Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Value of Wolves

An intriguing angle on the benefits of restoring wolves to Yellowstone National Park:


Here's the article's summary of the fascinatingly complex results of the disappearance of wolves from the region:

"When we exterminated wolves from Yellowstone in the early 1900s, we de-watered the land. That's right; no wolves eventually meant fewer streams, creeks, marshes and springs across Western landscapes like Yellowstone where wolves had once thrived."

The short version of the process explained in detail in the article: Without wolves, elks overpopulated their habitat. They fed on willow and aspen seedlings. Without those trees, beavers declined. In the absence of beavers, the rivers suffered, and so did all the creatures that depended on rivers and wetlands for food and shelter. The entire ecological "web" unraveled without the top predator.

These are the kinds of relationships writers have to consider when building their own worlds. The wolf example also illustrates how risky it is for our species to perform large-scale, forcible alterations of the environment to "improve" it for human use. As that old commercial used to say, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature."

In S. M. Stirling's wonderful series that began with DIES THE FIRE and just had its latest book published, HIGH KING OF MONTIVAL, the gods get fed up with heavy-handed human misuse of Earth's resources. To put things right, the Powers That Be cause all advanced technology to stop working instantaneously (in the first chapter of DIES THE FIRE) and permanently. The human race has to re-learn how to live with the natural world in a more hands-on way than most of us (Stirling's audience in the industrialized West) have ever experienced. One hint: Suddenly being a devotee of some "crazy" hobby such as the Society for Creative Anachronism becomes a valued survival trait.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

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