Unwilding America

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

North America was much wilder and more dangerous before the Indians arrived, Gregory Cochran reminds us:

Today, or for that matter during colonial times. there are only a few dangerous creatures around: grizzly bears, black bears, polar bears, and a few poisonous snakes. Mountain lions attack people, but rarely. I suppose some people die from drunkenly running their pickup into a buck on a country road.

Back in the Pleistocene, life was more exciting. You had to worry about really potent predators like dire wolves, sabertooth cats, lions, and short-faced bears. There were also plenty of giant herbivores that would have been dangerous, ranging from mammoths to ground sloths. In general, more like Africa today, a place where people who fall asleep walking home from the beer joint in the next village have their faces eaten by hyenas.

Paul Martin, who did excellent work in showing that Quaternary extinctions were caused by human hunters, felt that we should do our best to recreate those extinct faunas in North America, by introducing wild horses, camels, elephants, tigers, and such to the great plains. I don’t think he ever bothered to explain why anyone would want to do this. To him, it was obvious. Not to me.

A related concept, the Wildlands Project, was put forth almost 20 years ago. Loons are still pushing it. The idea is that many species, especially predators, can only survive in the long term if they have much more space than they do currently. So the people backing the Wildlands project want to expel humans from as much as half of the continent. Some big names such as Paul Ehrlich and E. O. Wilson have endorsed this. Of course, they’re all mad as hatters.

First question is why anyone would want to infest the nation with maneaters? Right now, in most of the country, you don’t have to worry about your kids being eaten. Why would anyone want to change that? They’d have to be implacably hostile to the human race. And of course, they are.

I’m pretty sure they’re suggested fenced-in game preserves, not saber-toothed tigers let loose in Nebraska — or maybe not.

Leave a Reply