The history of the American bison is especially
interesting and somewhat unique. One Buddycom member had a grandfather who
belonged to an obscure tribe, the Choctaw. Back when the white man rounded up
genetically inferior redskin people and put them somewhere for safe keeping,
the Choctaw were put in the southeastern corner of Oklahoma in the Kiamishi
mountains. The grandfather had been born in the last half of the 19th century.
He was a really old fossil. He was so old that when he was a young man, the
buffalo nickel had not been minted. By the time the grandchildren had started
going to the movies the cost was 5 cents.
The old grandpa never got tired of complaining
about the wrong doings of the white man although sometimes others got tired of
his complaining. One of the greatest wrongs perpetrated by the white man,
according to the grumpy old grandpa was the slaughter of the bison, which he
called buffalo. Once numbering in the range of between thirty to seventy
million head, the numbers were reduced to one one thousandth of that after a
concerted campaign to slaughter the animals. The objective had been to deprive
the Indians living on the American plains of their main source of food and
materials needed for living. Other objectives had been to keep train tracks
clear of bison and to just have a little fun. That started the (green)
agricultural revolution on the plains which could not happen whilst large
thundering herds were roaming free. The campaign successfully disrupted the
lives of Indians. Sort of an indirect genocide directly intended. It was also
the beginning of a great destruction in the ecology of the middle portion of
the North American continent. That along with 90% reductions and more in
numbers of many other kinds of animals was a source of great consternation to
the old grandpa.
White pine, yellow pine, spruce, cedar, oak,
birch, alder, maple, aspen, hickory, hemlock, poplar felled by the hundreds of
millions in North America contributed to a global dumping of half a billion
tons of carbon annually by 1850. The white man "took vast tracts of 'an
essentially continuous forest cover,' with scattered meadows and converted them
into an essentially continuous grassland with scattered trees."(1)
Beaver, deer, muskrat, possum, squirrels,
rabbits, badgers, wolverine, elk, moose, wolves, bear, cats, birds, armadillos,
fish and even strange fish like garfish; all were considered part of a natural
sort of family which was largely wiped out. Plants and trees also disappeared.
The old grandpa knew a lot about the plants. He used to take the kids around to
many places and talk about the plants and the trees and the animals. He wanted
them to see the snakes and turtles, fish and frogs swimming in the water
without bothering them. Just watch. "Sure, a water moccasin or a cotton mouth
or a rattler can hurt you but they don't want to. They're just as afraid of you
as you are of them," he liked to say. What about the centipedes, scorpions, and
wasps? Well, you have to be careful about them. He didn't have particularly
fond memories of the scorpion that stung him on the rear end. That hurt.
The old grandpa and his old Indian friends
never completely accepted the disappearance of the old world. They had a tribal
council house just for Choctaws. They liked to go there and feel free to speak
their own language and reminisce about their old world lost and gone forever.
Sometimes they would sit together and talk at home out on the back porch and
watch the Kiamishi river way down below or hawks making lazy circles in the
sky. The old grandpa's grandchildren sometimes came to visit from far away
cities like Chicago and Portland and Los Angeles and San Francisco and New
York. He had lots of grandchildren. Sometimes they all came to visit at the
same time. They liked to swim in the river in the parts that weren't too deep.
They couldn't understand why grownups din't go swimming every day, especially
when the summer days were so hot. They couldn't understand the Choctaw
language. They couldn't understand why the Choctaw think animals and trees are
so special. They couldn't understand why the old grandfather disliked the white
man. They asked the old Indians why. The old Indians often said that the white
man killed the buffalo to cause the death of Indians. They said he disliked the
way the white man killed the trees and animals as much as he disliked the way
the white man killed fathers, mothers and children. The old Indians told a
story about the grandpa's sister. One day some white men came around to the white
house with the white picket fence where she lived. The husband was away at the
time, delivering horses to somebody 50 or sixty miles away. They called her
outside the house on some pretext or other. They said he watched white men kill
his mother's sister with stones because she married a white man. Some of the
grandchildren didn't understand how a woman could be killed with stones. This
made the old Indians laugh. They laughed long and loud. The Kiamishi river
formed a deep gorge right behind the big back porch of the house where they were all
sitting. Their laughter echoed all the way across the river and back again.
Some of the children started yelling to hear their echoes. Some the
grandchildren went to the kitchen and pestered grandma Bessie about the story.
She was making greens, pinto beans, cornbread and corn on the cob, chicken and
dumplins, lots of pies with white meringue on top and black berry cobbler for
the ones who didn't like pies. She wouldn't say anything at all about it. She was busy at
what she liked best. Making dinner for 27 grand kids. She was in the middle of
a big operation. But she also had a little help.
Ma and Pa.
"Who gives a
hoot about habitat?"
The old Choctaw didn't think in terms of a
science such as ecology or exclusively in terms of the white man's history or
It is not impermissible for scientists to look
back more than just a few years. They look at the big picture, sometimes even
the really big picture, millions or billions of years in the past. Kansans are
in effect legally encouraged to ignore the word million or billion when
considering evolutionary time. Kansans have been led to believe there is some
dichotomous chasm between science and God. That has happened for two reasons.
One, they don't know science. And two, they don't know their scriptures. They
prefer to call isotope based dating techniques a farce. That's how they justify
saying that dinosaur skeletons could not be more than 10,000 years old. That
assertion dovetails nicely with the view that the Bible says the earth is only
10,000 years old. Scientists are aware of theo-politics and it's surreal
distortions of reality. It is amusing.
Jonathan Weiner emphasizes historical and
evolutionary ecological perspective in The Next One Hundred Years.. He
is not interested in surreal distortions of reality.
"Our contributions to the greenhouse effect are
built on top of an earlier contribution at least as massive and spectacular.
Europe's population doubled betwenn 1750 and 1850, thanks to advances in
medicine, industry, intensive large-scale scientific farming, sanitation, and
the end of the plagues. By the first half of the nineteenth century, ... in the
global view the population of the continent simply exploded across the face of
the Earth. Tens of millions of people poured out of Europe. They settled not
only in North and South America but also in Australia, New Zealand, the Indus
Valley, Siberia, Inner Mongolia, and Manchukuo. Thirty three million of them
arrived in the U.S. between 1821 and 1924. Most of the emigrants were young and
they not only started families but also brought with them the advances in
medicine, industry, intensive farming, and sanitation that had made possible
the European population explosions. So they set off more explosions wherever
they went--explosions that are still in progress today, though population
growth has meanwhile leveled off in Europe itself.
(1) Jonathan Weiner The Next One Hundred
Bison, USFWS, Bill Iko, click to
Bison information from the U.S. Fish and
"It is believed that buffalo, or bison, crossed
over a land bridge that once connected the Asian and North American continents.
Through the centuries buffalo slowly moved southward, eventually reaching as
far south as Mexico and as far east as the Atlantic Coast, extending south to
Florida. But the largest herds were found on the plains and prairies from the
Rocky Mountains east to the Mississippi River, and from Great Slave Lake in
Canada to Texas. Because the great herds were nearly gone before any organized
attempts were made to survey populations, we may never know just how many
buffalo once roamed North America, although estimates range from 30 to 75
million. "The moving multitude...darkened the whole plains," wrote Lewis and
Clark, who encountered a herd at South Dakota's White River in 1806."
"Unfortunately, many people at the time also
wanted to eradicate buffalo as a way to take away the livelihood and well-
being of Native Americans. Native American tribes depended on the buffalo's
meat and hides, and many still today believe the animal has special spiritual
and healing powers, making it an important part of their culture. The
construction of the railroads across the plains further hastened the depletion
of buffalo populations. Hunting from train windows was advertised widely and
passengers shot them as the buffalo raced beside the trains. By 1883 both the
northern and the southern herds had been destroyed. Less than 300 wild animals
remained in the U.S. and Canada by the turn of the century out of the millions
that once lived there. Conservation of the buffalo came slowly. In May 1894,
Congress enacted a law making buffalo hunting in Yellowstone National Park
illegal. Eight years later, money was appropriated to purchase 21 buffalo from
private herds to build up the Yellowstone herd. With adequate protection, this
herd has steadily increased until it numbers almost 4,000 animals today.
Thousands of buffalo also inhabit the National Bison Range in the Flathead
Valley of Montana, the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in southwest
Oklahoma, the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge in northern Nebraska,
Sullys Hill National Wildlife Refuge in northwestern North Dakota, and Walnut
Creek National Wildlife Refuge in central Iowa. Many other private herds have
boosted the buffalo's overall population over the years as well. While the
present herds, numbering about 200,000 buffalo in all, are not as large as the
great herds that once ranged the North American continent, they are large
enough to ensure the continued well-being of the American buffalo for
generations to come."
Bison Composite Population Graph
Bison have increased so that total wild bison
numbers are about 30,000. Domestication has boosted the total numbers to above
200,000 as of 2001. The SANI value is less than one, 0.67, as of 2001.
Technically, SANI values do not include domesticated organisms. However in this
case the range of the domesicated herds are about as close as you are going to
get to a natural setting for these bison. We'll take what we can get. We are
glad to see the bison.
Bison have become more popular as a commercial
meat source. Ranchers have found that bison can forage in areas which can not
support cattle. This amounts to an attempt to co-opt as much of the organic
matter, or NTPP, net terrestrial primary production, as possible. It's like
trying to glean every last smidgen of NTPP for human consumption.
"If we include the amount of organic matter or
biomass that is foregone by the planet as we co-opt more territory each year
for more and more fields and pastures, house lots, parking lots, town and city
streets, then our share (adding together all of the carbon that we are taking,
and all that we are preventing the biosphere from making) is now approaching 40
billion tons of the continents' net primary production each year. Forty percent
(of the total).
"Demographers project that the human population
will double in the next hundred years to 10 billion in 2100. As the ecologist
Paul Ehrlich observes, "This implies a(n absurd) belief that our species can
safely commandeer upwards of 80 per cent."
Jonathan Weiner, The Next One Hundred
This little graph shows the increase in human
numbers in the last few thousand years. In this case, the distance from 1,000
million to 7,600 million is 7.6 times the distance from zero to 1,000 million.
7.6 billion is demographers' mid projection. Graph curve is from Learning
Tools, KQED TV, San Francisco, a PBS educational tv station. Overpopulation
denialists right and left have asked about the source, so now you know. The
leader of the Task Force on Amphibian Decline living in Britain objected
calling the graph extreme and, "off the scale." But it isn't. It is simply
demographer's mid projection.
Usually when such a graph is drawn, a short
time scale is used. But an evolutionarily significant time scale can more
easily show relevant amounts of increase per unit of time.
The distance from 1,000 million to 7,600
million is 7.6 times the distance from zero to 1,000 million. The graph is an
KQED, a PBS program available on
video tape to eligible schools and non-profit groups. 60 minutes. To Order:
Call Films for the Humanities, 1.800.257.5126
can get some idea of why the rightists wanted to use leaner budgets after tax
cuts as a means of defunding the PBS.
Fraid not, jellybean.
Get back to
Kansas where evolutionary time need not be considered. The state legislature
has legally sactioned ignorance.
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