Sunday, October 01, 2006

HALF AN ECOSYSTEM EQUALS A WHOLE LOT OF TROUBLE

It’s perverse, but I find this amusing…

Via MSNBC, David A. Fahrenthold of the Washington Post chronicles a new environmental dilemma:

“Wildlife waste is major polluter”

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15053738/

From the article:

“Scientists have run high-tech tests on harmful bacteria in local rivers and streams and found that many of the germs -- and in the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, a majority of them-- come from wildlife dung. The strange proposition that nature is apparently polluting itself has created a serious conundrum for government officials charged with cleaning up the rivers… Part of the problem lies with the unnaturally high populations of deer, geese and raccoons living in modern suburbs and depositing their waste there. But officials say it would be nearly impossible, and wildly unpopular, to kill or relocate enough animals to make a dent in even that segment of the pollution…That leaves scientists and environmentalists struggling with a more fundamental question: How clean should we expect nature to be? In certain cases, they say, the water standards themselves might be flawed, if they appear to forbid something as natural as wild animals leaving their dung in the woods.”

“A majority of the germs come from wildlife dung”… Part of the problem lies with the unnaturally high populations of deer, geese and raccoons living in modern suburbs”…

No shit? It’s worthy of a little consideration how this came about…

Once upon a time there was an ecosystem in balance here… Not a paradise, not an Eden, just a system in balance. There would have been representatives of all the major animal, plant, and insect groups filling their respective niches. Ground dwelling mammals, insectivores & root eaters – moles, groundhogs, etc. Then there were fur-bearing plant eaters – rabbits, squirrels and the like, up to beaver. They lived with – and sometimes were food for – mostly larger furred predators – meat eaters from weasels to badgers, omnivores like raccoon. There were sea and river otters. Maybe an occasional alligator… All manner of birds with various diets. Teeming insect populations – including dung beetles. Hunting cats and canids – cougar, bobcat coyote, wolf, fox… And then deer and bear.

The waters were well-populated with a variety of fish.

It surely wasn’t as neat, clean, or tidy as we modern Americans would like, but it was self-sustaining.

Fish was the most important dietary staple of most of the relatively small numbers of Amerinds who lived in the area. They did a little farming and gathering and competed with the bigger predators, trapping and hunting rabbits, wild turkey, squirrels, and the occasional deer. They were probably mostly immune to the local diseases due to acclimation.

When Europeans moved into the area, they re-created the ecosystem. It is important to see the difference between changing and ruining – the spread out populations lived off the land, living much the same way the first people did but with more emphasis on farming. Remember, in 1800, most staple food was local, even for cities. As the populations grew, people asserted themselves more and more, hunting out the larger, dangerous predators that competed for game, killed livestock and even occasionally somebody’s great Aunt…

But it was still a working ecosystem. Man was the dominant predator. Species that fit “our ecosystem,” including plants and animals we added to it thrived, and the species we considered undesirable dwindled. The more man dominated, the more complete the transformation became.

Then “we” moved off the land.

How many people hunt today? In the Washington DC area, I’ll bet there isn’t too many. Somehow, toting a rifle – or even a bow - around Maryland’s remaining woods strikes me as being a good way to end up guilty until proven innocent…

So what hunts the deer?

Nature got along fine without us as general manager – even when we were a major player, we were still part of the game. Now, as we try to write the rules, we find out just how inadequate we are. A suburb is a lot of things but it isn’t a balanced ecosystem. It’s a mostly sterile place where native plants are “weeds,” insects are discouraged, moles are targets, and deer are “pets”… And when it rains, all the unrecycled poop from all the deer – and raccoons, rats, squirrels, coyotes, dogs, and cats – heads straight into the water, facilitated by the drainage systems we made for our convenience. Then the bacterial counts skyrocket and the nitrogen promoted algae blooms kill fish which rot and make matters worse…

Beach closed… No fishing, for your safety. Man once lived on fish here…

Manage it or let it alone, if you can. In this case, leaving it alone would mean reconstituting an ecosystem – bringing back all the species we eradicated when we made the place into what we thought we wanted… Managing it means taking a very unpopular action: becoming the predator once more.

Lesson: The highest form of intellectual exercise is the attempt to foresee the unexpected consequence…

It’ll be interesting to see how this issue develops. Maybe the best idea is habitat reconstruction. If we reintroduced, for example, cougar into the Capitol…

Dateline Washington DC… The Office of Congressman Smith announced today he will not be running for re-election, as he was eaten today by Sarah the cougar as he was jogging near the House office buildings… Sarah, who has eaten several lawmakers recently, had no comment… But analysts note she is eating Republicans, two to one…

This idea might just grow on you…

Comments:
Of course she's eating Republicans. Democrats smell like sunscreen, even in winter.

The Maryland woods are indeed overrun with deer, and other animals, but our modern society is too squeemish to deal with it in a manner that would actually help the wildlife populations. What's needed is to thin the populations.

So, for me, as long as they keep up the population of that tastiest of creatures, I'm good: the bluecrab, covered in old bay and steamed over vinegar and beer. Ummmmmmmmmm.
 
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