I was watching TV and suddenly I saw nature, red in tooth and claw, at work in the U.S. Congress. An up and coming alpha she-wolf, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, was pursuing an old bull, Mitch McConnell, through the halls of our national legislature, from the Russell Office Building to the Senate Cloakroom.
“#WheresMitch” AOC howled on MSNBC, Fox News, Instagram and Twitter. And Mitch, on the move, looking anxiously over his shoulder, knew exactly what Ocasio-Cortez had in mind: this new top predator and her pack intend to hamstring him, pull him down and eat his political liver.
AOC did not find Mitch, but there is hope. With this new input, the political ecosystem of the United States could evolve quickly, just as the ecosystem of the Yellowstone was transformed in a few decades following the reintroduction of wolves in 1995. Elk numbers were reduced and elk behavior changed as herbivores responded to predator pressure. Riparian vegetation rebounded and the hydrology of the basin stabilized. Missing bird species reappeared, beavers came back to work and much more. The Yellowstone has not recovered completely from the damage inflicted by human intervention but it has come a long way. Without a doubt, 14 wolves made a difference.
Interestingly, something similar may be happening on the Green Spring as wolves, led by our iconic neighbor OR-7, repopulate the Cascade Siskiyou bioregion. Recently, for example, we have seen uncharacteristic movements of elk heading south across Highway 66 near the Pinehurst Airport.
What else might be changing? As elk expand their range and wolves multiply, what is happening to the vegetation in our upland forests and meadows? Birds can tell us part of this story as their populations and distributions respond to thriving native plants. What is our fire outlook? Studies conducted in other regions indicate that wildfire behavior is altered by the browsing activity of large ungulates. Certainly we have much to learn by studying at the ecodynamics in and around our Cascade Siskiyou National Monument.
Of course our local bioregion is just one small fraction of a natural and human order that needs restoration. Our national political culture, our energy economy and our fragile ecosphere — everywhere we look we see systems spinning toward disintegration. We have been speeding down an icy road and suddenly we are spinning out of control, headed for the edge. If we have any power to survive, it will reflect knowledge: take that foot off the brake, steer gently into the spin, reintroduce predators, strategically reduce the fuel load, rewild plantations, say no to LNG, let natural processes reassert themselves.
Knowledge is not magic and it is not free. In 2019, I hope our community will make one small investment in knowledge of the Klamath Siskiyou region: a research station on the Green Springs. I have a few ideas about making this happen. If you have any of your own, please share.