Written by By Rachel Pierstorff, ESLLC 2015-2016

Consider this: “a paradox has emerged: suddenly, the vacant lot in Detroit is wilder than Yellowstone.” Seems impossible, right? Yet in terms of human use, management, and intervention in the life of the ecosystem, Yellowstone is by far much more ‘man-handled’ than an empty lot.

Yellowstone’s bison population has dramatically recovered from endangerment through routine human management, including roaming restrictions and annual culls.

We as a society have long used the image of pure, untouched nature as the ideal; a slice of land fully free of human intervention is, usually, the ultimate goal in our minds and this is the logic behind nature preserves and protected areas. If human intervention is prohibited in a certain zone, we assume that nature will run its natural course in that area. There are problems with this outlook, however. It ignores the fact that human processes influence nature regardless of whether or not they are designated as protected on a map. Climate change, deforestation, and pollution are each examples of human-fueled activities that have external consequences—global warming, species isolation, and chemicals traveling via air or water know no boundaries. Essentially, we cannot expect protected regions to act “naturally” because they’ve already faced human intervention.

The inevitability of human influence on nature in all areas is something we must accept as truth, but not necessarily something we must see in a negative light. Indeed, today, in order to keep an ecosystem in its ‘original’ or ‘natural’ state, there must be intervention. Whether that means planting seedlings of trees devastated by beetles or fungus, releasing captivity-born birds in order to maintain a wild population, or setting controlled wildfires in habitats that use fire as a necessary component to their lifecycles, we must accept human’s place as both a part of nature and its most capable protector.

I end with a passage from the article that inspired this blog post, as it nicely encapsulates the argument for conscious, careful intervention in nature:

“Perhaps, through trying, through intervening…we’ll learn more and become more effective at “managing” Earth. And that increased ability to consciously control, rather than just blunderingly influence, may well be distasteful to many. They would rather be mere passengers on Earth, taking our place among the other animals, living as part of an ecosystem but not as its master. Well, me too. That sounds less stressful, more pleasant. But that would mean abdicating our responsibility to the many species and ecosystems we’ve harmed with our lack of mastery. We owe it to them to improve our scientific understanding, our gardening prowess, so that we ca ensure their continued persistence into the future.”

Works Cited

Marris, Emma. “Handle with Care.” Orion May-June 2015: 22-26. Print.

United States. National Park Service. “Bison Management.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, 04 Dec. 2015. Web. 08 Dec. 2015. <http://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/bisonmgnt.htm&gt;.


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