Friday, April 8, 2016

American Bison, Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

Two American bison stand on mixed-grass prairie in the Black Hills of South Dakota at Wind Cave National Park.

The cave at Wind Cave National Park is only the most obvious attraction. The grounds preserve native Black Hills and Dakota prairie species, including American bison.

Vast herds of the ornery animals wander the grasslands, unfenced, occasionally blocking traffic on US 385 and SD 87.

And among the bison live huge cities of prairie dogs, barking to each other and passing motorists.

This is the prairie as our ancestors saw it.

And I for one hope all the US prairie becomes once again unfenced, with bisons in their millions wandering freely through the Buffalo Commons, instead of cattle. It’d be a healthier ecosystem, and we could manage them like a fishery. Think about it.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Pine Beetle Devastation, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Snowy meadow and mountains in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. 2 of 3 pine trees are dead from a pine beetle outbreak.
This beautiful view in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colo., is less beautiful if you look closely. About 2 in 3 trees are dead from a pine beetle outbreak.

I saw this sad effect of Global Warming was all through the mountains of north-central Colorado and southern Wyoming. A decade of warm years and drought weakened the trees, allowing the pine beetles to overwhelm them. It’s a world out of balance.

Hopefully, the mountain ecosystems will find a new balance. But I can’t help but be fearful. I’ve heard that in some Rocky Mountain and Sierra Nevada forests, the trees have stopped coming back after forest fires and other disasters. In other words, the ecosystems as we know them are dying.

Besides being inherently bad, it threatens human well being by reducing watershed capacity and increasing soil erosion. Not only that, but fewer forests means less carbon dioxide sequestration and oxygen production. It becomes an unvirtuous cycle.

I remember seeing these mountains green with trees. I hope my grandchildren – and your grandchildren – get the same chance.