With Your Help A New Approach To Sustaining Animals Will Really Pay Off.

I was born and raised in Washington, D.C. and lived right down the street from the National Zoo. So the zoo was kind of my backyard, so to speak, and I spent afternoons there looking at the various inhabitants, including the original Smokey the Bear, the bald eagles and many other animal species as well.  One of my favorites was a small group of North American bison who stood together seemingly without ever moving and attracted lots of flies.  I knew that if I wanted to see a buffalo in the wild, I would have to journey out west to the Great Plains.

cheetah           Which, in fact, I did in 1968 when I watched the buffalo roundup in Wind Cave National Park. The park, along with Custer State Park, lies just to the east of South Dakota’s Black Hills and the herd, which numbered about one thousand head, was a tiny remnant of the enormous buffalo herd which had survived the depredations of commercial hunting before and after the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869.  Buffalo meat can now be found on restaurant menus here, there and all over and today’s herd probably numbers around 200,000, enough to insure the survival of this breed. But when Europeans first came to America, buffalo could be found all over the continent and probably wandered freely through the area that is now the National Zoo.  By 1800, however, they had disappeared east of the Mississippi, having fallen prey not only to hunters, but to fences and land cleared and planted for farms.

The balance between human and natural habitats is precarious to say the least and always results in loss of the latter due to expansion of the former.  Our original conservation movement was founded by Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell, who witnessed first-hand the disappearance of species as American settlers penetrated the frontier and moved across the West.  But regulating hunting seasons can only protect animals that are the targets of a hunt.  What about all the other wild creatures whose habitats are threatened by the ever-increasing encroachments of Man?

A genuinely different and effective response to this problem has now exists with the work of an organization, Conservation Centers for Species Survival (C2S2), which unites the formidable talents and resources of such outstanding programs as the Smithsonian National Zoo, my old playground, the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Texas, Omaha’s Doorly Zoo  and several other major wildlife centers, to take advantage of decades of wildlife management experience and develop programs in biodiversity, population optimization and habitat management that can both expand existing species populations, as well as threatened species both within their natural environment as well as in man-made habitats such as nature reserves and zoos.

What I find most intriguing about the C2S2 effort is its emphasis on collaborations, consortium-types of planning and, most of all, public-private partnerships. I like this last approach because when it comes to conservation over the years the public and private sectors have often been at odds. Conservationists are often seen as anti-progress, private development is viewed as having little concern for the natural environment if it gets in the way of economic growth.  Does anyone need to be reminded of Sarah Palin leading the chant: Drill baby, drill?

The one question which remains to be answered is: why should we be concerned about the survival and sustenance of wild animals at all? I’ll tell you why. Because wild creatures teach us things about ourselves.  We have figured out how to go to the Moon, but we still haven’t figured out how to stop killing each other over the most unintended, little slight.  That makes us somehow a higher life form than a wild creature which never attacks its own species even in the search for food?

Take a look at the C2S2 website and remember that after tomorrow you’ll be done with Hillary’s campaign and you can donate some money to this wonderful group. It’s a good thing to do.

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Maybe We Need To Understand Gun Ownership From A Scientific Point Of View.

Why do Americans own 300 million guns?  Building a civilian arsenal of that size really is an extraordinary achievement, particularly when you consider that the U.S. counts for roughly 5% of the world’s population but together we own maybe one-third of all civilian small arms in the world, maybe almost half the number of handguns and long guns that exist on the entire planet.

Now if you go to the so-called experts on gun ownership, the NRA and the other gun-marketing organizations, they’ll tell you that guns have ‘always’ been part of American history and that God plus the Founding Fathers gave us the uncontested ‘right’ to protect ourselves with guns.

lunde          Actually, like all good marketing slogans, this one has a bit of truth to it but it’s mostly hyperbole.  In fact, early colonial governments enacted gun-control laws to make sure that the guns which the colonists needed for hunting didn’t wind up in the ‘wrong hands,’ i.e., the Injuns.  And later on, when Roy Rogers and Gene Autry opened up the West, most frontier towns also enacted strong gun-control laws to keep things under control.

But until 1890, when the government announced that the ‘frontier’ was dead and gone, it was presumed that if you lived outside of a city, you needed a gun in order to secure necessary food for the table.  But the problem was that hunters had been so adept at bagging game that many of the animals whose meat had filled American stomachs were no longer to be found.  The white-tail deer were disappearing throughout the East, the bison was just about extinct, the huge flocks of carrier pigeons that had darkened the skies had disappeared, altogether the balance between Man and Beast was definitely tilting towards Man.

Enter Theodore Roosevelt who, by the age of eight and living in a Manhattan townhouse, was already captivated by the idea of studying every animal specie that he could find, and the way you studied an animal was to kill it, then stuff it and preserve it, then put it on view for others to do the same.  This is the opening theme of an important new book by  Darrin Lunde, who happens to be the manager of the Smithsonian’s Division of Mammals, which happens to be one of the largest collections of animal species, a collection that was started largely through the efforts of TR.

Roosevelt happened to grow up at a time when Americans became interested in natural history, largely because the Industrial Revolution was quickly transforming much of the natural landscape along with threatening the animals, fish and plants which comprised the natural environment.  His father, Theodore Sr., founded the American Museum of Natural History in New York; Roosevelt himself became a close friend of America’s first naturalist, John Bird Grinnell; going out into the wild and hunting game in order to learn more about wild animals remained TR’s passion for his entire life.

The attempt to use the hunting experience to understand nature came to full flower for TR between 1883 and 1887 when he lived and hunted extensively on his cattle ranch, the Elkhorn, located in the North Dakota Badlands, now part of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Lunde chronicles the growing awareness on the part of Roosevelt that many of the big game animals he hunted were quickly disappearing; this awareness led to the founding of Boone & Crockett, the push for hunting regulations and the development of our national parks.

Roosevelt’s passions were hunting and guns.  But behind these two passions, and this is where Lunde’s book really stands out, was an awareness on the part of our 26th President that hunting needed to serve the interests of science, that guns were a means to advance our knowledge and appreciation of natural things.

The GVP community is uncomfortable with the notion of guns as self-defense ‘tools’ and rightly so.  But maybe a more balanced message about gun ownership could be developed by reminding Gun Nation why Teddy Roosevelt loved his guns.