics, such as Hunter Gatherers, Wilderness Survival, and Predator Prey Relationships, with emphasis on the role of wolves in healthy ecosystems. 

The environment takes in an even wider swath, so the Newsletter will also cover Cancer, Climate Change, Peak Oil, and Molecular Genetics, especially Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

Anything that effects the health of the Earth is grist for our mill, and hopefully of interest to you. We will therefore upon occasion, wander farther afield if it seems relevant to your interests, to such topics as primitive skills, wilderness awareness, the evolution of man, and so on.

 

 

Please check the News category for the latest topics of interest

Recommended Books on Earth-Based Peoples and Animism

RECOMMENDED BOOKS ON ANIMISM

COMING HOME TO THE PLEISTOCENE. Paul Shepard.

            Do hunter-gatherers have something to tell modern culture? A brilliant analysis by the most respected scholar on the subject.

DANCING WITH THE WHEEL. The Medicine Wheel Workbook.

            Sun Bear is of Chippewa descent. He founded the Bear Tribe, which welcomes natives and non-natives, and is located near Spokane, WA. His book shows how to apply the Medicine Wheel, based on natural cycles, to your life. Includes the 4 directions.

LETTERS FROM A WILD STATE. Rediscovering Our True Relationship to Nature. James G. Cowan

            Cowen is an Australian, who has spent much time with Australian aborigines as well as with several other indigenous peoples. He brings the lyrical mind of a poet to penetrate deeply into the mythical minds of these people.

MESSENGER OF THE GODS.  Tribal Elders Reveal the Ancient Wisdom of the Earth. James G. Cowan.

            Cowen gains much wisdom and insight from his contacts with the few remaining animists living on islands between Australia and New Guinea. They tell him their personal stories, myths, and legends.

NATURE AND MADNESS. Paul Shepard.

            Shepard’s most profound work. Here he shows how the life cycle of an individual is intimately tied to natural cycles, and what happens when a culture  disconnects it.

ORIGINAL WISDOM: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing. Robert Wolff.

            A psychologist lives with the most remote people of Malaysia, the Sng’oi., and discovers remarkable things about these people’s abilities.

ISHMAEL. Daniel Quinn

             The transformative, award winning novel, depicting the contradictions between the animist and contemporary cultures. 

PROVIDENCE. The Story of a Fifty-Year Vision Quest. Daniel Quinn

            The autobiography of the prize winning author of Ishmael, Quinn’s dream as a seven year old and his vision in a Trappist monastery prefigure his inexorable path to his culminating work.

THE FOREST PEOPLE. A Study of the Pygmies of the Congo. Colin M. Turnbull.

            An anthropologist lives with Congo Pygmies. He admires their lifestyle and social organization, which they manage to retain despite the incursions of Bantu agriculturalists.

THE HARMLESS PEOPLE. Elizabeth Marshal Thomas.

            An anthropologist, as a teenager with her parents lived with South African Bushmen and describes a society that works – wonderfully. She returns 20 years later to see what effect our culture has had on theirs.

THE OLD WAY. Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

            The author, who lived with the Bushmen for several years, uses the perspective of her mature years to examine their  culture in depth. It is interwoven with personal experiences and insights, as well as with comparisons to our culture.

THE LOST WORLD OF THE KALAHARI. Laurens Van der Post.

            The beautiful and insightful adventure of a South African WWII hero, who upon his return, searches for & finds the last remnants of the remarkable Bushmen. They are surviving in style in an inhospitable desert.

THE HEART OF THE HUNTER. Laurens Van der Post           

            Continues the story begun in Lost World of the Kalahari. It is an elegiac evocation of both the external & internal worlds of the last of the Hunter Gatherers, written by a keen observer.

THE ISLAND WITHIN. Richard Nelson

            An anthropologist, turned subsistence hunter, goes to an island off the coast of Alaska to find deer and grizzlies. He develops an animist spirituality. This is an astonishingly beautiful book about the relation of a man to nature.

THE TRACKER. Tom Brown, Jr.

            The story of the apprenticeship of seven year old Tom Brown to an Apache scout and elder, Stalking Wolf, in which Tom learns a lot more than wilderness survival skills.

TOM BROWN’S FIELD GUIDE TO NATURE OBSERVATION AND TRACKING. Tom Brown, Jr.

            The almost legendary master of tracking and primitive wilderness survival has written a manual on how to not only survive, but to flourish in Nature’s embrace. Tune into the man, who has reconnected thousands of people to the Earth and gain a little of his ethic and wisdom as a bonus.

THANKSGIVING ADDRESS. Jake Swamp

            Swamp was the Peacemaker for the 6 Nations of the Iroquois. He was head of the Tree of Peace Society. This pamphlet, which is a classic example of Native American thanksgiving, and said on every occasion, can be obtained from John Stokes , of Thetrackingproject.org

THE LOST CIVILIZATIONS OF THE STONE AGE. Richard Rudgley.

         A scholarly analysis of the impressive technological and cultural achievements of our ancient ancestors.

OUR BABIES, OURSELVES: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent. Meredith F. Small.

         A Pediatric Anthropologist examines different cultures’ approach to parenting.

LIMITED WANTS, UNLIMITED MEANS. A Reader on Hunter-Gatherer Economics and the Environment. John Gowdy, ed.

         The interaction between Hunter-Gatherer economics and the environment. Describes a culture in harmony with the Earth.

The Earth Is Our Home

 

What is Jack Staff's destination?

The End Of Oil

 

THE END OF OIL, AND THE RISE OF DENIAL (6/3/06, rev. 9/10/11)

Ken Fischman,Ph.D.,  Lanie Johnson, M.A.,  and the Ancient Pathways Players

Climbing Hubbert’s Peak

Back in 1956, an oil geologist, by the name of L. King Hubbert, published an article in which he predicted that oil production in the U.S would reach its peak between 1970 and 1972, and from then on would decrease every year.
Despite the fact that Hubbert was a respected scientist and that he presented solid evidence for his conclusions, he was derided, laughed at, or ignored by almost everyone in the oil industry.
In 1972, oil production in the U.S. peaked, and since then it has declined every year. That, and not oil industry greed, China’s new energy appetite, or rebellions in Libya, is the main reason why you are paying over $3.00/gallon for gasoline and our country is dependent on foreign oil.
By the way, my bill for heating and cooking with Propane went up 28% last winter. Did you know that natural gas production in the U.S. peaked way back in 1956, and has gone down every year since then?
Other scientists have improved L. King Hubbert’s fact gathering, formulas, and calculations, and have extended the methodology he successfully used to predict Peak Oil in the U.S. to computer simulations of world oil production.

They have concluded that world oil production will peak within a few years, or has already peaked. Kenneth Deffeyes is a Geologist from Princeton University, and is one of the leaders of the Peak Oil movement. He has calculated that world oil production reached its highest level in November, 2005. It is in the nature of the oil industry that we only learn about such events after they have happened.
Deffeyes, Colin Campbell, who is a Scottish geophysicist, energy investment banker Matthew Simmons, along with Roscoe Bartlett, who is a former engineer, and presently a Republican Congressman from Maryland, have been sounding the alarm. They have been derided, laughed at, or just plain ignored. It is only now, with the price of energy sky-rocketing, that they are getting any public attention at all.
If you remember your history, the Greek seer, Cassandra, made dire predictions about the fate of Greece. She was laughed at too. But, she had the last laugh. Classical Greece is gone. You can visit the ruins of the Acropolis in Athens, if you buy your airline tickets now while you can still afford them.

The End of Cheap Oil

Now, you may wonder, why am I talking about oil at a workshop on ancient skills and beliefs? It is because the impending loss of cheap oil is going to profoundly affect the way we and our children lead our lives.

[enter stage L -- a fairy, dressed in pink tutu, with a diamond tiara, and a wand with a star at its end – “she” is flippant and bubbly, and speaks in falsetto, kind of like Glenda the Good, from Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz]


“Hi, I’m the Tooth Fairy (TF) and I’ve come to tell you that there’s nothing to worry about. There’s plenty of oil left. All you have to do is look for it under your pillow!”


[KF] Hey, wait a minute! You’re interrupting a serious discussion. And you look ridiculous in that tutu. These people are here to learn important things that will affect their lives. Please do not interrupt us. [TF glares at K, petulantly, hands on hips ]


[KF] Now, where was I? Oh yes, even the phrase “oil production,” is misleading. Human beings have never produced even one drop of oil. It was all produced by Nature some 600 million years ago. More properly, we ought to call it “oil extraction.” The amount of oil available is, for all intents and purposes, finite (unless you want to wait around another 600 million years.) When it’s gone, it’s gone, and all the wishful thinking in the world won’t bring back a drop of it.
The fact is, that the world is rapidly running out of conventional oil, and this fact is absolutely critical because our contemporary, technological civilization is organized around and totally dependant on cheap oil. This situation is being compounded because every year America’s appetite for oil is increasing. China and India’s economies are growing at 10%/year and are they running around the world, trying to lock up all the existing and potential oil and natural gas sources they can get their hands on. When demand increases and supply goes down, the law of economics tells us that the price will increase. My truck camper makes about 9 miles/gal of gas. I ‘m thinking of trading it in for a Prius.


[TF] Oh, yoo–hoo! I have an easy solution. You know, when children lose a tooth, all they have to do is put it under the pillow, and the tooth fairy (that’s me!) will come in the middle of the night and replace it with a dollar bill. Now, all you have to do is place your empty gas tank under your pillow and the Tooth Fairy will fill it up with oil made from Canadian tar sands, or Pennsylvania coal, or Ethanol from corn – better yet, we can fill it with Abiotic oils from the bottom of the sea of which there’s an endless supply! Of (course) no one’s ever seen it, but I am sure it’s there because we need it!


[KF] Now look here, you demented elf! You are interrupting a serious discourse and making a farce out of this. Leave this room right now, or I’ll Canadian tar-sand and feather you! [TF exits in a huff, stage Rt.]

Say Goodbye To Cheap Oil

Thank goodness were rid of that ridiculous person. Magical thinking will not help us. This is a rational society. Only a few years ago, the price of oil was 35$ per gallon. Now it is over $80. I predict that the price of oil next summer will be over $100 per gallon, and that the price will go up every year from now on.
The high price of energy will profoundly change our lifestyles. The Global Economy, which is based on the ability to cheaply transport goods from one part of the world to another, will inevitably collapse. Economies will, of necessity, become localized, and we will have to depend on local food supplies.
Everyone knows. . .


[Oil Fairy] Hi there. I’m the Oil Fairy and I’ve come to tell you that there’s plenty of oil around the Caspian Sea. And, we know there’s lots of oil under the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge without having even drilled test wells there, or ……


[KF] Great! Another idiot! Look here! If they started exploring ANWAR tomorrow and found oil, which is not certain, it would take at least 10 years to locate, drill, and build a pipeline to carry the oil down to us. Furthermore, even the most optimistic estimate of how much oil there is under those herds of Caribou, would supply U.S. needs for only 3 to 6 months. But, it sure would make a lot of money for Exxon, BP, etc. And maybe they can get Halliburton to build the pipeline.

[OF] But all I have to do is wave my magic wand and. . .


[KF] There is no such thing as magic! You can’t make something from nothing. Why don’t you go away and stop bothering us with your wishful thinking? [TF stands petulantly, hands on hips, & glares at KF]
They have looked everywhere, and there are no hidden sources of oil. Not only that, but there is no adequate substitute for oil. You can’t stick a nuclear energy plant in your car and make it run, or put one in a Boeing 747 and make it fly either. Too heavy. You can convert coal to gas, but the more coal you dig, the more expensive it will be to get to, and how are you going to transport that heavy stuff from Pennsylvania to Florida? And up and up will go the costs.
As for corn-derived Ethanol, it is the latest fad of the technofixers. At least two studies have shown that more energy has to be put into the process than can be gotten out of it. Corn is a very energy- demanding crop. It will make a lot of money for agribusiness, but it is not the answer to our energy problems. Not only that, but every acre put into production of corn for Ethanol, is an acre taken out of the production of food in a country where the number of food-producing farms is shrinking every year. If our government is so worried out our dependency on foreign oil, how vulnerable will we feel when we become dependant on foreign-grown food?

What Is Oil Good For?

The first thing people think about when you mention oil is fuel – energy – energy to drive your car to work, to fly by plane to the West Coast in order to spend Thanksgiving with your far-flung family, energy to push that diesel locomotive up the track, bringing cheap stuff to Wal-Mart.
But energy needs are just the tip of the iceberg. Where do you think your anti-allergy pills come from? Your antibiotics? Most medications are synthesized from oil. By the way, what do you think is the most expensive kind of building to construct and maintain? (pause) Anyone?  No, it’s not the Pentagon. It’s your local hospital. By the square foot, by the little white pill, by the 2 million dollar MRI they just installed. A single Cancer treatment costs almost 10 thousand dollars. . . . . It is by far the most expensive structure around. What do you think will happen to your medical bills when oil hits $100/barrel? $200/barrel?


By the way, what do you think plastic is made from? Take a wild guess. …. Hey, Oil Fairy, do you know how much plastic there is in your house? your refrigerator? your automobile? I’ll bet even your magic wand is plastic.
Another question for you fairy! Do you like bananas in your cereal for breakfast? Now, don’t tell me you just wave your wand and make them appear! Do you know
where that banana came from?


[OF] Timorously – Ecuador?


[KF] How many bananas are you going to eat when the cost of transporting them from Ecuador doubles? triples? How much of the food that you buy in Safeway is grown within 100 miles of here? Very little, but food distribution patterns are going to have to change or we will not be able to feed over 320 million Americans. Bioregionalism anyone?


[OF} I think I’ll leave . The batteries in my magic wand seem to have run down. I wonder what batteries are made of? Goodbye.

[KF]  Good riddance! Whew! We are finally rid of her! Now, where was I? Oh yes,
Let’s talk more about food. After all, it is your ultimate energy supply. Is your food cheap? plentiful?. . . What is the fertilizer that makes that food grow made from? Anyone?….  How about the pesticides and herbicides that they use on farms? What are they made from? …. How much oil did they expend to manufacture that tractor, and the other mechanized equipment found on most farms today? And, how much energy is used to run them? How much fuel was expended to transport food from Imperial Valley, California to your dining room table last night?
How much plastic is there in your computer? And how much oil did they use to dig up, refine, and transport all those rare materials that give your hard disk that prodigious amount of memory the computer companies boast of?

The Technofixers

And that’s just the beginning. What about – - – - – - – - – - -

[Big rumpus –Technology Fairy enters – stage L]


[TF] Hi – I’m the Technology Fairy, and I’ve come to save you! Not to worry! I’ve got a technological fix for everything! Just look under your pillow!

(someone in audience shouts – “Hey “Techy,” you’re cute”)


[TF] I’m not only cute, I’m clever. Hey, do you know what we can do to squeeze more out of an oil field? I can drill on a slant to get oil from under nearby mountains or drill down a mile with offshore drilling rigs that are already a mile below the ocean surface.


[KF] (exasperatedly) It’s already been done, and you know what happened. Remember BP and the Gulf oil spill?


[TF] Oh – well, I can pump water into the wells to push up more oil.


[KF] Been there – done that. Do you wonder why the Saudis are doing it now? Can it be that their oil fields are drying up? It adds to the cost, and eventually it messes up the entire oil field.


[TF] Oh – well, I can explore other parts of the world, using high-tech equipment, and find loads of oil.


[KF] Until 2006 oil companies had been spending less money every year on oil exploration. Only now, with the price of oil soaring, has it become worthwhile for them to put money into exploration. The reason for that is that they have almost certainly already found all the great oil fields on Earth. There is no other place to look for large amounts of oil except the Arctic Ocean and the South China Sea, and that’s why China, Japan, Taiwan, and Vietnam have recently been threatening each other over that area. I don’t think that superpowers fighting an oil war is going to help lower the cost of oil.


[TF, getting surly] Yeah, well how about all those hydrogen-driven cars? – clean, no pollution, free energy. yippee!


[KF] You know, it’s a funny thing. Nobody talks about where they’re going to get all those H2 atoms. You see, they’re going to pull them off of – guess what? ….  oil and natural gas. That’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul. You see, H2 cars are not energy sources. They are really just big batteries, and where is all that infrastructure to transport the H2 atoms to where they can be pumped into cars? It’s non-existent.


[TF] Boy, what a spoil-sport you are! Hey – they can get the H2s from water. Any school kid knows that! We’ve got plenty of water. All you have to do is stick a positive electrode in one end of a water tank and a negative one at the other – voila – (that’s a French word, you know!) you’ve got all the H2 atoms you want – just like we did in high school science class!


[KF] You forgot one little thing – the electric current to do the job. You will use more energy to liberate those H2 atoms than they will generate. That’s a good way to go broke -– energy-wise.


[TF] Well, what about all that Liquefied Natural Gas from Africa?


[KF] Listen, speaking of energy, you re wasting ours. What’s next? Are you going to invent a perpetual-motion machine? Get lost, will you! – First, they must transport the LNG at -260° F in tankers. Then, what do you do with it? They will need to build special ports to receive LNG, and special facilities to store and transport it throughout the United States. They will have to build an entirely new infrastructure throughout the country, and where will the trillions of dollars come from to build this in a country that is already in over $3 Trillion in debt? Do me a favor Technology Fairy. Get lost! Put an egg in your shoe and beat it!


[TF] Well, if that’s the way you feel about it, go drown in your misery. What a grouch! I have a million ideas of how to get more oil. What about all those Tar Sands in Canada? Maybe there’s some on Mars. There’ll always be a technological fix right around the corner. Off I go to find one. Don’t worry – be happy. La De Dah De Dah – – – – – – – – [exit stage R]


[KF] Well, I sure hope we’ve seen the last Fairy.

[voice from audience –“Don’t you bet on it”!]

[KF] The end of cheap oil will obviously have profound effects on our lives, both upon our economy and our social structure.

The Great Denial

There are two other things I would like you to think about coming out of this discussion – myths and psychology.
Most people do not think that our modern, technological, rational culture has any myths. Myths are for ancient Greeks with their Olympian Gods and for African witch doctors, and Siberian Shamans.
How many of you think that our culture has any myths? – – – – -
Good. We just talked extensively about two of them. Can you name them for me?
…. 1. The resources of the Universe are inexhaustible. i.e. the Horn of Plenty myth
2. There is a Technological Fix for everything.

 

Ancient Pathways Group

Ancient Pathways To A Sustainable Future is a group of Sandpoint people, who are interested in learning ancient skills, and who participate in  programs, projects, and field trips to enhance those skills.. We have studied: wilderness awareness, tracking, bowl burning, traditional story telling, brain tanning, and many other skills.