Tuesday, May 10, 2011
No Lions in My Back Yard by Will Stolzenburg
For the record, I’m stealing this title from an essay written a few years back by ecologists Josh Donlan and Harry Greene, who were prompted to respond to the blizzard of hate mail they received after spearheading a proposal to bring some of America’s missing beasts back to the country’s wildest, unpeopled spaces. Donlan and Greene were widely excoriated for their “rewilding” proposal, which many wrongly interpreted as a capricious plot to dump truckloads of lions and elephants in the suburbs of Topeka. In the spirit of that rousing episode of conservation history, I’d like to continue in the vein of my first post, wondering what constitutes nature in 21st century America. And what Leopold might have thought about modern society’s faltering attempts to accept some of our most controversial creatures, more than a half century after he first suggested the idea.
Leopold in his day certainly suffered for his vocal views on trimming the deer herd and extending an olive branch to their predators. His sense of balance was derided by many of those charged with managing America’s wildlife. And even though the commenters on this blog would seem to back Leopold’s plea for a fuller, richer rendition of nature where the opportunities still exist, I wonder how widely or deeply that sentiment really runs. Karen posted a comment about her appreciations of the wolves now roaming her home state of Montana. Yet even as she writes, the recent stripping of federal protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho reminds us that those who fear and hate the big predators still wield the political clout.
And Harper raises a great point about making the best of those little strands of nature that will probably never again be fit for big beasts. But what about those places whose options have yet to be foreclosed?
Case in point: North America’s last remaining lion, the cougar, has lately been venturing eastward, apparently reclaiming the lost half of the continent that used to be its home. Lone males, seeking new territories and mates, have been showing up from Wisconsin to Louisiana—places people have forgotten they ever existed. And for their efforts, most of these pioneers are getting shot. Many are being killed on trumped up charges of public endangerment and livestock attacks. The bottom line: Those in charge—and a certain vocal segment of the citizens they represent—simply don’t want the big cats anywhere near where they live.
I wonder if we do too little thinking like a mountain, and too much acting like a gated community, no trespassers allowed. Nobody is seriously suggesting we foster cougars or wolves in Central Park. But contrary to what we’ve been led to believe, there remains a surprising number of places where with a little foresight and tolerance—of the kind Leopold so eloquently proposed—we could begin to restore the full sweep of nature’s diversity, lions included. I wonder what Leopold would think to see how far we’ve come since he dared to share such a vision.
Here's a thought: If it were deemed ecologically plausible to harbor mountain lions in your particular neck of the woods (assuming they're not already there), would you support a measure to reintroduce them? And why?