Bear Hunter


by Ken Fischman

Just north of Boise Randy Wayne’s red Maserati wound its way down from between the sear grass-covered hills that resemble monstrous brown dumplings. The road straightened out when it reached the city and he sped down the arrow-straight avenue leading past the state legislature. It was a dark early December Sunday morning so there was little traffic on the streets of the Idaho capital that could slow it down, and the driver, taking advantage of the situation, sped up, going through a just-turned-red traffic light and headed for the downtown section of the city. The driver began a conversation with himself.

‘Confound that woman I really will never understand why she always wants to hike into the forest.’

          ‘I enjoy experiencing nature first hand she whines.

Several times she had actually tried to entice him to go with her! No way. He did not want all that effort and discomfort. He found it disgusting the way she had to bundle up with boots, gloves, down coat, and that silly red wool beret of hers.

Now she’s off again this morning. I bet that she’ll be late to dinner – with Governor Crapo for Christ’s sake!” Hmnn, whenever we arrive though, she’ll look great in that shoulderless gown she’s going to half wear.’ He smirked.

‘Jeeze, that’s why I married her. She looks so hot in those things, I get a boner just thinking of it. I saw his honor givin her the eye last time we were at the mansion.’

By the time Randy arrived at the main entrance of a green glass-enclosed high rise office building, wind-driven snow was beginning to swirl about its foundation walls and also around the cars parked at the adjacent curb. The winter’s first layer of sparkling crystals was also parking itself on the sidewalk.

The middle-aged overweight man, wearing a felt cowboy hat, striped scarf wound his neck, and lamb’s wool lined leather jacket stumbled his way out of the car. As his embossed high-heeled cowboy boots started to slip in the new snow, he grabbed the side mirror and regained his balance. He threw his keys to the doorman and scuttled manfully up the few steps to where the huge automatic revolving door opened wide for him. He quickly walked past the row of elevators on his left and headed for another, narrower elevator door on the back wall. It was labeled in red “PRIVATE.” It too opened for him, with a whoosh sound when the camera above it recognized his visage. Then it took him quickly up to the eighteenth floor.

The lavish, but peopleless, dimly lit office had only one light on, a huge brass contraption hanging over a monster Scandinavian teak wood desk which rested on the far end of a plush dark blue throw rug. Somewhere in the room a phone started to ring. It quickly cut off and he heard an English-accented woman’s voice.

“This is Emily. It is now 0900 hours on the ninth of December, year 2026. Your Super Remote Teletronic Animal Harvesting Device has made a bear-kill at 0700 hours on this day in sector B345 of the Payette National Forest. Please refer to your electronic map for the best route to this location and contact me for further directions.”

‘Huh. I was going to go over those papers on the ski resort this morning that they better have on my desk right now! I’ll make a mint on that bankruptcy, but it’ll wait one more day. This will be good.

He knew his priorities.

‘This season I am going to get my head for damn sure! It cost me enough. I’ll show those snooty Safari Club types what a griz looks like when I mount that trophy over my fireplace at the family ranch.’

He smiled when he thought about how he had outfoxed those guys and gotten the first grizzly hunting permit in Idaho since the Idaho and Wyoming senators had gotten the bears knocked off the Endangered Species list, by slipping a rider onto a must-pass congressional spending bill.

‘There’s only 200 of them and that’ll make it even sweeter for me. That ticket cost me thirty thousand in the Idaho Predator Hunting Lottery, but it’ll be worth it to see their green-with-envy faces.”

He canceled his appointments for the rest of day and headed back up to his home at the very top of the “dumplings,” the one with the huge American flag waving from the pole next to it. In the cavernous garage he exchanged the vintage sports car for a $155,000 Hummer Special, which was carrying a John Deer Spectral remote-control all-terrain vehicle in its bed. He hastily loaded it with a see-through sealed package containing, among other things, a canvas bag, orange plastic rope, a Bowie autographed hunter’s knife with embossed ivory handle, and a small Husqvarna Diamond chain saw. As he drove the vehicle out, the garage door hissed open automatically and after a few turns, he headed north on Rt. 55, under increasingly lowering, darkling clouds.

During the two hour and a half hour ride he reminisced about the vicissitudes of the old days of bear hunting, when he had to use bait and dogs, and the failed campaign by those ‘lunatic animal lovers’ to infringe on the constitutional rights of hunters to kill wolves and bears in the most efficient manner possible.

‘Its too bad about the wolves though’ he thought. ‘They went too far with those open seasons and helicopter hunts and they probably wiped them out.” Despite Idaho Fish & Game’s insistence that there were a few of them still up on the Lolo, he knew there had been no hunter reports of wolf sightings in the past two years.

‘I never did get a chance to nail one, but a griz will make a better trophy any day” he grinned. ’Its bigger’!

He chuckled ‘You can’t stop progress.’ He mused further on how cave men used to hunt huge cave bears with only stone spears and pit traps, and how physically exhausting and dangerous it must have been for them.

‘None of that for me. These new high tech methods are a big improvement over ‘90s hunting. 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, and get cold, wet, dirty, like Becky is going to be today, and then likely not even get a bear.” He chuckles.

He thought with building excitement about how he would use the new high tech hunting devices he had just purchased, such as a remote sensing device, laser-aimed, computer-controlled semi-automatic weapons (The Feds had pushed through a ban on machine guns and rocket launchers after that Seattle stadium massacre during the COPA soccer matches, ‘Damn them.’). And a satellite tracking game locator that can be set for any kind of animal.  Then he remembered with chagrin that the previous John Deer he had, sometimes misidentified the game animal. One time he took off a whole day to go up the Middle Fork of the Boise River, expecting to harvest an elk, and instead found a cow!

“Holy cow”

he laughed out loud. But then he remembered that he didn’t find it funny at the time.

‘When I gave that dealer a piece of my mind, the guy gave me a real good deal on the new equipment along with a long-term warrantee. That obsequious shit head assured me that the glitch in the harvesting software had been corrected in the new model.’

“It had better be. I paid a mint for it!”

Just then he arrived at the trail head, and still in his cowboy get-up he unloaded the Plexiglas covered, climate-controlled ATV, placed the package in it. Then, he climbed in. He turned on the computer, touched a keypad, and away he went, automatically being driven to his “kill”.

Emily’s silky voice cut in again.

“Now that you have put your ATV in “kill” mode and have become all comfy Sir, I need to remind you that there are a few things that you should be aware of. We cannot control the weather, and have found …te da te da te da ” she droned on amidst a burst of static. Finding the noise annoying, he switched Emily off.

‘Convenient. I wish I could switch Becky off like that’

he chuckled to himself.

With the ATV unloaded at a trail head, its computer ascertained the shortest way to the kill and maneuvered expertly through the heavily wooded area, despite the increasing snow, using its universally jointed, air-oil, independently suspended wheels to get over or around all obstacles, including fallen trees and mud holes. Billy Joe sat back, mixed himself a drink, and turned on the TV. Not finding anything interesting on the Terrorism or Game channels, he switched it off and his mind turned to how he and his wife had argued about this new hunting device.

 ‘We seem to argue about a lot of things lately,’ he grimaced.

“Excuse me honey lamb but it doesn’t sound too sportsmanlike. Is it honey?” He whined in imitation of her.

‘Hey, I told her what for.” “it’s the bottom line that counts” I said.  “Them what has, gets. Nature don’t have no mercy and neither do I.”

He smugly recalled that she had no retort, but that he rubbed it in anyway. “Look at what my ways have gotten you. Hey, how d’ya like that new Givenchy gown I gotcha in Paris?”

That sure shut her up.

The ATV arrived at a shallow but steep ravine and abruptly stopped. It could neither negotiate it nor find a good route around the chasm due to the heavy alder thickets surrounding it and steep hillsides above it. Randy impatiently turned Emily on again and she informed him of this situation.

“I already know that” he snarled.

She went on sweetly to say that the kill was located only thirty feet away.

‘Damn’, he thought, ‘I should have spent the extra money and gotten that model with tree-cutter capacity.’

He cursed again, because it had become more obviously windy and colder. He got out, unzipped the packet, pulled out and put on Mylar coveralls. He started to carry the canvas bag and chainsaw down into the ravine. His boots slipped on the snow-covered scree and he tumbled to the bottom, twisting his knee and striking his head sharply on a protruding rock, which knocked off his Stetson.

He regained consciousness minutes, or perhaps hours later, finding himself at the bottom of the ravine and in a full-scale blizzard. His head hurt something awful and he could not see more than a few feet ahead. As soon as he tried to get up he realized that his knee was hurt badly enough so that he could not walk, and he began to feel panicky. He tried to calm himself but soon began to shiver and drop into hypothermia.

He thought ‘I’ve got to get back to the ATV. Order it to drive me to the trailhead. I can radio for assistance. Satellite tracker will guide the Medevac copter to me.’

As he dragged himself laboriously up over the lip of the ravine, he lifted his head and saw a beautiful red fox standing in the snow, looking at him. He felt a strange kinship with it, but the fox just flicked its tail and calmly trotted into the storm.

“Wait, don’t go,” the bear hunter mumbled.

He looked ahead and dimly perceived an elongated snow-covered form lying on the ground ahead of him.

‘Damn’ he thought. ‘It’s the bear. I climbed up the wrong side of the ravine!’ ” Shit!” He reached out to the form and grasped something that came away in his hand. He looked at it. It was a red beret.

He lapsed into unconsciousness again.

The storm grew in intensity. It would be very cold that coming night on the mountain, just as it has been during the winter for millennia.

A Modest Proposal For A Solution To Idaho’s Wolf Problem

(With apologies to Jonathon Swift, the author of “Gulliver’s Travels,” whose satiric essay, “A Modest Proposal, ”suggested that England could solve the Irish famine by skimming off surplus babies and using them for food.)

Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

         Next spring, Idaho Fish & Game (IDF&G) will continue their program to remove wolf pups from dens, equip them with radio collars, and replace them in dens. IDF&G says that this will enable them to track wolf movements throughout the life cycle of the pups and will give them valuable information on a vexing problem that has preoccupied the Idaho state government.

Wolf advocates however, suspect that IDF&G has other, clandestine motives in continuing this program. They assume that radio-collaring pups will enable agents to more easily track and find wolves in order to kill enough of them to drive Idaho’s wolf population down, close to the minimum legal number of 100 wolves allowed by their agreement with the US Fish & Wildlife (USFW) agency. Keeping tabs on wolf numbers through use of these collars can facilitate IDF&G’s ability to do this without inadvertently dropping the wolf population below that number which is something that Idaho officials want at all costs to avoid. This would trigger a mandated review by USFW and possible relisting of these animals as an endangered species, again putting them under federal control.

Some people consider this conclusion to be a paranoid idea on the part of pro-wolf people.  I suggest however that not only could the present program be continued, but that it might be expanded to provide a solution to Idaho’s perceived problems with wolves. In fact, the technology might already exist for enabling Idaho officials to accomplish this task in a more efficient and expedient manner.

The lowering of the Idaho wolf population to a relict, unimportant, and almost invisible number of animals could be accomplished by equipping wolf pups, with permanent radio collars (expandable so as not to choke them to death as they grow because that could be considered animal cruelty in some circles). These collars would be furnished with remote scent detectors and strychnine self-injection devices, which could be adjusted in such a manner that if wolves were to approach domestic livestock within a certain distance, (let us say fifty feet), the strychnine injector could be automatically triggered to deliver a lethal dose to the wolf that would kill it within seconds. Thus these devices could prevent any possibility of wolves killing animals that ranchers value.

One of the problems with present wolf management in Idaho is that there is no sure way to know which of the many wolves that are now being killed in retaliation for livestock deaths are actually responsible for them or just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Equipping wolf collars in the foregoing manner would make it virtually certain that that only wolves that are likely to predate livestock would be killed, not in retribution for prior deaths as is the present practice, but in a preventive way. Such methodology would not only be more efficient than sending agents out with rifles or traps, or shooting the wolves from aircraft ( L.A.Times, Dec. 14, 2011) but it is less likely that IDF&G would be accused of unethical behavior toward these animals, as they have been in the past. It would “make the punishment fit the crime”.

Alteration of such scent detectors might also make it possible for them to be used to prevent the killing of elk that hunters most value, such as bucks with big racks.  This could be done if bucks are found to have an odor, distinctive from those of does and calves.

Anti-wolf people say that wolves are impacting Idaho’s wildlife. Elk scent detectors in these collars could perhaps be turned on and off from a distance in certain areas so that only wolves residing in or occasionally wandering through places where hunters success rates were below the historical 21% would be targeted. The CIA is now routinely doing long distance killing with radio-directed drones. Perhaps Idaho officials can persuade the Federal Government to share this technology with them for such a crucial task.

These devices could be activated on wolves found in the Lolo National Forest where hunters have long claimed that they have reduced the elk there despite the fact that in some areas where wolf numbers are high, elk populations have actually increased. Doing this would enable ID F&G to definitively show for the first time that such wolf killing was justified, in their eyes at least, because it had a beneficial effect on elk populations.

There are other situations in which these collars might prove valuable. Despite wolves having never killed even a single sheep or cow in the Idaho Panhandle, they have been targeted there for elimination. There was no official limit placed on wolf killing in the Panhandle during the 2013-14 hunting season. This resulted in the killing of 85 wolves in that region. There will not be a limit this coming year either. With sufficient technological advances, cattle and sheep sensors could be used in southern Idaho, but remotely turned off in the Idaho Panhandle. Doing so might persuade the rest of the country that Idahoans are not the bloodthirsty psychotics that many of them believe us to be.

One drawback in this program may be that the initial cost of such collars is liable to be high.  When that amount is added to the cost of sending personnel into remote areas to do the initial collaring and subsequent retrieval of collars from dead wolves, it will exceed the present cost of wolf eradication. Although the program is not likely to be cost-effective in terms of the value of livestock and elk effected, the past few years’ experience has shown that this is not a major concern of the Idaho Legislature and Governor Otter in their efforts to rid Idaho of these animals. For example, the recent addition of a Wolf Depredation Control Board recommended by the governor, which was given an initial budget of $500,000, was passed by both state houses with almost the unanimous vote of Republican legislators. (Most Democrats voted against the bill).

The Depredation Board reported (Spokesman Review, 2/3/15) that it had recently cost them $43,000 to kill 31 wolves. That is a cost of $4,600 per wolf. That this was accomplished despite the Idaho government’s present short-fall in educational funds for the state, (many school districts have had to fire teachers and/or cut back to a four day school week), clearly shows where the priorities of our state legislators lie. Given their staunch support for wolf eradication, they will probably be quite willing to bankroll this final solution to Idaho’s problems with wolves.

Sleeping With Wolves

Stonebraker Ranch

The Main House at Stonebraker

WolfSleeping With Wolves

By Ken Fischman, Ph.D.


It was a dream job. Lanie and I had been chosen by Idaho Fish & Game (IDF&G)to be the sole summer caretakers and guides at their Stonebraker Wilderness Ranch, The ranch was situated at Chamberlain Basin, in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, a 3.5 million acre tract straddling the Salmon River in the middle of the state. We had many wonderful adventures there. It just shows how great a job you can get, if you do not care how little you are paid.

Our time at Chamberlain Basin was almost up now. September had arrived, almost unexpectedly, and we knew that we would be leaving soon. The mornings already had the snap of autumn air in them, and we had to fly out around mid month.before the snows arrived,  It was this realization that spurred my decision to camp out at least once.

We had comfortable quarters in one of the log cabins behind the main dining room/kitchen building and just down the hill from the showers and bathrooms. It was not exactly luxurious. The furnishings were rudimentary and sparse, and the only heat in the surprisingly cold mornings came from the cabin’s wood stove that I had to start in the darkness.

Nevertheless, we did have gas lights, a gas range and refrigerator in the kitchen/dining building, and hot water, along with flush toilets in the shower building, courtesy of a solar panel which ran the water pump from the creek in back of the hill. We even had a generator that was used to run the washing machine.

We had taken many hikes, but we had always returned to Stonebraker Ranch in the evening. This was not roughing it. I felt I had to do something about this before it was too late, so I announced to Lanie that I was going to camp out the following night.

I already knew exactly where I wanted to camp. I must have identified it subliminally on one of our hikes. It was a wooded  area about a mile away to the southeast of the pasture and down two slopes from the ranch, where mounted visitors were supposed to leave their horses to browse. There was a small but flat grassy area, between two cottonwood trees. One side of it was directly above a ten foot bank leading down to a little creek that meandered out of the woods and through a wet meadow. It was an isolated and lovely place.

I carefully gathered the minimum equipment and food I that I needed, just a sleeping bag, some commercial freeze-dried food, a few pots, and some matches. No tent or stove for me. After all, I had been taught how to survive with even less by the legendary wilderness survival teacher Tom Brown, Jr. I was tough!

I said  goodbye to Lanie at the ranch house door in the late afternoon and started on my way. I left about three hours to hike out, set up my camp, and cook dinner before twilight set in. It was a lovely evening as I walked, first through the emerald green and sweet smelling tall grass meadows, then down the two slopes to the group of trees I had in mind.

I arrived in what seemed a surprisingly short time, and proceeded to set up my rather rudimentary camp. I gathered an ample supply of dry wood from fallen lodge pole pine branches and dead branches jutting out from other nearby trees, and proceeded to lay my fire carefully. I intended it to be a one match fire, and I succeeded. I felt like a mountain man.

I scrambled down to the creek to get some water with which to cook dinner. The stream, which was a tiny tributary of Chamberlain Creek at that point, flowed softly, with a gentle whooshing sound, just below the steep bank.  Soon the food was cooking. It is funny, but in situations like this, I had noticed on previous canoeing and camping trips that even ordinary camp food smelled and tasted as delicious as cuisine from an upscale French restaurant. It is supposed to  have something to do with what they call the “presentation” in such snooty places.

Well, Nature’s presentation that night could not be beaten. As twilight fell and the shadows from the trees lengthened , a soft breeze rustled the leaves high up in the cottonwood trees. I looked around at the enchanting scene, first down to the sweet, gurgling creek ,then across the meadow, and to the edge of the dark forest.

As I ate, and savored the food, stars began to be visible and the moon rose. What more could I want from a wilderness camp-out?

After dinner, I went back down the bank and washed my pots and other utensils with sand that I scooped up from the creek. I walked along the top of the bank about  hundred feet south of  my camp and hung these things up along with the next morning’s food. Now they were dangling high above me, on a tree branch where bears could not get to the food. I had even thought of that, and was quite self-satisfied about it.

I walked back to camp, confidant that my precautions lessened the possibility of visits from critters during the night. I snuggled into my down sleeping bag, making a pillow from my red jacket, stuffed inside my dark blue wool sweater.  Yellow and orange flames from the fire flickered and popped a few feet away, giving off a wonderful resinous pine aroma. I was very content.

As the last few embers gave off an ever decreasing red glow, I began to drift off into sleep. Then, the wolves began to howl.

I was instantly wide awake. I realized from the direction and volume of their howls that the wolves were on the other side of the stream and meadow, probably just inside the fringe of trees where the woods began. That meant that they were less than a hundred yards from me. A shiver slid down my vertebral column, from the axis and atlas vertebrae just under my skull, right down to my coccyx, where my tail should have been. If, like most mammals I had had hair on my spine, it would have been standing straight up.Throw baby to wolves

I was scared. Everything I really knew about wolves went right out of my mind. Images of Little Red Riding Hood played hide and seek with that of a ravenous wolf pack chasing a Russian sleigh on a snowy night while its occupants threw the baby to them in order to save themselves from being torn to bits.

I lay there shivering, realizing that only my thin sleeping bag lay between my body and those crushing, razor-sharp teeth. I was trapped. Where was my 30-30 rifle with the telescopic sight and silver bullets? Oh, oh. I did not own one! Well then, where could I go? Run for home? Too far I thought. Climb a tree? Damn, these were cottonwoods and pine, with long straight trunks, impossible for me to scramble up. Why was there not a fir friendly tree nearby, with low, wide spread branches? I lay still, with my mind Chamberlain Wolf 1996racing, trying to think of a life saving strategy.

Unaware Little Red Riding Hood

Beware of the Big Bad Wolf

Well, Lanie will tell you that I can sleep through anything, and I proved it that night. The next thing I knew, the sun was warming my face and a gentle breeze stirred the cottonwood leaves above me. I was still alive! I woke with a start, and looked around me. No wolves ominously circling. I breathed the fresh, cold air deeply a few times, unzipped the sleeping bag, got up, and padded around the periphery of my camp, searching the ground. No wolf tracks. I collected my senses, as well as the camping equipment.

I headed home, to Stonebraker. Ho hum, just another beautiful day in Idaho, but I had a good story to tell.

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.

The Pleistocene Massacres

The Pleistocene Massacres

by Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

History and pre-history are often best told in stories or narratives. There  are two alternative stories to explain the extinction of North American megafauna around 10,000 years ago.
In one story, it was the advent of a land bridge from Siberia to North America, created by the waning of the last ice age, that enabled Siberian hunters to enter and people the Americas. These selfsame hunters hunted the megafauna into extinction.(Martin, 1967).
In the other story, climate changes, transitioning from the last Ice Age, set in place complex ecological forces, which were responsible for the disappearance of mammoths, giant sloths, megabison, dire wolves, and other large mammals (Allen, 2010).
I believe that it matters greatly which of these stories you believe because they enter our cultural consciousness and are responsible, at least in part, in how we see the world. Our understanding of how the world has come to be, in turn influences how we react to and treat the Earth.
Therefore, it is my intention to examine each of these narratives, stating the evidence for them as fairly as I can, while recognizing that I, though a scientist, cannot be perfectly objective, and then to come to some conclusions about them.
In the interest of transparency, I want to state from the beginning that I have a bias toward the climate change theory, but I will endeavor to present both arguments as best I can. I cannot promise though, to present them with the same tone.
So, let us begin. In the first story, which I call the “Pleistocene Massacre” theory, there are two kinds of evidence, one chronological and the other material.
The end of the last ice age, the formation of a land bridge, called Beringia, between Siberia and North America, the movement of human beings into this continent, and the disappearance of megafauna all seem to have taken place at around the same time. This evidence forms the chief argument of the proponents of the massacre theory. This is impressive evidence, but is it sufficient to make definitive conclusions about what happened?
Let us examine this evidence, piece by piece. First, there is the statement that the migration of Siberian hunters to North America and the extinction  of large animals occurred simultaneously. When events occur concurrently, there are at least two possible explanations:
In one, there is cause and effect at work. For instance, if a blizzard were to hit your town and a number of automobile accidents ensued, you might fairly assume that the icy conditions made it more difficult to control vehicles, thus causing more accidents.
Sometimes two events occur at the same time and/or change at the same rate, but it is mere coincidence. For example, a recent scientific paper concluded that people who take large doses of vitamins have a greater mortality, thus showing cause and effect. However, another possibility remains. Did the vitamins cause these deaths or is it possible that people in poor health take more vitamins” How we distinguish between the two in our case is the challenge.
In the so-called hard sciences, like physics and chemistry, the way to distinguish between two such possibilities, is to search for a plausible, and hopefully testable, statistically significant mechanism. Alas, in anthropology and paleontology we usually have less evidence to go by and the opportunity to test these theories is much more limited.
My father used to tell me about the routine of a pair of old-time vaudeville comics. The first one would often recite an improbable story, a whopper, and the other would challenge him. The first would reply “Vas you dere Charley”? Well, we were not there 10, 000 years ago and under most circumstances cannot reproduce the conditions to test them.
I actually do know of one case however, in which a long ago occurrence was tested. Coincidently, it involved one of the animals whose disappearance we are examining here, so I may permit myself a slight divergence to tell you about it, both because of its relevance and because it illustrates the astounding potential of molecular biology to uncover long lost information.

Painting of a Woolly Mammoth

An Artistic Representation of a Wooly Mammoth

The animal in question was the woolly mammoth (Elaphas primigenius) . As most readers know, some of these animals have been recovered intact from Siberian ice, and carefully examined. One of things noted about them was the intense network of capillary beds in their feet. Scientists reasoned that oxygen, carried in blood, was released in their feet to protect the animals from frostbite at temperatures that sometimes dropped as low as – 60 degrees F. However, how could this occur when hemoglobin (Hb), the blood molecule that carries oxygen, releases it only grudgingly at low temperatures?
The scientists speculated that mammoth Hb was different from Hb of contemporary mammals. But, how could they prove this? First they tried the comparison method. They looked at Hb in the Indian elephant (Elaphus maximus indicus), a modern relative of mammoths. No luck. Elephants have the same Hb that we have. Then they had an outlandish idea. Why not attempt to reconstruct mammoth Hb, using DNA, which they obtained from mammoth tissue, samples? The DNA would contain the gene for constructing mammoth Hb.
They grew the Hb gene in bacterial plasmids, gave it the appropriate precursors of Hb and wondrously produced mammoth Hb. They then proceeded to test the oxygen-carrying capacity of mammoth Hb at low temperatures. They discovered that the mammoth version of Hb gave up its oxygen at much lower temperatures than ours does, and thus would have protected mammoths from frostbite. (Yuan et al., 2011). What shall we call this amazing feat? Molecular Paleontology, or the Lazarus method?
In the absence of an analogous method by which to reconstruct the post-Pleistocene environment, and thus prove or disprove the massacre theory, we are left to sift the evidence, little and conflicting as it is, and to speculate, a lot.

More Evidence for the Massacre Theory:

In addition to the chronological situation, the most convincing evidence for the massacre theory seems to be that there have been finds of enormous numbers of mammoth bones along Siberian rivers and on Arctic islands like Kotelnoi and Liakoff, off the north coast of Siberia. However, there are little or no signs of human activity associated with these bones. Nevertheless, these troves of mammoth bones are often cited as evidence of the destructive tendencies of Paleolithic man. It would seem more likely that some cataclysmic natural event, such as a flood or storm can better account for these phenomena (Vereshchagin, 1967).
As stated previously, the main evidence is the assumption that when man first came to North America, the megafauna disappeared. In order to bolster their case, the proponents of this theory also declare that the Aborigines accomplished the same kind of faunal exterminations in Australia shortly after they arrived there, some 30,000 years ago.
In addition, according to Jared Diamond in his book, “Collapse,” the Polynesians wiped out many native animal species when they colonized South Pacific islands between 400 – 1100 A.D. (Diamond, 2005).
One of the consequences of this line of evidence is that ideologically oriented scholars and media have used it to argue that mankind is inherently predisposed to damaging its environment and exterminating many animals.
With regard to the times that various animals went extinct in North America, there is actually a great difference. For example, Martin cites the demise of the giant short-faced bear (Arctodus sp.) in both North and South America at 20,000 BP (Before the Present). However, among several others, he also lists the American mastodon (6-8,00 BP). He also cites the horse (Equus sp.) as the most common bones associated with man, but states that it became extinct at 18,000 BP (Martin ,1967). Therefore, there is a spread of 14,000 years during which these extinctions may have occurred and some of them happened long before the 11,000 BP Clovis Horizon that supposedly marks the entrance of Siberian hunters on the North American continent.
There is yet another line of evidence, derived from eyewitness accounts of native behavior that appears to strengthen this line of reasoning.
There have been historic accounts from European explorers, traders, and travelers, recounting that they saw Indians set fire to prairies and drive bison off cliffs. According to many massacre proponents, these acts establish that Native Americans were bloodthirsty, wasted thousands of animals, were clearly capable of wiping out North America’s megafauna, and are therefore no better people than we are today. As this story goes, the only reason that they did not totally destroy this continent was that they had not perfected the sophisticated technology with which our society has quickly accomplished that sort of destruction, both in North America and elsewhere. This is what I call evidence by analogy.

Evidence Against the Massacre Theory:

Eiseley’s Rebuttal
Loren Eiseley, was a respected anthropologist and author of many popular science books, like “The Immense Journey” and “The Star Thrower.” At the time when he was the Chairman of the University of Pennsylvania Anthropology Department, he issued a rebuttal to the massacre proponents. (Eiseley, 1943). Here are some of his most persuasive points:
(1)  Not only megafauna died in these extinctions. Many smaller fauna, such as birds, mollusks, and frogs also perished. It is hard to conceive that fires, drives, spears, and atlatls could have killed off such animals. Eiseley emphasized, in particular, the 12-13 species of woodland songbirds that perished (cf.). That extinction certainly cannot be accounted for by the work of big-game hunters.

(2)      Eiseley also points out that many grazing animals survived, such as regular bison, antelopes, deer, elk, and moose.

(3)  Most tellingly, Eiseley states that that there is no evidence of any contemporary hunter gatherers, or even tribal people, using traditional means, significantly decreasing or extinguishing any species.

(4)  Predators and their prey almost always adjust to each other’s numbers, with one increasing while the other decreases and vice versa.  [Classic examples of this dynamic equilibrium are that of snowy owls and arctic hares, and also wolves and moose on Ile Royale National Park, isolated on Lake Superior. To this I  would add the population swings of wolves and elk in Yellowstone National Park which have been intensively studied by Mark Hebblewhite and Doug Smith head of the Yellowstone Wolf Project (Hebblewhite & Smith, 2010).] It is hard to understand why the Paleolithic hunters and their megafaunal prey would not also obey the age-old natural law that no predator can manage to kill off its prey because it depends on the prey for its own existence.

(5)  According to the Bering Straits land bridge story, the Siberian hunter gatherers migrated over it to the New World. Yet, there is no evidence that these Siberian hunters eliminated many of these same beasts where they came from, in Siberia. The same is true for the European Stone Age hunters, Why would they have been able to do so in North America, using the same technology as their Old World cousins?

(6)      It is hard to imagine how small bands of hunter gatherers, estimated at the present time to be less than 2,000 individuals at one point, could have accomplished this task. We know that these small groups existed because molecular biologists have detected bottlenecks in our own DNA (Amos & Hoffman, 2009).  It does not seem likely that the migrating hunters, using traditional weapons and methods, could have even made a dent in these extensive animal populations. It is hard to imagine that they would even attempt to tackle them as long as more vulnerable animals also abounded.)

(7)  When European explorers arrived in the North American continent, they described the land as teaming with game, and the rivers literally overflowing with fish. Just to read the Journals of Lewis & Clark is eye-opening and thrilling. [One explorer in the 17th century walked through what was later named Pennsylvania and described trees throughout his journey so huge that they shut out the sunlight and reduced the understory, making it easy to traverse the entire state. What he was describing was basically a temperate rain forest.]

(8)  The Bartram brothers were naturalists who travelled throughout the southeast of what was to become the United States. One particular episode struck Eiseley in such a fashion that he never forgot it. William Bartram in 1774 was crossing the Saint Johns River in Florida and described it as being so filled bank to bank with alligators that he could practically step on them (Van Doran, 1928).

(9)  In the West, explorers and mountain men found the prairies, forests and mountains were in great shape. Were they exaggerating, as they often did in their stories? The amazing amounts of furs, which they often brought back, testifies to the truthfulness of these statements. [How can this abundance of wildlife be accounted for? Did these Indians lose the skill and blood thirstiness of their predecessors?]

(10)     Large predators, such as saber toothed tigers, dire wolves, and spectacled bears (Tremarctos ornatos) also died during these extinctions. It is hard to imagine that the Pleistocene peoples would have hunted them down for sport, as some massacre advocates have speculated. For example, Steadman (PNAS, 2005), cites evidence on Caribbean islands that sloths went extinct at about the same time, around 11,000 years ago, that Pleistocene hunters entered the Americas as indicative that humans killed them off. Once again, was this cause and effect or association?

(11)     He also failed to take into account that animals are more prone to go extinct on islands because there is little chance that their numbers could be reinforced by in-migrations from other areas as would be the case in mainland North America (c f Quammen, 1996).

(12)     Martin, in a fanciful tale, even went so far as to suggest that little Indian boys shot giant ground sloths, 8 -9 feet tall, for fun(Deloria, 1997). [This does not fit with the eyewitness descriptions I have read about contemporary hunter gatherers. For example, the children of South African Bushman were given toy bows and arrows (without arrowheads) and proceeded to use them on rabbits and other small game, with surprising accuracy] (Fischman, 2012). Needless to say, rabbits and squirrels make more likely game than giant ground sloths for eight year olds.

As stated previously, it is not even certain that man’s first appearance in North America and the disappearance of its megafauna were concurrent  events. It is quite possible that these two events occurred as much as several thousand years apart (cf.). Scholars argue over the dates incessantly and it is clear after examining the literature that methods for dating long-ago events are neither standardized nor agreed upon. We shall see however, that some dates can be established with more reliability than others and that the sequences of some occurrences can be accepted as true with some degree of certainty.
For example, the age of the first North American human migrations continues to be pushed further back into the past than the so-called “Clovis Horizon” hunters, indicted by massacre proponents, at 11,000 years ago. Signs of a pre-Clovis culture, at the Aucila River in North Florida at 14,000 years BP showed well-dated animal bones, and butcher marks. At Paisley Five Mile Park Caves in Oregon there are feces and seeds, demonstrating the existence of a foraging economy at 14,400 BP (Jenkins 2012). The Buttermilk Creek Complex in Texas contains pre-Clovis tools dated 15,500 years BP (Waters et al., 2011). The site at Monte Verde in Chile, (8,000 miles south of the Bering Straight), is now authoritatively dated at about 14,400 – 16,000 years BP (Wikipedia, 2012). There may be even older sites at Meadowcroft, PA, Saltville Valley, VA, etc., but their dates are still in dispute.
The significance of these earlier dates of human occupation is that it raises an important question of why these pre-Clovis hunters were unable to eradicate the megafauna, given their at least twenty five hundred year head start. On the other hand, it could be argued that their cruder lithics (blades, scrapers, and choppers) indicated that their culture was not as technologically (and perhaps strategically) as advanced as that of the Clovis people, and that this made them less proficient at hunting.

Hunting Large Animals:

To my knowledge, no one who claims that Siberian migrants killed off North American megafauna has ever attempted to kill a large and powerful animal, in the open, armed with nothing more than a stone-tipped wooden spear, stone clubs and stone knives.
It is important to realize that these Pleistocene hunters did not have bows and arrows or atlatls (spear throwers), and were not mounted on horses. On the contrary, according to the hypothesis, they were supposed to have also killed off these fleet stallions 18,000 years ago (Martin, 1967) while hunting them on foot.
As I previously pointed out, no contemporary observers were there while these events were supposedly taking place, so how do we know if this sort of hunting is possible, and if so, how efficient it is? Here we are on firmer ground because: (1) some hard evidence of ancient hunting methods does exist, and (2) we can also turn to present day surviving hunter gatherer and tribal cultures to see how they go about their hunting tasks.

A Bushman Hunting Grazing Animals with a Throwing Spear

Bushman, throwing a spear

Bushman Hunting With A Throwing SpeaThere are many eyewitness accounts in the one continent where large herds of grazing ungulates still exist, and smaller relatives of mastodons, woolly mammoths, and rhinoceroses still roam free. I am speaking of the savannas and rain forests of Africa.

There are many eyewitness accounts in the one continent where large herds of grazing ungulates still exist and smaller relatives of mastodons, woolly mammoths and rhinoceroses still roam free. I am speaking of the savannas and rain forests of Africa.Famous European explorers of Africa in the eighteenth century, like Burton and Speke, gave many accounts of the hunting of these animals by African natives, armed with much better weapons than Pleistocene man had at his disposal.
Africans used metallurgy as early as 2,000 B.C.E., and produced iron-tipped spears and knives by 500 B.C.E. They had invented bows and arrows long before European observers arrived on the scene. They coordinated their hunts, using hunting techniques, some of which were borrowed from their observations of jackals, hyenas, and other predators.
North American Pleistocene hunters probably borrowed techniques from wolf packs. Later on, Native Americans admired and definitely copied wolf tactics. For instance, the Pawnee Nation’s scouts were called the “wolf scouts” by other admiring tribes, due to their uncanny proficiency.
By all accounts, hunting large animals on the African plains was dangerous, frustrating, time consuming, and energy depleting. The majority of attempts met with failure. By the way, this is true for most predators, no matter who or where they are.
We have accounts of iKung (African Bushmen from  Botswana) hunters tracking prey wounded by their poisoned arrows for over a day until they literally ran them down (Van der Post and Taylor, 1984).
People who observe predators closely, whether wolves in Yellowstone or lions on the Serengeti, have noted that nine out of ten attacks on prey on the average meet with failure. That is an enormous expenditure of energy and time for rather poor results.
Stone age man might have been more successful than animal predators, due to his strategic abilities and weapons, but he too undoubtedly met with more failures than successes in such difficult undertakings.


An ABO had to be a jack-of-all-trades

Only a few animals were likely to be killed in such hunts, certainly not enough to even put a dent in large ungulate herds, which sometimes numbered in the tens of thousands. Such animals, in Africa, even when poached with rifles these days, restricted in territory by the fences and other obstructions of agriculture, and challenged by periodic droughts, have obviously managed to survive in large numbers.
This brings us to the subject of buffalo jumps. Some massacre proponents have cited these as examples of “primitive” people’s ability to employ systematic and efficient methods of killing large numbers of prey animals. These jumps were usually cliffs over which American Indians would attempt to stampede bison herds, in order to drive them to their deaths. Apparently, there were a good many such places in the American West, and we know of some of their locations. Using these tactics, hunters were able to kill large numbers of bison with less effort than hunting them from horseback, with bows and arrows, a method, which was at any rate, not available to Paleolithic hunters.
Some scholars also point out the waste of such a method, often leaving many more dead animals than the hunters could butcher and use for food. In this way, these critics get to make two anti-Pleistocene hunter criticisms at once, one, that these hunters were indeed capable of killing large numbers of animals and two, that they wasted resources.
An amusing story, derived from a Blackfoot legend by Joseph Campbell, illustrates both the difficulty of such endeavors and the reverence and respect in which the Native Americans held Bison, who are accused by some of indiscriminately slaughtering them. (J. Campbell, 1988).
The trouble with these accusations is that they do not appear to stand up to scrutiny. The critics state that these methods were widespread. If so, how successful were the Indians in wiping out the bison? By all accounts, enormous herds of bison, from a population which some have estimated at 50 million animals,(Nowak, 1983) still roamed the American West, even in the 1800s. Obviously, the Indians’ methods were insufficient at the least to eliminate the bison.
In addition, why should we assume that the Siberian Neolithic migrants to North America, who were the predecessors of American Indians, and who had a much smaller population than the Indians, perhaps as little as 2,000 at one point (cf.) , had been more successful in exterminating much larger, and presumably more dangerous, bison (Bison antiquus ) when their ancestors had been unable to do so in Siberia?
And, how did these Neolithic hunters accomplish the permanent demise of dozens of other megafauna? There is no evidence that other animals, such as wooly mammoths  and giant sloths, were susceptible to these stampede methods. How did the paleohunters, for instance, wipe out the large ungulates, such as Bison antiquus, when horse-mounted Indians were unable to do so with their smaller descendents, Bison bison ? Were their Pleistocene predecessors cleverer than they? Hardly likely. In fact, some scholars have argued that ancient Hunter Gatherers were intellectually inferior to us and lived in a sort of preconscious state ( James, 1976), although there exists considerable evidence to the contrary (Fischman & Johnson, 2010)
As for the charge of wasting the meat from animals killed at buffalo jumps, none of the critics have explained how the Indians could have limited the numbers of animals killed, using this crude but effective strategy. Needless to say, our European/American ancestors, shooting bison for sport from moving trains, could have easily limited the numbers killed by that method, but they did not. In fact, they left the corpses of thousands of bison to rot on the western plains as their trains moved on.
( Nature, 2011).

A Pile of Bison Skulls, Almost Twenty Feet High

This Pile Contains Probably Thousands of Bison Skulls

In addition to these senseless killings, it is well known that the wanton killing of American bison was a deliberate and overt tactic employed by our government to remove an animal absolutely essential to the lifestyle (and spiritual well being) of Plains Indians (IUCN, 2010). The loss of the bison forced them onto reservations and opened up the plains states to private property, ranching and agriculture. (Gates et al., 2010). No such motivation can be attributed to the paleohunters, who were just looking for meat.
Observations of native African hunters affords us another opportunity to evaluate these methods, this one of comparison: How did these hunters fare?
Prior to the advent of Bantu agriculturalists and white European explorers and colonists in the 19th and 20th centuries, the Bushmen inhabited the entire region of South Africa. There is recent genetic and archaeological evidence that the Bushmen are descended from the oldest line of human evolution (Gibbons, 2009; Henn et al., 2011). Therefore they have hunting experience in this region for tens of thousands of years.
As previously mentioned, Bushmen hunted large ungulates on foot and employed bows with poison-tipped arrows as early as 24,000 years ago (Zorich, 2012). (The poison used then was the deadly ricin, derived from castor beans). That would seem like a neat, efficient way to dispatch large ungulates, but as they say, the devil is in the details.
Bushmen first had to stalk near enough to edgy herds in order to use their weapons with any kind of accuracy. The poison, now usually made from toxic beetle grubs, worked slowly. The hunters, therefore had to follow or track the wounded animal for hours and sometimes even days before the animal died. I have seen a film of bushman actually running after these animals all day until they exhausted and cornered them (Foster. C. & Foster D.,2000) The stamina of Iron Man competitors and ultra marathoners pales in comparison to that of these hunters. They were then faced with the task of killing and butchering the animal on the spot, and thus heavily laden, had to carry the meat back to their extended families at their temporary encampments.
Keep in mind that the Bushmen are little fellows, most of them barely over five feet tall. Any elk hunter, who has ever shot an elk on top of the mountain or far off the road, can testify as to what a challenging task this is.
Congolese forest pygmies still hunt in their own unique traditional style. The Babenzele pygmies (Mbouti) of Zaire’s northeastern rainforests, have perfected a neat way to hunt in heavily forested areas. It is a cooperative hunt, using nets, made from nicusa vine (Manniophyton) cordage.  The entire group, which is actually an extended family, participates (Sarno, 1995). Each nuclear family is responsible for one section of net, about as high as a volleyball net, but much longer, which they must keep in good repair.
     They put the nets together end to end, the entire apparatus in the form of a horseshoe-shaped trap, covering several acres, by tying it to trees and bushes.

Ituri Forest Pygmy with a Hunting Net

Pygmy with NeThe rest of their families then drive the animals into the open end of the trap, shouting, pounding trees with sticks and altogether making as much noise as possible. In this manner they can trap and kill small animals, such as pygmy deer and duikers, in an efficient manner (Sarno,1995). You could consider this method as a rain forest equivalent of a buffalo jump, but it is certainly no way to wipe out the entire forest fauna, and obviously, hunting in this way for millennia  if not longer, they have not done so.

Pygmies are genetically related to Bushmen, and like them, are  also descendants of the longest human lineage in the world (Wade, 2012).
It should be mentioned in this regard, that Anthropologists had long suspected pygmy ethnic antiquity from examining their language and culture. In addition, DNA studies have lately confirmed the ancient lineage and racial interrelationships of the various pygmy groups, such as the Baka and Mbouti, even though these aforementioned groups are separated by more than a thousand miles of forest. (Verdu et al., 2009). This is a testimony to the cohesiveness and relative exclusivity of their cultures and lineage.
Pygmies are also reputed to be efficient and courageous hunters of forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclodis ), which they hunt with spears. These animals are a smaller version of those in large herds ( Loxodonta africana ), which roam the African Savannah.
Australia: Massacre proponents recite virtually the same scenario for the continent of Australia as they do for North America. That is, when humans arrived in Australia, they wiped out the widespread and varied marsupial megafauna. They cite the demise of animals such as the giant wombat, Diprotodon, the largest marsupial to ever exist (Martin, 1967).
However, there is a good deal of evidence accumulating that these two events, the marsupial extinctions and the arrival of Australian aborigines, did not even come close to occurring simultaneously. These megafauna became extinct around 46 – 51,000 BP. However, by some accounts, man has inhabited Australia as far back as 61,000 BP (Brook, 2002,). That would make 10-15,000 years of overlap before these animals went extinct.  It is hard to understand why the Aborigines were able to coexist with the megafauna for such a long time and then suddenly developed methods and desire to wipe them out in a relatively short time. There is no evidence of a change in aboriginal technology.
It is important to note, that like the Bushmen and Pygmies, the Australian Aborigines were hunter-gatherers, who wandered on foot, in small groups of related people, over a landscape, which is mostly a desert, with a fragile ecology. Note, for example, how a recent and continuing drought (Chancellor, 2012) has wrecked havoc with the agricultural and herding economies of that land, despite the availability of modern technology. Australia is almost the size of the USA.
No one knows for sure what the Aboriginal population was before the arrival of Europeans on that continent. The best estimate at the time of first contact was 318,000. (Wikipedia, 2012)
The area of Australia is 2,967,892 square miles. This would have averaged out to one Aborigine/9.3 square miles. For comparison purposes, the least populous state in the US is Wyoming, which has 13 persons/square mile. In other words, it would have taken 121 Aboriginal Australias to match Wyoming’s present population density.
Even assuming that Australia’s population near the coast was much greater than in its desert interior, it is hard to believe that such a tiny population, using Middle Paleolithic technology, could have killed off all of these large animals.
Polynesia: Here the massacre proponents, at first glance, appear to be on firmer ground. The accounts of Polynesian islanders wiping out many species on the islands they colonized are probably true. Nevertheless, this situation may not be relevant to the North American and Australian experiences. It is necessary to put these events in context by examining the special circumstances in which they occurred.
Perhaps the difference that most distinguishes the Polynesian experience, is that these people were agriculturalists, not hunter-gatherers. Their ancestors had migrated down into the Pacific islands from mainland South East Asia (Kumar et al., in press, Kayser, 2008).
They produced large amounts of food and stored it, thus enabling their populations to become much more dense than those of hunter-gatherers. They were prone to population explosions, which put a strain on the carrying capacities of the islands they colonized (Diamond, 2005). It was indeed, their propensity to outgrow their islands’ biological carrying capacities that impelled their long voyages of discovery.
The unique circumstance effecting the Polynesians were their finite resources. They lived on islands, many of them quite small, and when they had used up the local resources, they could not just pick up a few belongings and move to a more promising region as do contemporary hunter-gatherers, like the Hadza in Tanzania and the iKung of the Kalahari Desert. In fact, most of Polynesia was probably colonized from other overcrowded, over-taxed islands. Thus, the impressive, long Polynesian voyages of discovery were probably voyages of necessity.
For example, Easter Island is 3,000 miles from most Polynesian-populated archipelagoes, and despite the romantic notion that these were voyages of exploration and adventure, it is not likely that such arduous and potentially dangerous voyages would be undertaken except in a desperate search for new territory to exploit.
In fact, these overcrowded conditions leading to heavy exploitation of their natural resources were among the primary factors in stimulating new voyages of discovery, as groups of marginalized or land-poor islanders searched for new islands to exploit. Islands have finite resources.
One of the main reasons that many extinctions occur on islands is that once a faunal or floral population drops below a certain level, there is not much likelihood that they will be “rescued” by in-migration. In fact, there is a well-known phenomenon of island dwarfism, by which many species, isolated on islands have a tendency to become much smaller than their mainland relatives (Quammen, 1996). This may be due, in part to the evolutionary pressures brought on by limited resources. Obviously, a smaller version of a rhinoceros or deer would have an advantage in needing less energy. This would be especially true of those living on islands in which their natural predators were never present or had been eliminated, so that their need to grow to a size large enough to defend themselves or flee predators was eliminated.
An extreme example of this principle is the development of flightless birds on many islands., like the Dodo (Raphus cuculatus) of Mauritius Island and the Guam rail (Rallus owstoni). Both of these birds are now extinct due to human activities.
On the other hand, the island of Guam is literally crawling with an introduced predator, the brown tree snake. These snakes originated in New Guinea, and probably got to Guam as non-paying passengers in freighters. The lack of natural enemies allowed this snake population to explode, much the same way as did Yellowstone’s elks after the last member of its original wolf population was killed in 1926.
Human population pressures resulted in a kind of hopscotch invasion of more islands as the Polynesians pressed ever onward towards the Eastern Pacific, until they reached  islands like Easter and Mangareva, which were distant from most of the other islands. The Polynesian’s profligate ways led to starvation and sometimes their extinction when they continued them on such isolated, hard-to-get-to islands (Diamond, 2005).
It is important to compare the Polynesian’s ever-increasing populations with those of Hunter Gatherers, Although we cannot be certain about the life styles of North America’s Pleistocene hunters, we know from geographical, archaeological, and DNA studies that their numbers were relatively small and sometimes led to population bottlenecks of only a few thousand souls. (Amos and Hoffman, 2010). For example, the “Out of Africa “ migration of Homo sapiens to the Near East and Eurasia was calculated to contain only about 2,000 persons.
In fact, Hellenthal et al. (2008), found genetic evidence of at least two migrations, both small, from Siberia to America, the earlier one eventually reaching South America and the later, larger one, arriving in the northwest corner of the continent.
We can also examine the populations and reproductive behavior of these North American migrants’ present day equivalents. Although they are scattered all over the world, and usually have been forced into challenging and impoverished environments by tribal and western technological cultures, hunter-gatherer cultures are remarkably similar in many respects. Their populations, in contrast to those of agriculturalists, like the African Bantus, horticulturists, such as the New Guinea highlanders, and migratory herders like Mosaic and Fulani in Africa, are remarkably stable, both between areas and down through the centuries during the time in which they have been studied.
Their groups usually consist of basically extended families of 10 – 30 persons, who move from one area to another and back again, depending on season and availability of resources such as water, edible plants, and game.
Their numbers are self-limiting, due to biological constraints and their use of a variety of birth control techniques. For example, in ways similar to the game they hunt, they reproduce more abundantly under ideal conditions, and much less so under conditions of stress, such as lack of food and water resources. They also practice late marriage. For instance, among the iKung (Namibian Bushmen), girls do not usually reach menarche and marry until their late teens, while those of tribal agriculturists often do so even prior to puberty.
Pygmies and Bushmen also breast feed their children up to the ages of four or even later. Breast-feeding liberates hormones, such as oxytocin, which block ovulation. This is a natural method of birth control, which has the effect of spacing children so widely that few hunter-gatherer mothers have more than three or four offspring. Contrast this with the families of agriculturalists, who often have as many as ten children. The more the merrier. It takes lots of hands to run a farm, or at least it did until the advent of modern technology. This trend toward large families has persisted even in our culture, into the twentieth century. Witness all the older, large Victorian houses you see, with four, five, even six bedrooms, in rural towns as well as farms.
Hunter-gatherers use other techniques to limit families, which are less savory to our western moralities. They use particular plants for their abortifacent qualities, and have been known to leave newborns to die of exposure, when conditions are particularly desperate for them, choosing to try to save their other children and not add to the stress on them.
So many other, non-game animals disappeared at the end of the Pleistocene that it is hard to argue that the Siberian migrants wiped them out. The extinction of many predators, like the dire wolf and the Miracinonyx, a cheetah-like animal, which relied on its speed to run down its prey, is hard to understand, especially with many herds of smaller ungulates still extant at the time.

The Climate Hypothesis:

The alternative explanation for the disappearance of these large and small animals, interestingly enough, is one that many people today still have difficulty in wrapping their minds around – climate change. In the present case, the reasons for denying the realty of these changes are clear enough. They are first, that these have been mostly predictions of things to come and secondly, accounts of some things that are happening now, but to other people.
In an infamous remark, while he was talking to the chief climate scientist in the world, James Hansen, the renowned TV interviewer, Larry King, asked Hansen when some of these changes would occur. When Hansen told him that some would happen as soon as fifty years from then, King snorted “No one gives a damn about what will happen fifty years from now.” Lamentably, he was undoubtedly right. Humans have apparently evolved to react to present dangers, such as an attack from a saber-toothed tiger, or an algebra test tomorrow morning, and not from future dangers that they may not be around to encounter.

In the case of the Pleistocene, at least no one challenges the reality of these past climate changes, but frustratingly enough, the power of their effects are downgraded in the estimation of the massacre proponents.

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

When we study past cultures, we usually take only so-called hard evidence, such as bones, implements, and ruins seriously. We even define whether a people had something called a “civilization” in such a way as to discount any people unless they had monumental ruins, a written (and decipherable) language, hierarchical social orders with separable skills and duties, and whether or not they made war.
Nevertheless there is additional evidence, which indicates that North American hunters did not exterminate the megafauna. This might be considered “soft” evidence, but I am impressed by it. It takes the form of the spiritual beliefs and lifestyles of contemporary hunter gatherers all around the world, about which we have collected considerable knowledge. As previously stated, I do not think that we attach sufficient significance to the beliefs and observed behavior of Earth-based peoples.
Laurens Van Der Post wrote several books, such as “The Lost World of the Kalahari “and “The Heart of the Hunter,” describing his interactions with the San Bushmen in the Kalahari desert in the 1960s. (Van Der Post; 1958, 1961). Anthropologist Elizabeth Marshall Thomas wrote of her early adventures with these people in “The Harmless People,” and her recollections of her life with them in “The Old Way.”(Thomas, 1958, 2006).
David Abram has written “The Spell of the Sensuous” about the traditional Balinese people (Abram. 1997). James Cowen spoke of the lives and beliefs of Australian Aborigines in “Letters From A Wild State” and “Messengers of the Gods” (Cowen, 1991, 1993), as did Bruce Chatwin(1987) in “Songlines.”
Anthropologist Colin Turnbull turned his attention to the Congo Pygmies in “The Forest People,”and Robert Wolff (2001) wrote movingly of his experiences with the Sng’oi of Malaysia and other aboriginal hunter gatherers in that part of the world, in “Original Wisdom.”
This is only a partial list, and I only have space to summarize a few stories and legends to give you an idea about people who found a way to tread softly upon the Earth and  to live in communion with the world.
I will begin with an Australian aboriginal legend called “The Kadimakara,”as retold by Cowen (1991)
“According to the Aborigines, the desert they must cross to reach the oasis at Cullymurra water hole was once a vast region of fertile plains and forests. traversed by rivers flowing into lakes. The bones of ancient animals which we call Diprotodons scattered en route  were the surest proof that conditions had changed since that primordial moment …
The present clear sky above had once been filled with dense clouds of dust, which perpetrated tropical downpours at regular intervals. Great Gum trees reached high into the sky, supporting a complex interlace of green life which shut out all sunlight.  From this arboreal vault a group of monsters known as the Kadimakara descended in order to feed on the fruits below. Once these creatures had tasted the fruits of the Earth their appetites became insatiable.  In time they had eaten all the shrubs, trampled the Earth hard, and finally had resorted to eating the giant trees down which they had come. In an ironic twist of fate they had destroyed their one escape route to the heavens!
As a result, the Kadimakara were forced to remain on Earth.  They wallowed in the lakes, drinking up the water.  They ate everything before them.  Soon the canopy of trees overhead had been destroyed, revealing one continuous hole of blue sky.  The tribesmen named it Pura Walpinina, or the great hole. Meanwhile, the Kadimakara began to die of starvation  now that they had eaten every shrub and bush.  In the heaving marshlands of putrefying earth which had once been rivers and lakes the monsters lay down to die.  One by one they expired, their bodies slowly petrifying in the relentless sun, which their destruction of the natural environment had released upon the Earth.  Their bones, the bones of the Kadimakara, littered the dry earth as somber reminders to the surviving tribesmen of what can happen when the natural environment is treated as an inexhaustible larder The Kadimakaras’ insatiable appetites had been the direct cause of their own extinction.
Perhaps the aborigines were warning themselves that if they exceeded the carrying capacity of this fragile, barely livable area, they would suffer the fate of the Kadimakara.
On the other hand, perhaps this cautionary tale is meant for ears other than those of aborigines who have lived in harmony with the Earth for so long.  Perhaps this myth is of more recent origin, say since the days of first contact with Europeans and observation of their peculiar appetites.”
Here is another story, from a very different place. This legend was told to James Cowen by an islander, living in the Torres Strait, between New Guinea and Australia. His family was reputed by other natives to “own” the Pleiades (Seven Sisters) constellation (Cowen, 1993). How can one own a constellation? Read on and find out.
“Tagai was a man.  He owned a canoe, along with his friend, Kareg.  One day they were out fishing with a crew made up of Usiam and Seg people.  To you these people are the Seven Sisters and the stars in the belt of Orion.  Anyway, while Tagai and Kareg were paddling along, the Usiam and Seg people decided to eat all the food and drink all the water on board.  Kareg saw this happening and called out to Tagai, who was in the bow of the boat.  So Tagai strung the Usiam together and tossed them in the sea.  He did the same to the Seg people.  Only Tareg, his friend, remained with him in the boat,”
“Yeah, the story of the stars belongs to me. I must interpret it for others, to remind them that all of us must take care not to act like the Usiam and Seg people.  By drinking too much, by eating too much, we forget to leave some over for others.  The food and water on Tagai’s boat represents nature. If we use it up without thinking, we run the risk of exhausting our food supplies on the voyage.”
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 on our way to doing, is that they lacked bulldozers and insecticides.
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 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 Pawnee and Cheyenne did, would have turned around and shot them from helicopters if only they had they possessed such equipment
Every one of these sources, without exception, tell the same story. These hunter gatherers are remarkably like ourselves. In fact, they are us. Biologically, we are still living in the Pleistocene. They are not Rousseau’s “noble savages”. They were capable of anger, envy, voraciousness, and all the other dark emotions  that people of our society exhibit. However, by both happenstance and planning, they created a lifestyle that discouraged those darker behaviors and valued the best human qualities, like cooperation, egalitarianism, and community.  These qualities enabled them to tread lightly upon the Earth and to live lives of integrety. We have much to learn from them.

The Tale of The Blind Men and the Mammoth:

Some respected researchers, like William Ripple of Oregon State University, who first opened our eyes to the dynamics of wolf/elk interaction in Yellowstone, believe that human predators may have been involved in the extinction of the wooly mammoth. Ripple and Van Valkenburgh (2010), presented evidence that mammoths may have fallen victim to trophic cascades some 10,000 years ago.

Trophic cascades are ever-widening, usually top-down effects brought about by interactions between living organisms in ecosystems, particularly originating with predator/prey relationships. Interestingly, we are at present witnessing damaging cascades which are caused by a world-wide loss of predators. This, in turn, is mostly due to human disruption of ecosystems, such as the effects of shark slaughter on fisheries.
Ripple and his co-workers examined wear and fracture rates of fossil carnivore teeth and from growth rates of their prey, Heavily worn and fractured teeth are an indication of bone consumption, which predators avoid except when there is prey scarcity. There was little indication of such wear. Their evidence suggests that there were no serious food shortages in northern America 10-15,000 years ago.
They believe that a range of predators, such as the dire wolf, lions, and saber toothed cats (Smilodon sp.) reduced the number of fauna. This system was balanced but dominated by the predators. When humans arrived however, they provided increased competition for these predators.         Giving an example of a modern equivalent of this situation, these authors state that in contemporary Alaska, human hunting of moose caused wolves to switch to sheep, which in turn, resulted in a precipitous decline, not only of sheep, but eventually of wolves and moose. [Ripple et al. make it clear that this trophic cascade started with that apex predator, man].
The Pleistocene predators, now desperate for food, may have finally driven their prey to extinction. This conclusion, however, goes against one of the primary dicta of wildlife biologists, which is that predators never cause extinction of their prey.  Before that could happen, the predators themselves would decrease in number from lack of sufficient prey to sustain themselves (cf.).
The authors argue by analogy that human whale hunts have resulted in Orcas switching to seals and sea otters. This, in turn has led to an explosion in sea urchin populations and a decline in kelp forest ecosystems, in another contemporary trophic cascade.

Dwindling green Pastures:

Allen and his colleagues, however, recently reported that a massive reduction in grasslands and the spread of northern forests may have been the cause of the Pleistocene decline in mammals. This occurred during  and after the height of the Ice Age, 21,000 years ago, and dramatically reduced available food.
It resulted in the reduction of large mammals across northern Eurasia and North America by 11,400 years ago, although some held on for several thousand years longer in limited localities, termed “refugias,” in which both climate and food supplies were more amenable to their survival. Migratory hunters were also restricted to these areas by availability of these mammals for their own food supply. Several refugias have been identified, strung along the coast of what is now called Alaska and British Columbia.
These researchers have reconstructed the environment from ancient pollen records and noted which major megafauna became extinct and which survived. The wooly mammoth, cave lion, giant deer, wooly rhino and cave bear went extinct. The brown bear, elk, moose, reindeer, saiga antelope, and musk ox survived (Allen et al., 2010).

We are all connected:

Another group of scientists, (Nogues-Bravo et al.,2008) have accomplished what amounts to a synthesis of the last two views. They used climate models and examined fossil distribution, concluding that change in global climate was exacerbated by human pressures to drive the mammoths and other megafauna to extinction.
These researchers used a number of climate models, ranging from 6,000 to 126,000 years ago. Clearly, the environment was much worse for mammoths 126,000 years ago, yet the animals survived. They showed though that there was a catastrophic loss of habitat 6,000 years ago so that only 10% of the former habitat remained.
They also considered the effects of temperature changes and rainfall. They then compared these parameters with age and distribution of fossils.
Nogues-Bravo and his colleagues say that mammoths faced rising temperatures and increased hunting pressure at the same time. They argue that that these animals had faced previous temperature increases without going extinct and that the only difference was that this time there was human influence.
They came to the conclusion that  it was a combination of climate change and human hunting that was responsible for these megafaunal extinctions.


Well, I have come to the place where I need to sum up the evidence and tell you of my conclusions. However, it is not as easy to do as I first thought. I started out on this journey pretty sure of myself. I was on the side of the angels – at least they were my angels. I was pretty sure that the massacre proponents had at best exaggerated their case and at worst had become prisoners of their ideological propensities. .
The last few papers I have cited impressed me, both with their approach and their reasoned arguments. I was most impressed with the work of with Ripple and his co-workers because they had a novel approach to this difficult subject, and due to my respect for Ripple’s past work.
Perhaps you will be surprised that when I evaluated  the worth of these publications, I took into account who wrote it. At first sight that does not seem to be objective, so I will let you into a little secret of science. It matters who did the investigation. In over 30 years of scientific research I found out that not all the facts are published and that the devil is often in the details. I that learned that I could trust the intelligence, thoroughness, and integrety of some researchers more than others.
Ripple is one of these. As I mentioned previously, his salient work was accomplished by tracing trophic cascades in Yellowstone National Park from wolves to elk and to their widespread and important effects on the rest of the ecosystem. Ripple showed that the elk population explosion, that occurred after the last wolves were exterminated in 1927, had deleterious effects that ranged from the disappearance of riparian flora to decreases in bird, fish, and scavenger populations, and that the wolves, reintroduced in 1996, have been an important factor in restoring balance to the entire system.
Nogues-Bravo and his colleagues seem to have nicely combined the ideas of Ripple with those of Allen et al., who emphasized the important role of climate change.
Nevertheless, despite Ripple’s analysis, I think that the preponderant evidence supports the idea that humans were not responsible, or played only a small roll in the demise of these animals.

The following points sum up the basis for my conclusion:

• Human signs were usually not associated with the massive troves of mammoth bones found on Siberian islands.
• The extinctions took place over a very long period, some of that including times when man was apparently not present on the continents of North and South America.
• It was not only the charismatic megafauna that became extinct during this period, but so were other animals, that were unlikely to have been eliminated by hunters. One example of this is the dozen or so species of woodland song birds that went extinct.
• The direct ancestors of these hunters did not eliminate many of the same animals in Siberia.
• It is hard to believe that such a small number of people, around 2,000 at one point caused by genetic bottlenecks, could have killed off so many animals.
• Later on, Native Americans, with much more advanced technology available to them, put hardly a dent in the populations of megafauna, especially the immense herds of bison, whose numbers may have reached as high as fifty million animals.
• North America was occupied by these Siberian migrants over a much longer time than previously thought, at least 14,000 years, and so the question arises over why it took them such a long time to eliminate the megafauna.
• African megafauna have survived native hunters, who had much more advanced technologies than the North American migrants did.
• Australian aborigines were also few in numbers. They entered that continent much earlier than massacre proponents thought, and coexisted with the marsupial megafauna there for 15 – 20,000 years.
• The Polynesians, who exterminated many native fauna, were islanders and agriculturalists, two factors that make extinctions much more possible.
• Hunter gatherer beliefs and spirituality make it improbable that they would treat their environment in as ruthless a fashion as our culture does.

In conclusion, I do not think that that the last word has been said in this controversy by any means, but the idea that the demise of the megafauna was due, not to one, but to a combination of factors, including climate change and perhaps anthropogenic action, seems like a more likely answer to this vexing question.

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


Uncertain Future for the Gray Wolf


Again, An Uncertain Future for the Gray Wolf

By Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

August 23, 2012


It looks as though Interior Secretary Salazar has struck a deal with Wyoming to end its Endangered Species listing for wolves in that state. According to the New York Times, the arrangement will be similar to that now in force in Idaho and Montana, with a minimum number of 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs. However, wolves will still be treated as vermin, to be shot on sight year round in 4/5s of the state. Thus, Wyoming has apparently received from the Obama administration most of what it had held out for.

The New York Times August 21, 2012 Editorial, “Uncertain Future for the Gray Wolf, “ (c f.) questioned whether 150 wolves/state would be a viable population for Wyoming, Montana, or Idaho. If you consider that my state, Idaho, contains about 1.3 million people, 20,000 black bears, and over 100,000 elk, the number 150 stands in stark contrast to these populations. No reputable biologist that I know of believes that such a number would be anything but a relict population, genetically threatened by inbreeding, and possibly extinction.

Even Ed Bangs, who was US Fish & Wildlife Wolf Recovery Coordinator, recently admitted that this number of wolves “is not defensible.”
Interestingly enough, the lead article in Science, September 2011, “Trophic Downgrading of Planet Earth”, emphasizes the value of wolves and other top predators in keeping a healthy balance in our ecosystems. It was authored by some of the world’s leading Conservation Biologists. The article is excerpted on the Ancient Pathways web site under the title of  “Trophic Downgrading or Where Have All the Predators Gone,?” and contains a lot of valuable information on the effect of apex predators.

Additionally, Times readers should know that the wolf hunting season in Idaho is now year around, if you count private land, which is about 40% of the state. Any land owner, with a valid wolf tag can shoot wolves on sight. When you consider that the southern third of the state is desert, in which wolves are rarely seen, the territory safe for wolves shrinks considerably more. Also, the number of wolves that can be killed in 8 out of 13 “Wolf Zones” is unlimited.

Obama promised that he would reverse the Bush administration’s politicization of science. This does not appear to be true for wolves. I guess that it is because they do not vote.


New York Times


Uncertain Future for the Gray Wolf

Published: August 21, 2012

A Wolf Pack in Isle Royale NP

Wolves In Isle Royale National Park

Wolves in Montana and Idaho lost their endangered species status last year. Interior had concluded that both states had developed management plans that would keep wolf populations at healthy levels.

The delisting has led to the death of hundreds of wolves in sanctioned hunts. But at least Montana and Idaho established limits on hunting seasons and on the number of wolves that can be taken across the entire state. In Wyoming, by contrast, wolves in four-fifths of the state will be essentially treated as vermin that can be killed at any time, and for almost any reason.

Interior says not to worry. Most of Wyoming’s wolves are in the state’s northwest corner, it points out, and can be shot only during a defined hunting season. Further, the state has agreed not to reduce the statewide population below 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs.

This is a more protective plan than Wyoming’s politicians, ranchers and hunters wanted a year ago. But whether it’s enough to guarantee a sustainable population is far from clear. Interior has promised to review its deals with Montana and Idaho after five years. It must demand the same of Wyoming. The question there is whether, after five years, there will be any wolves left to review.



How Our Cultural Beliefs Effect The Way We Treat The earth




How Our Cultural Beliefs Affect the Way We Treat the Earth

Lanie Johnson, M.A. and Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

March 25, 2007(rev. 10/3/11)

Our cultural values, customs and beliefs affect the way we treat the Earth, and they have led to the twin crises of Peak Oil and Climate Change

                                                          1.  The Man Who Hated Bees

                                                                     by Lanie Johnson

         Ten years ago Ken and I left New York City in a truck camper and headed out West. We‘d intended to take about a year to look over a few towns and decide in which one we wanted to settle.

Seven years later we were still wandering in that truck camper. We had many adventures before we came to Sandpoint, some of them even good. But our most important adventure was our change of perspective.

We were able to see our culture with fresh eyes because for the first time, we were living outside it, wandering over the landscape but not being part of it.

For example, I remember the day we met the man who hated bees.

It was an early spring day, and we decided to ride our bikes in a marvelous park, along the Platt River right in the middle of the Denver.  There they had planted what seemed like millions of colorful wild flowers.

It was heavenly, and as we rode along we fell in with another biker. He told us that he was a retired engineer, living in the Denver suburbs and that he often rode his bike through that park.

Now, we were passing through the fields of magnificent and variously colored wild flowers that gently waved in the breeze.

But without warning, that man’s demeanor suddenly changed. He waved his arms around desperately as he rode.  “Those damn bees! Those damn bees,” he shouted. “They might sting me!”

As we passed out of range of the bees, he calmed down somewhat, but still agitated, he turned toward us and said angrily, “It’s those damn flowers! They’re attracting the bees. I wish they would cut them all down. That would get rid of the bees!”

b. How Our Culture Treats Others

The memory of that man still haunts me.  He had seemed like such a nice person, and probably was, under other circumstances.  Still, I’m grateful to the man who hated bees because I learned a lot about our culture from his behavior.

Never mind the question of whether or not bees and wild flowers are useful to us; that’s not the point. Do they have a right to be here on their own? Many people seem to believe that only man has a right to be here  – because he is special and clearly superior to everyone and everything else. If something is in your way – if it merely inconveniences you, get rid of it. Move it, destroy it, annihilate it if you see fit. From self-centered beliefs like these has come enormous environmental destruction.

Ken and I have read extensively about the lives of Hunter-Gatherers, both contemporary and ancient. I could not imagine a Hunter-Gatherer demanding that we annihilate all the wild flowers so that he could be bee-free.

We have come to another conclusion, too: attitudes like those of the man who hated bees are not necessarily due to inherent human nature. We believe that they come right out of our culture. And, that is what I want to address next.

2. Cultural Beliefs

a. Power, Role, & Invisibility

Culture can be extremely powerful in forming our ideas about how to live in this world. Every culture instills deep-seated beliefs that act as beacons, showing people the way they should organize their lives.

A society that has beliefs that do not work for them because they do not conform to the way the world really works, is in deep trouble.

Most of the time we are not even consciously aware that we have such beliefs. There is an old saying that if you want to know the nature of water, do not ask a fish.  Our culture is all around us, but because we are immersed in it, we do not feel or sense it. “Mother Culture is always whispering in your ear.” (Daniel Quinn, in Ishmael)

b. How Beliefs Arise

How do cultural beliefs arise?  They usually come out of the lifestyles of people.  Let’s look at a few examples:

Hunter-Gatherers place a great deal of importance on the natural cycles of Nature that they see all around them, as well as of their own bodies. They undoubtedly came to these ideas from their keen observation of the monthly waxing and waning of the moon, from the seasonal cycles, and from women’s menstrual cycles.


[ Image - Venus of Laussels ]

These HG beliefs go back a long way. The Venus of Laussels is a 22 – 30,000 year old image of a woman sculpted on a rock ledge in Western France. Her sexual features are exaggerated. Her left hand is on her belly.  Is she pregnant?  Perhaps. In her right hand she holds what appears to be a Bison’s horn, but which may also represent the moon in its fourth quarter.  It has fourteen parallel lines incised on it.  Fourteen is of course the midpoint of both the menstrual cycle and the monthly lunar cycle. So, we suspect that even back then Hunter-Gatherer cultures were thinking and organizing their lives in terms of these cycles.

Our own linear culture and its thirst for progress is very different from the ancient H-G traditions which are cyclical – reflecting and celebrating the cycles of Nature.

Ojibway Story

There is a story attributed to the Ojibway Indians of the Great Lakes region.  A young son of the tribe has the responsibility of hunting for game to keep his aged and weak parents alive.  One particularly severe winter, he has trouble finding sufficient game and becomes quite desperate.

One snowy morning, a handsome young chief walks into the young brave’s hunting camp, and challenges him to a wrestling match, promising a special reward if the boy wins.

The boy does win, and the chief instructs him to cut off his head, bury it, and periodically water it.  The boy does so reluctantly, and the next spring, a corn plant grows from that very spot.  The boy is overjoyed.  From now on, he will plant corn and will be able to feed his parents.

This story illustrates how that Indian tribe dealt mythically with their transition from a Hunter Gatherer society to an agricultural

Nature/Nurture Controversy

Let’s consider how we can distinguish between Inherent and Cultural Behavior.  Ken and I used to discuss the more destructive aspects of human behavior with some friends in the field of psychology. One, a psychotherapist, would simply shrug and say, “well, that’s just human nature.” We’d argue instead that it was our culture, “whispering in our ears.” Two other friends, a Developmental Psychologist and an Experimental Psychologist, both had the opposite view: they insisted that human beings are a “tabula rasa” – or a blank slate upon which culture writes behavioral instructions. Here was the old ‘Nature/Nurture controversy’ in living color.

A classical way of distinguishing environmental from inherited factors in human traits is to study these traits in identical twins, who have been reared apart.  Because their biology is the same, any differences can be attributed to their environments. These types of study have consistently shown that behavioral traits in humans are only 60-65% inherited.  This is not surprising.  We have long known that learning plays a large part in our development.

Well, why should all this matter to us?  It matters, because if a behavior is considered “just human nature,” that is, if it is inherent, then there is nothing we can do to change it.  However, if the behavior is produced by a combination of biology and cultural belief, it can be changed.

Recently, Psychologists set up a study in which participants played a game during which they could from time to time decide to be either competitive or cooperative with each other.  The brain activity of the players was monitored with an MRI.  The pleasure centers of their brains consistently lit up whenever they chose to cooperate, but not when they chose to compete.  Is it possible then that mankind is hard-wired to derive pleasure from cooperation?

Then, what are the consequences of our having created a society that emphasizes competition instead?   Just look at the front page of your daily newspaper or listen to the eleven O’clock news. This is something for all of us to think about.

 How Circumstances Changed the Lives of the Kalahari Bushmen

        I have a sad tale to tell.  Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, an Anthropologist, lived with some South African Bushmen in the Kalahari desert for several years and wrote a book about her adventures, called “The Harmless People. ”  In it, she describes their idyllic lives as Hunter-Gatherers in a physically challenging environment.


(Image child offering grub) Here’s a photo of Thomas, being offered a special treat by a Bushman child. Can anyone tell what it is?


She got to know and like them on an individual basis. But, I must warn you that if you read the last chapter, it will break your hearts.

Ten years later she revisited them. White South African farmers had penetrated into the Kalahari in their perpetual search for more land, and had taken over and fenced off the few water holes that the Bushmen had depended on for their very existence.  This forced the Bushmen to come in from the desert and become virtual serfs to the farmers.  The social fabric of these sweet, gentle people had been almost totally destroyed.  People whom Thomas had known previously had now become wracked with alcoholism, drugs, wife beating, and all the rest of the antisocial behaviors that plague our own society.

Does Our Culture Have Myths?

Does our contemporary, world-wide culture have unexamined beliefs?  Jared Diamond has written a terrific book, entitled ‘Collapse.’ In it,  he examines several civilizations around the world to see which have vanished and which have endured. He concludes that the answer lies in the ways in which each civilization has reacted to environmental challenges.

For example, Diamond tells of the Europeans who settled in Greenland around 1000 A.D. Greenland‘s rivers and surrounding ocean teemed with seals and fish, and the Inuit who lived there were experts at hunting and fishing.

However, the European Greenlanders, when faced with a change to a much colder climate during the Little Ice Age (1300 – 1800 AD) refused to learn how to fish and hunt for seals from their Inuit neighbors, whom they called “Skraelings” Translation – “dirty pagan wretches.”

Instead, the Europeans persisted in continuing to farm and raise cattle despite Greenland’s poor soil and short growing season, and most of them eventually starved to death.

The settlers were in the grips of a cultural belief that we call “there is only one right way, and it is ours.”

(Enter Culture Fairy.  He is a hairy guy, dressed in a tutu & he talks like Gus, the truck driver)

C.F.  “Hey, watcha gettin so upset about?  Nothins wrong with da Woild.  I’ve come to tell ya dat everythings gonna be O.K.”

LJ – “Who are you?  Are you one of those ridiculous fairies?  Look, I resent your breaking in on us like this. We reserved this room for a discussion of the serious situation that mankind faces from the decline in cheap energy and …

C.F.  – “Dat’s exactly what I mean.  Now, don’t getcha knickers all in a twist Girly, will ya!  I’m da Culture Fairy, see.  Ya know, dis is da best of all possible woilds, and we’re gonna come out fine.  Ya know why?  Because da woild was made for Man. Humans are da pinnacle of evolution, see?

LJ  “No, I do not see!  We are using up the finite resources of the Earth, killing off other life forms, and eventually we are going to cause our own extinction if we continue to believe nonsense like that”!

C.F. – “Hey, no problema.  Don’t ya know us humans are exempt from da rules a Nature? We can do stuff that would get any other creature in deep doo doo.  And besides, everybody knows da resources of da Universe are inexhaustible, and if we use up this planet, hey, we can go to Mars.

L.J.  “Now, that is a great idea.   I hear there’s a rocket leaving for Mars shortly.  Why don’t you take it, and establish a colony there?

C.F.  Hey, not a bad idea!  After all, Man was born to rule da Universe, wasn’t he? And in order to do it , he’s gotta conquer Nature, right?   So, Mars, here I come! (he dashes out the door)

The Importance of Cultures’ Alignment with the Earth

As I see it, the main problem is that our culture is not in accord with the way the World is organized.  In fact, it has put us on a collision course with these principles.

If instead, we were to become more grounded in the Earth (if you will excuse the pun), we would gain a deeper understanding of the laws of nature, and the fact that Mankind is not exempt from them.

How Do Myths Come About?

A recent poll showed that 60% of Americans believe that the Sun rotates around the Earth. If you asked these same people whether the Earth is flat or spherical, what do you suppose they would say?  Would they tell you that if you were to drive to New Jersey, you would fall off the end of the Earth?  I don’t think so.

However, if people believe that the World was made for man, and he was made to rule it, then it follows that we are the most important thing in the Universe.  It is possible then that so many Americans believe that the Sun rotates around the Earth because they believe mythologically that we are the center of the Universe and therefore the Earth is also at the center.

Looking at it this way, it seems clear to me that this human-centered view comes right out of the deepest beliefs of our culture.  Regarding another belief, my psychotherapist friend told me some time ago that all humans are competitive, and that is just human nature.

Well, try explaining this idea of competition to a South African Bushman or a Congolese Pygmy.  One of my favorite stories is of some Australian Aborigines who were being taught the rudiments of soccer by European missionaries.  After each side had scored a goal, they all walked off the field together, thinking they had achieved the object of the game.

We’ve just looked at some different cultural beliefs-Now, let’s look at an example of how cultural beliefs can be changed. 

                                              Can We Consciously Change our Beliefs?


Some scholars believe that a society cannot consciously change its beliefs – that such beliefs come out of some sort of collective unconscious interacting with millions of bits of information and experiences.

If I believed this, I would not be addressing you right now.  How else do you explain how a hitherto obscure southern black preacher, named Martin Luther King, Jr., changed the face of America back in the 1960s?

Now, instead of extreme racial inequality, we face the end of cheap oil and a changing climate. Both situations have come about because we have extracted and used so much oil However, the end of oil offers a ray of hope. If we can learn to limit CO2 emissions, as well as limit ourselves, that is. How? We think we can do so by not only changing our lifestyle but changing its underlying beliefs as well – such as the cornucopia of endless natural resources and the human right to do whatever we please with the Earth.

Well, so how do we go about changing the beliefs of our culture?

We do not have all the answers but, here’s one thought. We don’t have to throw out our birth religions in order to change our cultural beliefs.

The most holy day of the Jewish calendar is the Day of Atonement.  It is called Yom Kippur.  On that day, you are supposed to fast and to think about the offenses you have committed against others and their offenses against you.  You try to forgive them, and also yourself for your own failures.  Every year, for most of my adult life, I, Ken, would mark that day by fasting and sitting in a Synagogue all day long, chanting prayers in a language with which I was barely acquainted.  Most of the time, quite frankly, I was not spiritually uplifted. I was bored to death.

One Yum Kippur, I could not stand the thought of another dreary day like that, and instead went kayaking all by myself in a lovely little stream.

That turned out to be one of the most unforgettable days of my life.  As I floated down the stream, gazing at the ripples and waves, with the breeze in my face and the sun shining out of a clear blue sky, I never felt more spiritual and in tune with the Universe.

Ever since then, I have gone off by myself on that special day, to fast, and to be alone with my thoughts in some beautiful and sacred natural spot.

One December, Ken and I celebrated the Solstice with some friends.  Two of them, Phil and Sandy Deutchman, suggested that we celebrate it in different way this time, the way Sandy’s Finnish ancestors did over 10,000 years ago. In Finland, people still make candle lanterns of ice to provide light and hope for the return of light in the Spring. During this season, an ancient pagan tradition has it that a goat (the “Joulupukki”) comes out of the woods and gives people presents – if they’ve been good, that is. If they’ve been bad, he gives them a butt!


• ice candles

• here are Sandy with a flashlight (the Sun) and physicist Phil – dressed as the Joulupukki – with an orange (the Earth) showing the modern Astronomy behind the ancient Solstice celebration.


Other people around the little town in which we live, Sandpoint, Idaho, have adopted various Native American practices, the purpose of which is to re-connect people to the Earth.

Tim Corcoran and Jeannine Tidwell, founders of the Twin Eagles Wilderness School in Sandpoint, have studied with native teachers across the country, including elders from the Lakota tribe. Their school is a center for learning nature awareness and wilderness skills, in order to reconnect children with the Earth. They have also started a local Lakota Inipi, or sweat lodge group.

Randy Russell, who has Choctaw heritage, and is an adopted Lakota, has started a monthly Waneeshpa, or Gathering of Elders.  Randy runs the Soul Lore program, designed to bring back ritual, rights of passage, and other paths to true adulthood for young people.

 Mother Culture Meets Mother Nature

by Lanie Johnson(Rev 3/1/07, 3/6/07

MC         My son, the Culture Fairy had it completely right and you are a lot of hysterics, carrying on with a lot of pointless worry about the world coming to an end.  And, what’s more, you’re wallowing in guilt about the silly idea that humans are responsible for what you think a mess.

LJ         Who are you? I’ve never seen you around Sandpoint.

MC         I don’t ordinarily identify myself with a name, but rather by my wonderful contributions to the world. Some choose to call me “Mother Culture.” I am in charge of designing human society, and if I do say so myself, I have done a splendid job of it.

LJ         I’ve never heard of you. Is there anyone here who can answer her objections?

MN         I can.

LJ         And who are you?

MN         I am Mother Nature. I’m sure you’ve heard of me. I am painfully familiar with Mother Culture’s ideas. Her objections basically target me and my laws.

MC         Of course I object to you. And for many 1000’s of years I have been teaching humans to overcome you. They have learned well, if I do say so myself. Little by little they have come to understand that they are exempt from your annoying and inconvenient laws, and that there is no limit to what they can achieve.

MN         Really? How interesting! You call it progress, but at what price?  Your cleverness has caused a lot of damage to the Earth, and Mankind needs the Earth in order to live. Why don’t you teach them instead to use their cleverness to save the Earth?   They’ve used up most of the Earth’s oil and now the climate is changing –

MC   Now, there you go again, exaggerating a little change in temperature.  My goodness, the culture that brought you leaf blowers, SUVs, and YouTube will easily be able to conquer the Universe and make it ours!

MN  The Universe is a mystery to be celebrated, not solved.  Humans lived in harmony with the Universe for hundreds of thousands of years, and they can learn to do so again, and have more time to experience life.

MC  Ugh!  If they just enjoy life and let everything go, they will never make any progress.  The Culture that brought you Chicken McNuggets, Botox, and American Idol will really get them somewhere even more wonderful.

MN  Well, the way I see it, they are already somewhere.  They are here.  They are surrounded by life in all its many forms.  You could teach them that all other beings are their brothers and sisters, who are to be respected and treasured instead of exploited in your never-ending search for more stuff.

MC  Lower forms of life are not my relatives!  The world was made for Man, and no other life forms have any rights.  It’s pointless to talk to you, Mother Nature.  You are hopelessly old-fashioned.

MN  The Earth is dying, Mother Culture, and I will not let that happen to it.

MC  You couldn’t be more wrong.  Mother Culture will fool you yet.

MN  In that case, I have only one more thing to say to you.

MC  And what is that?

MN  Its not nice to fool Mother Nature (Thunder & exit)



                                    10. Finale (de Nile) and Bows

Climate Scientist Stirs Up A Storm


Climate Scientist Stirs Up A Storm

Stranded Polar Bear – Arctic Ice                                    by Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

       James Hansen, the NASA scientist, was among the first persons to bring Global Climate Change to the attention of the general public.  Near the end of his 2009 book, “Storms of My Grandchildren,” he states “Our culture has notions that humans are godlike & can produce miracles.”

Along about this time, the reader may be hoping for a miracle because Hansen has presented such a compelling picture of how and why we have put ourselves in a global fix, that our ability to get out of it seems greatly in doubt.

It is not that we do not understand the nature of the problem. Hansen lays out the evidence in a very convincing fashion. It is not that there are no remedies. Hansen explains clearly what we need to do and has excellent suggestions of how to go about it.

No, the main problem is, does mankind have the courage to face the truth about climate change and the willingness to make adjustments to avoid the consequences he describes?

I think that a few words about why Hansen chose the title, “Storms of My Grandchildren, “ would be appropriate here. Indeed, to understand his impetus for writing the book, it is necessary to know that beyond being a scientist, Hansen cares about what kind of world his grandchildren will face if we do not mend our ways.

In fact, despite sounding like a present day Cassandra a lot of the time, Hansen is an optimist, both about finding ways to slow down global climate change and in his belief that humans are not inherently deniers of painful truths, but are willing to look at the situation with unflinching eyes, and do whatever it takes to save ourselves. Otherwise he would not have bothered to write this book.

If Hansen’s predictions fail at all, it is in assuming that it will be our children and grandchildren, and not ourselves, who will suffer the consequences of climate change. In fact, he lays out a good deal of evidence that many of the predicted climate changes are happening sooner and proceeding faster than most scientists, being basically cautious souls, had anticipated. One of his most important messages to us, although it is in my opinion, one he does not emphasize enough, is that climate change is not something in our future. It is happening now, and it is we, who have to do something about it.

How do we know that Global Climate Change is occurring and that humans are mainly responsible for it? If you really want to know, this is the book for you. It is a fact-based examination of the evidence for GCC, the dangers that it holds for humankind and other life, and a blueprint for what we can do about preventing this incipient catastrophe.

“Storms” is loaded with graphs, tables, and definitions of technical terms. It could be a challenge to the casual reader, although Hansen has gone to great lengths to explain these concepts in plain language.

In order to make his important message as accessible as possible, I have written a comprehensive summary of the book, emphasizing facts and evidence just as Hansen does.

Of course I could not resist adding my own two cents every once in a while. For the purpose of  distinguishing my comments and ideas from those of Hansen, I have italicized mine.


Summary and Comments about “STORMS OF MY GRANDCHILDREN”, James Hansen, 2009, Bloomsbury Publishing, London

By Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

 In examining Global Climate Change (GCC), there are certain key quantities to look for and potential tipping points (points at which the buildup of minor changes or incidents reach a level that triggers a more significant change) to watch: (1) continued and faster melting of the West Antarctic & Greenland ice sheets; (2) the % of CO2 emissions in the atmosphere; and (3) an increase in atmospheric methane

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Global CO2 Emissions

Hansen explains that his reasons for concentrating on these aspects are the following sobering facts: (1) Deterioration of ice sheets is leading to an increase in sea level and the number and intensity of storms; (2) an increase in atmospheric CO2 will increase Global Warming (GW) and trigger positive feedbacks (a response to an activity which increases the activity, spiraling out of control); e.g. increases in atmospheric methane also warm the biosphere, which in turn causes release of more methane from continental shelves and arctic tundra, which further warms the biosphere, etc. (Methane, although there is less of it in our atmosphere than there is of CO2, is a 20 – 30 X times stronger warming agent, molecule for molecule.)

In global warming, politics and science are inextricably intertwined. Hansen pulls no punches and plays no favorites, excoriating both Democrats and Republicans  for their unwillingness to deal with it., He first tells of his meetings with Republican VP Cheney and others in the Bush administration, describing his frustration in trying to deal with them.

Keystone XL Pipeline Route

He then goes on to accuse President Obama of failing to combat GCC in several ways: Obama has approved the concept of a tar sands pipeline, although tar sands are an even worse source of GW than are coal and oil.  He has approved new coal plants, despite their spewing large amounts of CO2 into the air. (Hansen makes the point that the consequences of GW are already so advanced, that any new sources of CO2 would be dangerous to the health of the planet).

Obama has also advocated Cap and Trade, a type of law that would put a ceiling on the amount of CO2 that can be emitted. The problem with this approach is that it rewards CO2 pollution, by allowing the polluter to sell the right to pollute to others. This only insures that its level will continue to increase.

Our government is also funneling billions of dollars to energy companies to produce “clean coal” The only problem with that, is there is no such thing. All coal burning releases more CO2 into the atmosphere.

Hansen also says that appointed high government scientists cannot contradict the President. Therefore honest criticism of governmental scientific policies can come only from career scientists or from outside the government. That is one of the reasons Hansen gives for writing this book.

Hansen states boldly that “Our planet … is in imminent danger of crashing.” and  that “It may be necessary to take to the streets to draw attention to [social] injustice.” He also states that “It is our last chance.”  There are warnings like this sprinkled liberally throughout the book, probably to make sure that the readers do not miss them. They will not.

Many environmental organizations urge people to reduce their “Carbon Footprint.” (the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by a particular person, group, etc. due to the consumption of fossil fuels). Hansen says that the problem with individual attempts to reduce Carbon Footprints is that this would lead to a reduction in energy prices, which in turn acts as an economic incentive for others to use more fossil fuels, ultimately putting more CO2 into our atmosphere. For this reason Hansen believes that only government action and international accords can be effective in  reducing atmospheric CO2.

Here is a crucial point to remember. When Hansen wrote his book in 2007, there were 275 Parts Per Million (PPM) of CO2 in our atmosphere.  Now, five years later, in 2012, there are already 295 PPM. Using all of our fossil fuel reserves(2,795 Gigatons) would lead to an additional increase of 30 PPM in the atmosphere, pushing CO2 to well over 300 PPM, a level never before reached.

Global Carbon Emissions

Sea level rise will be one of the most devastating effects of climate change. Hansen and others have calculated that further ice sheet disintegration would lead to acceleration of changes that will take place, not in a hundred years, but within decades, and a rise in sea level of about 80 M (250 ft) is possible. One billion people would be effected.  A sea level rise of even 1 – 2 M would adversely effect hundreds of millions of people. Yet, loss of the West Antarctic ice sheet alone would result in a rise of 6 -7 M in sea level. He states unequivocally that “Ice sheet collapse and a sea level rise of several meters is a dead certainty.”

For comparison purposes, 14,000 yrs ago, at the start of the Holocene (the present geological epoch), the sea level changed 1 M (3.2 ft.) in 20 – 25 years, making a considerable change in the planet’s ecosystems

Hansen then tackles the effect of GCC on storms: He tells us that they will certainly be more powerful (and perhaps more frequent) in this century. Storms like tornadoes, thunderstorms, hurricanes, and typhoons will become more common and powerful. (a 10% increase in wind speed increases damage by 33%).  The region subject to tropical storms almost surely will expand (e.g. until Catarina hit S.E. Brazil in 2004, no cyclone had ever been recorded there). There will be more destructive mid-latitudes Frontal Cyclones.  The intensity of superstorms (like “The Perfect Storm” that hit New England in 1991) will increase.

Scientists studying Ice Sheet Disintegration have warned that due to their rapid melting and destruction, there will be a rapid sea rise within generations i.e. within the lifetimes of our grandchildren & perhaps our children.

Increases of only 1 M in sea level, together with more powerful storms, will have horrendous consequences. e.g. they would hit 1-2 magnitudes (each magnitude is a 10-fold change) higher population than Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans in 2005.

 It is not a question of whether, but of when. As I read this, the effects of the 2012 “derecho” superstorm (a widespread, long-lived, straight-line windstorm that is associated with a fast-moving band of severe thunderstorms), were still being assessed. It killed at least two dozen people and left millions in the Mid Atlantic states without electricity for up to a week during a record breaking heat wave (114° F in Washington, D.C.).

Some changes caused by GCC have already taken place faster than were anticipated: (1) It has caused the disappearance of Arctic sea ice in the summer, and with it, a rise in sea level and ocean temperatures; (2) It has brought about the expansion of subtropical climate to more northern latitudes, bringing a change in flora and fauna e.g. cases of Nile Fever, a viral disease in which mosquitoes, formerly found only in the tropics, are the vectors (or carriers) were reported in Southwest Idaho in July, 2012; (3) It is causing melting of mountain glaciers all over the world. This loss of glaciers will bring about a water crisis for  millions of people dependant on them for their drinking and irrigation water. Not far from my home in Northern Idaho, the glaciers of the eponymously named Glacier National Park are disappearing.

Hansen has an additional warning about methane. If methane hydrates (The form in which most methane is sequestered in ice, tundra, and along the Continental Shelves) are released in large quantities, these changes will accelerate. This  may already be occurring. _Igor Semiletov of the International Arctic research Center has reported finding large holes in Arctic ice in the Spring of 2012, through which escaping methane was detected .

We may have as much methane hydrate as that which drove the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), an event which occurred 54 million years ago and increased global temperatures 5 – 9 °C. (that amounts to about to 16° F, an increase I believe to be incompatible with life, at least as we know it). If ocean circulation changes so that warm Pacific currents sink, releasing those methane hydrates from the Continental Shelves, we have no known way to reverse the process.

Some climate skeptics insist that the predicted temperature changes in the Earth’s climate can cause little damage. In retort, Hansen points out that on the contrary, the Little Ice Age (1600 – 1850) was caused by a decrease of only ½ degree Celsius.

Hansen goes on to point out that this increase in methane is also one of three probable Ratcheting Effects (effects that trigger other similar and more powerful ones). These are as previously mentioned: (1) Intensification of storms; (2) Disintegration of ice sheets; and (3) Further melting of methane hydrates.

He anticipates that there will also be amplifying or positive feedbacks (cf.) e.g. If ice and snow melt, the Earth absorbs more sunlight, which, in turn, warms the Earth so that more ice and snow melt, etc. etc. What such feedbacks lead to is not only increase in amount, but also acceleration of the rate of increase. Increases in methane and nitrogen oxides produce such amplifications.

Some critics of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), the main scientific body studying GCC, fault it for relying too much on computer modeling. These critics will find an unexpected ally in Dr. Hansen. In his opinion, Global Climate Change Models are not as accurate as Paleoclimate data. e.g. they failed to predict the recent Arctic sea ice loss. Why? The Earth is too complex a system to anticipate & include all relevant factors. Nevertheless, the predictive abilities of climate  science are pretty good. For example, forecasts of the temporary cooling effect of Mt. Pinatubo’s (Philippines) eruption in 1991 on world climate turned out to be accurate.

Fortunately, Hansen points out, we do not have to guess about these complex factors. We have records of past climate changes in glacial ice cores, as well as mountaintop  and antarctic snow, that we can compare with present and anticipated climate alterations. These findings give scientists a pretty good idea of what conditions to expect in the future, under similar circumstances.

The IPCC comes in for additional criticism from Hansen despite their extensive research and detailed reports.  He believes that they do not give sufficient warning of the dire consequences of GCC.  He says that the IPCC reports minimize the dangers of the likely sea level rise, and that their estimate of the highest level of GW is not high enough. He also faults them for not presenting scenarios and strategies to avert the dangers that would be brought on by continuation of present climate policies.

Hansen points out that one of our biggest problems in convincing people of the reality of GCC is one of perception. The changes brought about by Global Warming so far, are usually much less than the daily fluctuations in weather with which people are familiar.

Global Temperature Index




It is instead the frequency, persistence, and location of these perturbations that will make them so dangerous. Mankind and the rest of life can survive occasional big storms, heat waves, droughts, etc. but, what will happen when they become the norm instead of anomalies?

Among the questions that scientists have not yet been able to solve are the effects of Aerosols (fine particles in the air, e.g. soot) on the climate.  Aerosols cause cooling, and this can at least partially offset effects of Global Warming. The main problem is that we cannot measure future amounts of aerosols in the atmosphere because many of these are man-made and others come from unanticipated natural causes (cf. the eruption of Mount Pinatubo). So, aerosols may be masking Global Warming, but scientists have difficulties in measuring the extent of their effects.

Some engineers have actually advocated deliberately injecting aerosols into the atmosphere to offset effects of climate change. There would be one big difficulty in doing this. Aerosols are health hazards, causing particulate pollution.

Next, Hansen tackles the question of what changes GCC is causing at the present time. He lists a number of those that can readily be measured: (1) Melting of mountain glaciers; (2) Shifting climate zones; (3 Increasing fires & flooding; (4) Loss of Arctic sea ice; (5) Loss of coral reefs (& biodiversity); (6) Shrinking of Greenland & Antarctic ice sheets;  (7) Rising sea level; and (8) Extinctions.

One of the most important things that a scientist can do, to show that his/her studies or theories are correct, is to use them to make accurate predictions. Being able to do so, solidifies the previous findings. Hansen does this, and it is eye opening. Storms was written in 2007, and in it Hansen states that as oceans move into a positive El Nino phase in 2009, expect global temperature increase in the next few years.

March 2012 State Temperatures

2009 turned out to be the 2nd hottest year on record,  2010 was the hottest year on record. (2012 is now on track to surpass both of these years).

Even scientists have feelings, and occasionally they are willing to talk about them. Hansen tells a story of driving to yet another meeting, where he was desperately trying to convince people of the reality and dangers of GCC, when he hit a deer unexpectedly dashing on to the highway. Of course, most people would be upset by such an accident, but Hansen started weeping uncontrollably. He realized only later that he was not only crying for the deer, but for the planet.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Global Temperature Change 1881 -2009

There is no question in the minds of scientists what the main factor is that is driving climate change. It is CO2 Emissions. There is a global natural carbon cycle, involving plants and animals. This cycle has now been altered by humans, mostly through burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. Among the worrisome things about this change is that human driven emissions increased from 2003 – 2008 by 3.5%, and an industrially booming China has passed the USA as the chief CO2 emitter.

In another example of a positive or amplifying feedback, Global Warming will increase drought & forest fires in the Amazon Forest and turn it into a large source of CO2 emissions. If we continue our business as usual scenario, this will result in increasing these amplifying feedbacks, and they may spin out of control.

A sobering story that Hansen tells is about a time that he talked on TV with the famed interviewer Larry King.  When he told King that some of the effects of GCC will appear in the next 50 years, King replied that “Nobody cares about 50 years from now.”

King was telling the bitter truth. Humans seem to be programmed by evolution to react to immediate dangers, and ignore future ones. Perhaps this enables us to concentrate our energies and focus on the task at hand. (see Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse) This tendency however, to ignore future dangers is particularly unfortunate with reference to GCC because by the time some of these predictions come true years from now, we will probably have reached the point of no return. We will have no good solution to them.

The IPCC typically presents low and high estimates of their predictions. What will happen to life on earth if temperatures hit the high end of the IPCC’s predictions, around 8° C ?   The last time our planet’s temperature was 2 – 3 ° C  higher than now was the Middle Pliocene, 3 million yrs ago. The sea level was 25 M (80 ft) higher and Florida and many other areas were under water. One billion people now live in those formerly under-water areas. Anyone want to buy some seaside property?

Hansen tells us that paleontologists have identified five time periods in the Earth’s history when mass extinctions took place. The 5th Extinction was called the End Permian Event, and it happened 251 million yrs ago. 90 % of all species became extinct and nearly all life was wiped out. The causes of the Permian Extinction were acidification and warming of the seas, the same processes that are now occurring. The 6th Extinction is now under way. It is man-made, and the current extinction rate is 100X the natural rate.

As Hansen previously stated, one of the best ways of understanding the climate changes awaiting us is to look for and examine the effects of similar events that have already occurred. The Paleo Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) occurred about 56 million yrs. ago, at the boundary of the Paleocene & Eocene epochs. The changes then were comparable to the anticipated ones now, but they took place over millennia, not in less than 100 years. Will we and the rest of life be able to accommodate to such large changes, taking place at least ten times faster? Recovery from PETM took about 100,000 yrs.

         The present manmade emissions of CO2 when compared with similar but natural phenomena – are 10,000X greater.(e.g. a man strolling thru a park at 2 MPH compared with the Space Shuttle leaving Earth at 17,500 MPH). Also, humans are simultaneously stressing the planet in other ways – overharvesting of fisheries, deforestation, taking over much of the planet for our livestock (Stephen Augustine, Spokesman for Sandpoint Vegetarians, informed me that we and our animals and plants now occupy 95 % of the arable land on earth!). Our population is continuing to increase.

Doctor Hansen, along with author and environmentalist Bill McKibben, head of, have said that we should have a ceiling of 350 parts/million (PPM) for CO2 emissions. Why should the target be 350 PPM when CO2 concentration in the earth’s atmosphere is already high?

The reasons Hansen gives are compelling. Climate change events are already exceeding safe levels and we may not be able to role back or even stabilize these levels. For one thing, Arctic sea ice is already declining at a rate beyond scientists’ expectations.  He also points out that most mountain glaciers will disappear within the next 50 yrs, and as previously stated, these glaciers are a source of water for millions of people. Furthermore, the Greenland & West Antarctic ice sheets are now losing 100 cubic Kms per year.

(Just to give you an idea of the magnitude of this loss, it is 5X the volume of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, and we do not know how to reduce or stop it,  Two pieces of the Greenland Glacier, one the size of Manhattan Island and the other twice that size, have broken off within the last few months).

Ice Island Breaks Away

         The bad news continues. Subtropical regions are now expanding northward at a rate of 4 degrees of latitude/yr. (that is 280 miles), changing the ecosystems (cf. the spread of Nile virus into Idaho, an unprecedented northward sweep of a hitherto tropical disease). Dry regions are expanding in the southern US, Australia, and the Mediterranean region. Fire frequency and area in the southwestern US have expanded 300% in the past several decades.

Colorado Springs Wildfires




350 homes were destroyed in Colorado Springs a month ago and many parts of Texas are burning up as I am writing this in the summer of 2012. Lakes Powell & Meade are inexorably shrinking (they are now half full). Where will drinking and irrigation water for large parts of the Southwest and Southern California come from in the near future? Dr. Hansen has recently published a paperthat directly attributes the Texas heat wave last year, the Russian heat wave of 2010, and the European heat wave of 2003 to GCC. 

The scientific culture is a hypercritical one. Even fledgeling researchers quickly learn that fellow scientists will look for things in their publications that can be challenged. One of the more consistent criticisms of climate science publications has been that no single catastrophic event can be attributed to GCC because such events have also occurred at other times and places. For example hurricanes as powerful as Katrina, which devastated New Orleans, have occurred previously. Therefore climatologists look for trends and repetition of these events. For example, an increase in atmospheric CO2 in a single year or in one month’s temperature would not be considered significant. However Hansen, and other climate scientists have reported such alarming trends as consistent yearly increases in CO2 and month after month and year after year of record high temperatures. Such evidence is extremely impressive. To ignore its implications would fly in the face of critical thinking and common sense.

Coral reefs are being highly stressed. They contain a majority of marine organisms and are a major source of our planet’s biodiversity. This stress is caused by ocean warming and acidification, both due to increased CO2 concentrations in the water.

Hansen puts special stress on the melting of Arctic ice. The bottom fell out in 2007. As stated previously, the ice is melting much faster than climate models predicted. It is now at the point that models predicted for 2050, 38 years sooner than expected. There are two factors at work here: (a) the processes themselves, and; (b) the rates at which the processes occur. We know what is happening with great certainty but when they will occur depends on future events, which cannot always be known until they happen e.g. CO2 amounts that we put into the atmosphere.

Back on the human side of all this bad news, Hansen tells of his many frustrating encounters with US government agencies and highly placed individuals, like Vice President Cheney. He accuses these officials of trying to cover up their unwillingness to do much about climate change, and still claiming that they are in favor of limiting CO2 emissions. He calls this tactic “Greenwash” ( a form of “hogwash”?), and gives various examples of it:

  1. Allowing construction of new coal-fired power plants
  2. Allowing construction of coal to oil conversion plants.
  3. Allowing production and use of unconventional fuels, like tar sands.
  4. Leasing public lands and remote areas for oil and gas exploration
  5. Allowing Hydraulic Fracturing.
  6. Allowing Mountain Top Removal and Long Wall Coal Mining.
  7. To this list, I would add the possible approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from Canada to Port Arthur and Houston, Texas, a decision that would come up in early 2013. ( By the way, if these tar sands were destined for domestic consumption as claimed, why not terminate the pipeline in Oklahoma (cf.), where there is plenty of oil refining capacity. In reality, this fuel is destined for overseas markets, thus fattening the pocketbooks of energy companies, but doing little or nothing  to make the US  energy self-sufficient). The key to this decision is the question as to whether the State Department will consider the effects of GCC in their evaluation. Duh!

Next, Hansen tackles the question of how can fossil fuels be reduced and phased out.  He believes that there are two efficient tools for accomplishing this crucial task. One, would be the use of energy efficiencies, prodded by increasing taxes on fossil fuels. The second is through the use of renewable energies with the use of tax incentives and requiring utilities to use renewable energy.

Perhaps the greatest impediment to reducing CO2 emissions is the increasing industrialization of the two most populous countries in the world, China and India. Yet, Hansen sees a ray of hope in this part of the world because both these countries would suffer from Global Climate Change:

  1. There would be over 100 million Bangladeshi refugees because their homelands would be under water. And, where would these refugees go, if not to India?
  2. In addition, 100 million Indians themselves live near the sea, and would be subject to storms and floods.
  3. Finally, three million Chinese live within the 25 M zone (c f.), and would also be flooded out.

Next, Hansen tackles some of what he considers bogus ideas that governments and environmental organizations have suggested for slowing down or alleviating GCC One is carbon capture at coal power plants. He states that doing this would increase costs 25%. It would cost trillions of dollars to retrofit Indian and Chinese plants. He states bluntly that this will never happen, and I believe him.

Another panacea proffered is  so-called carbon offsets, such as planting trees.  Hansen compares offsets to Medieval Indulgences, in that they allow polluters to continue to pollute. This is of course reminiscent of the problems inherent in Cap and Trade, which were discussed earlier in the book. His conclusion is that there is no free lunch. If we are going to stop or even slow down GCC, we cannot allow more CO2 to enter our atmosphere.

Winding up his evaluation of suggested methods for combating CO2 emissions, Hansen again compares Cap and Trade with Fee and Dividend: In Cap and Trade, a ceiling would be placed on the annual emission of CO2 in various industries, which would decrease in future years. Any company that was able to operate below its assigned emissions, could sell the rights to the unused emissions to another company. In Fee and Dividend, all CO2 emitting entities would be charged a fee for doing so, and the fee would be reimbursed to the citizens on an equal basis, perhaps as a tax reduction, to be used as the citizen wishes.

Hansen says that Cap and Trade would be a disaster for the planet because it is extremely complex, can be manipulated to keep pollution high, allows Congress to do whatever it wants with the money, and enables Wall Street to speculate with it, making a great deal of money for them with little effect on CO2 emissions.

On the other hand, Fee and Dividend is straight forward, does not allow the government to play with the money, and puts it right back in the citizen’s hands to do with as they please. They can use it to reduce their energy costs or to take a vacation in Tahiti. It is their money and their choice. He believes that it will definitely reduce CO2 emissions.

In 2008, British Columbia adopted a Fee and Dividend plan, using a carbon tax and pairing it with an equal reduction in payroll taxes. Five months later, it was in place and working. The effect has been a 4.5 % reduction of CO2 emissions in B.C. 

Hansen ends with the following conclusions:  (1) Government agencies accept as a god-given fact that we will burn all fossil fuels; (2) The biggest problem for democracy and the safety of our planet is the role of lobbies and flood of corporate money and influence on government; (3) Our culture has notions that humans are godlike & can produce miracles I call this belief technophilia. It is the contemporary version of a belief in miracles, which I referred to in the first paragraph of this Summary.

Hansen concludes his assessment by saying that if we destroy our planet, we destroy ourselves. What should we do? Keep atmospheric CO2 below 350 PPM. For a brighter future, we must move beyond fossil fuels and energy, and reduce human population.

Hansen’s final recommendations are (i.e. showing the radicalization of a scientist):

1. We must draw a line in the sand – no new coal plants.

2. “I am now studying Gandhi’s concepts of civil resistance.”


Some questions for the reader to consider:

• Do scientists have an obligation to become politically involved?

• Does Obama support control of Climate Change?

• What actions should we take? Change light bulbs or adopt civil disobedience?

• What do you think we should do about Climate Change contrarians & deniers? Hint: Iran just sentenced to death three bank officers involved in a two billion dollar fraud scheme. Perhaps Iran is not all bad. Think of what a salutary effect a similar policy on the part of this country would have on Wall Street attitudes .


 What would you ask Obama to do?

         •Disapprove the XL Pipeline?

         •Freeze coal extraction?

         •No new coal plants?

         •Reinstall Carter’s solar panels?


       I personally like the idea of Obama asking the National Academy of Sciences for a report on what our present climate change policies are doing, and what government policies on climate change should be in the future. This might create a ground swell for changing those present government policies.

Should environmentalists support Permitting of 4th Generation (or Fast-Reactor) Nuclear Plants? Just what is a 4th generation nuclear plant? I recently listened to a full hour discussion on NPR by nuclear experts about how to make nuclear power plants safer, and this topic was never mentioned. Is it merely a pipe dream?

         We have had: Three-Mile Island, Chernoble, and now, after the publication of Hansen’s book, Fukushima. Would Hansen still champion Phase IV Nuclear Fission plants? Did he convince you?

How would you respond to a person who says that he just had the coldest winter in many years in his town and therefore Global Warming is bunk?

As I am writing this post and trying to finish it, new reports on recent dire effects of GCC seem to be coming in daily. The latest one pinpoints July 2012 as the hottest month in the US since they started keeping such records 117 years ago. Is anybody out there listening?

Trophic Downgrading or Where Have All the Predators Gone?


(Or, where have all the predators gone?)

  J.A. Estes, et al. (2011) The Trophic Downgrading of Planet Earth (2011) Science, 15 July, 333(6040) 301-306.

Summary and Comments by Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

This is a paper that is worth your diving into because the information it contains is important to the health of our planet. I will help you get through it by summarizing and commenting on it. You can either read the summary or skip directly to my comments on it at the end of this post. What is it about? It deals with the recent and rapid disappearance of top predators, such as wolves, lions, & sharks, mostly brought about by the actions of that top predator of all – mankind, and the surprisingly profound effects their loss is having on ecosystems worldwide.  It was the feature article in the July, 2011 issue of Science, one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world. Among its 23 authors are: John Terborgh, Joel Berger, Michael Soule, and William Ripple. The former three are considered to be among the founders of the field of Conservation Biology, and Ripple is our foremost researcher into the effects of top predators on the ecosystems of North America. Simply put, a trophic cascade (TC) is the effect that the absence or abundance of a top or apex predator has on succeeding levels of the rest of the ecosystem. The authors have gathered a vast array of evidence showing that these losses lead to ever-increasing and widespread effects on other living creatures, on ecosystems, and on the Earth itself. Terborgh pioneered this type of study by showing the profound effects of the presence or absence of predators on the fauna and flora of isolated islands in the Barro Colorado, a recently flooded region near the Panama Canal. Soule, in a classic paper, neatly demonstrated how the presence or absence of coyotes effected the bird and cat populations within the urban canyons of San Diego. Ripple has shown the profound influence that the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstoneand loss of mountain lions in Zion National Park  have had on the animals and plants in those areas. In this paper, these scientists turn their attention to the effects of predators on ecosystems worldwide and warn us of the present and impending dangers that our  steady & seemingly inexorable extermination of predators is having on the Earth

Summary of the Paper

 The loss of apex predators all over the world is having a pervasive influence on nature. There are cascading effects of the disappearance of predators. These “top-down forcings” (causes of variability) are having unanticipated effects, such as increase in disease, wildfires, losses in carbon sequestration, appearance of invasive species, and disruption of biogeochemical cycles. In its 4.5 billion years of existence, our planet has undergone several mass extinctions, with huge loss of biodiversity, followed by novel changes. We are now in the early to middle stages of a sixth mass extinction. Man has mostly caused these recent extinctions. Many of them are started by the removal of apex predators. These extinctions may be mankind’s most pervasive effect on the natural world. Extinction obviously means a permanent loss of these animals, which in turn often has a ripple effect, causing many other changes throughout the ecosystem. These widespread changes are what are referred to by scientists as “trophic cascades” (TCs). Some of the ultimate outcomes of TCs are: fires, disease, climate change, habitat loss, and pollution. Theory behind concept of TCs: (1)  An ecosystem is shaped by its top consumers (usually apex predators). (2)  Alternative stable states. TCs push a system, and it reaches tipping points. These are thresholds or breakpoints, and when they are reached, significant phase shifts occur. (3)  Connectivity – this is built around connection webs and through the mechanics of predation, competition and mutualism (organisms that have a supportive effect on each other), biologically, and through physicochemical processes. Cryptic nature of TCs: Species interactions are usually invisible under stable conditions. They may require years to become evident due to the long generation times of some species.  The effects usually do not become evident until after the loss. The scales of TC s can be much more vast than most feasible scientific studies can handle. Most field biology studies concentrate on small, discrete areas, and on non-motile species, with short generation times, making them easy to  manipulate. This results in an incomplete and distorted picture of apex predator influence. Hence, the authors have written what is called a mega study, which brings together the results of many other similar studies, using similar protocols & subjects. This enables them to combine the studies & to note general principles and draw important conclusions with more certainty. Widespread Occurrence of TCs: TCs have been documented throughout the world. When apex predators are reduced or removed, and sufficient time and space are accounted for, their influence becomes obvious. “Natural experiments” showing these effects are pervasive: e.g. loss of: killer whales, lions, wolves, cougars, sharks, sea otters.

These interactions are often complex. e.g. apex predators have little influence on megaherbivores:  Elephants, hippos, rhinoceroses, etc. in Africa are basically invulnerable to predation. Mostly, therefore effects are seen in the increase in smaller herbivores: e.g. Thompson’s gazelle, impala. Influence of apex predators on autotrophs (An organism capable of synthesizing its own food from inorganic substances, using light or chemical energy. Most plants are autotrophs): (a)  Increase of autotrophs – by suppression of herbivory (any animal that feeds mostly on plants), e. g. the loss of sea otters, which prey on shellfish,  have diminished the health of kelp forests. The extirpation of wolves from forests has resulted in a corresponding increase of ungulates adversely effecting other animals and plants in various ecosystems. e.g. the removal of wolves from what has become Rocky Mountain NP in Colorado has resulted in the overgrowth of elk, which in turn have devastated much of the plant life. (b) Decrease of autotrophs – e. g. large mouth bass by feeding on smaller fish, which feed on 200 kinds of plankton (microscopic aquatic plants & animals)  have decreased their numbers to such an extent in many mid western US lakes, that this has resulted in a loss of oxygen, leading to the demise of other life forms in these lakes. Herbivory and Wildlife: Increase in herbivory (mostly domestic animals that eat plants) has resulted in a change from grass lands to scrub lands, & the burning up to 500 million hectares (ha) in the global landscape and has released over 4,000 metric tons (Tg) of CO2 into the atmosphere. Diseases: e.g. Rinderpest (an infectious viral disease) in East Africa decimated ungulates. (animals like wildebeests & buffalos that chew their cud). This led to an increase in plant biomass, which in turn led to wildfires. Vaccination and control eliminated Rinderpest and this led to the recovery of the wildebeests and buffalos. Because of this, shrub lands became grass lands, which reduced the frequency and intensity of wild fires.

e.g. Impacts of predatory fish on mosquito larvae: effects the incidence of Malaria. Physical & Chemical Influences: There is a linkage between apex predators & atmospheric CO2. e.g.  presence or absence of predatory fish in lakes can effect the production & uptake of CO2. e.g. whaling transferred 105 million tons of carbon from whales to the atmosphere. e.g. Extinction of Pleistocene herbivores reduced atmospheric methane & contributed to a drop of 9° C. temperature drop in the Younger-Dryas period, some 12,900 years ago. Soils: e.g. Herbivores profoundly influence soils. e.g. introduction of rats & arctic foxes in high latitude (mostly arctic) islands reduces soil nitrogen by disturbing nesting birds. Water: e.g. collapse of large demersal (bottom feeders) fish in the Baltic Sea led to a 20% decrease of silica in pelagic diatoms (one-celled organisms that make up the majority of plants found in the open sea). e.g. Yellowstone wolves protect riparian vegetation from over-browsing herbivores. This leads to more shade & cooling of streams, which in turn decreases streambed erosion & increases cover for fish & other aquatic organisms & leads to an increase in songbirds.

Invasive Species: Lack of top-down predators allows invasive species to spread. e.g. spread of the brown tree snake, originally from the Solomon Islands, on Guam, which has exterminated most of its birds, was due to lack of other predators, which could have held the snake population in check. e.g. reduced fish predation in the Mississippi River led to the invasion of zebra mussels. Biodiversity (Abundance of & diversification in living creatures): Biodiversity(BD) is now largely confined to protected areas (e.g. national parks, designated wildernesses). Loss of BD has been mostly caused by over-exploitation (hunting, fishing, increase of areas reserved to domestic & other ungulates, etc.) has led to habitat loss & fragmentation of ecosystems. e.g. over browsing by an increasing population of elk in Rocky Mountain NP is due to lack of natural predators,(i.e. wolves). The same situation occurred in: the Kaibab Plateau, adjacent to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, which was overrun with deer. Minnesota has a serious problem with areas overrun by more than 1 million deer. Princeton NJ had to employ sharpshooters to kill deer, which were overrunning suburban gardens. Deer (ironically) starved on Deer Island in San Francisco Bay due to their burgeoning population, which was unchecked by predators.  Mesopredators (coyotes) in San Diego canyons strikingly changed populations of songbirds and cats.

e.g. Sea Stars in intertidal areas interact with mussels, wiping out many species. e.g. loss of small vertebrates after the extirpation of wolves, cougars & bears in temperate & boreal North American forests changed the ecology of these forests. Effects of Tree Longevity: e.g. wolves & other megapredators were almost entirely eliminated in the US by the 20th century. At that time there began to be recruitment failure & reduced tree growth rate in many places (most obvious in national parks). e.g. wolves were eliminated 100 yrs. ago on Anticosti Island in mouth of the St Lawrence River. This led to a decrease in the number of saplings & an increase in graminoids (grasses), e.g. wolves were extirpated from the Scottish island of Rum 250 -500 years ago, resulting in total loss of its forest. It is now treeless.

Conclusion: “Best management solution is likely restoration of effective predator regimes.” [English translation: Bring back the predators] Paradigm Shift in Ecology: There is clearly a top-down forcing in ecosystem dynamics.  [We argue that ] “burden of proof be shifted to show for any ecosystem, that consumers do (or did) not exert strong cascading effects.” Conclusions: Unanticipated changes in the distribution & abundance of key species, as well as pandemics, population collapses, eruptions of unwanted species, major shifts in ecosystem states, are caused by altered top down forcing , brought about by loss of native apex consumers. Repeated failures to anticipate & moderate such events arise through  fundamental misunderstandings of their causes. Resource managers usually base their actions on the expectation that physical causes are the ultimate drivers of ecological change. “Top-down forcing must be included if there is to be any real hope of understanding & managing the workings of nature.”

 COMMENTS – Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

 I find it helpful in understanding TDG to picture a pyramid, with the predator at the peak or top & prey animals at several successive & increasingly wider levels, (indicating larger populations) underneath. For example, sharks are the top predators in our oceans & they prey on smaller fish such as tuna, which in turn prey on smaller fish like anchovies, etc. until the lowest & most fundamental layer is reached, which consists of microscopic plankton (autotrophs) & is effected in a profound way.

Along this line, I recently read a paper published in Nature by Daniel Boyce of Dalhousie University in which the author utilized hundreds of thousands of historical records to show that the clarity of most of our oceans has been greatly increasing in the past few years. This is an indirect but powerful method, showing that plankton populations are decreasing rapidly. Because plankton are the base prey in our oceans, their scarcity would adversely effect all fish populations & since they are the ultimate autotrophs (think of what would happen if their dry land equivalent, grasses, were to decrease considerably) tend to increase CO2. Such a profound worldwide change undoubtedly has more than one cause, but the disruption of world fisheries through the loss of top predators is probably a contributing factor.

It is easy to overlook the effects of some predators, either because they are not charismatic megafauna, like “lions & tigers & bears oh my!” or are out of sight much of the time. For instance, who would even thought of sea stars as predators? I know that I had not until recently despite my background in Zoology.  Yet it has been shown that their loss can have profound effects on shellfish.  And those cute little sea otters. Who would have thought that they have an important effect on kelp beds? The film, “Jaws,” which came out in 1975, gave sharks a bad name that they have yet to overcome. That, together with the insatiable appetite of Chinese & other Orientals for shark fin soup (Talk about waste. They cut off the fins & throw the shark carcass away) & the dislike of commercial fishermen for sharks, who they view as competitors, in the same way that many elk hunters view wolves, has led to their wholesale destruction. No thought was given to the sharks’ role as the ultimate apex predator in the sea & the  effect their demise is having on other fish lower in the TC pyramid. It is quite possible, even probable, that the loss of many commercial fish species is linked not only to overfishing but also to the destruction of sharks, which has upset the ecological balance in oceans. In this connection, commercial fishermen may be doubly responsible for the serious depletion of fisheries worldwide, through their overfishing & destruction of apex predators.

My own studies on wolves and as an advocate for them has given me a fresh perspective on their importance in maintaining healthy forests. In this respect, the authors’ citing of studies showing that the eradication of wolves changed the flora of Anticosti Island in the St. Lawrence estuary & deforested the Scottish island of Rum, is instructive & worrying.

We do not however, need to go to the ends of the earth to find examples of TDG. In my own little part of northern Idaho, we have seen the results of overfishing in Lake Penderay, invasive species like spotted knapweed & the infamous zebra mussels, and loss of biodiversity caused by overpopulation of elk in the Clearwater NF. There are a substantial number of elk hunters in the state of Idaho, whose idea of heaven seems to be forests containing only elk & hunters. One of their leaders recently stated that he would only be satisfied when hunters success rates reached 90% Success rates throughout the Northwest have been historically at around 18 -20% (Spokesman Review 2/22/08). Idaho already contains over 100,000 elk. He apparently wants to turn Idaho into an elk farm, where hunters do not even have to get off their ATVs to kill elk. I doubt that many other Idahoans would agree with that vision. These hunters & the politicians who support them are responsible for the present vendetta against wolves, which in the last year has resulted in the killing of around 429 out of only 760 wolves in this state & the extension of the wolf hunt to year around, a hitherto unheard of strategy for “managing” wildlife.

I hope that this publication on the importance of top predators, like wolves, will be brought to the attention of state wildlife organizations like IDF&G and will result in a change of their policy toward a greater respect for these animals. For those of you who are interested in finding out more about this fascinating & important subject of how the loss of top predators is effecting the earth, I recommend the following books:

Monster of God – by David Quammen A very readable account of how our fear & killing of predators is changing the world.

Where The Wild Things Were – by William Stolzenberg A journalist writes about the research that been revealing the key role that predators play in ecosystems.

Song of the Dodo – by David Quammen One of our best scientific & nature writers chronicles the researchers & their studies who have created the new field of Conservation Biology.

Of Wolves and Men – by Barry Lopez A brilliant examination of wolf biology & the often-searing history of mankind’s relationship to these fascinating & badly misunderstood animals.

Wolf Country – by John B. Theberge. The results and conclusions of wolf biologist from an eleven year study of wolves in Algonquin Park, Canada. This book includes a lot of valuable information, written in a readable and popular format.