I want to be an ecologist

This entry is part of my journal from Semester in the West. For all SITW journal entries, click here. For all SITW posts, including blog posts I wrote while on the program, click here. To learn more about the program, click here.

camp: Baker National Forest, Baker County, Oregon
context: We watched a documentary about a few OSU ecologists doing field work in Yellowstone National Park and documenting the way streams have recovered after wolf reintroduction, because wolves keep elk populations in check, preventing them from overgrazing stream banks.


God, I want to be an ecologist right now. It’s the cheesy music. The cheesy music always get me. And the wolves, the pictures of wolves running through snow and the hope that if I live long enough, I might see that happen someday. I love the way nature works so well. Ecology is like peeling back the layers of an onion. Today, it doesn’t seem scary. All we need to do is bring back wolves and cougars and lynxes and everything else will come back. It seems to beautifully simple and happy. Until you get to the people, and the politics. That screws everything up. Why did I have to pick ES-politics? ES-Bio is full of the possibility of redemption. Politics makes for good papers, good thinking and studying but no optimism. I’ve watched C-SPAN, and even on issues everyone agrees are important, half the things people stand up and say are ridiculous, tangential or obstructive. What chance do wolves have?
I love the fact that you can’t replace wolves. We can try to mimic their ecological functions, but we can’t impart that same fear in elk populations. We shoot indiscriminately, construct fences and do our best to be seen as the top predator, but we can’t pretend to be wolves, try as we might. Wolves live because of elk. The two are intimately intertwined in a way we could never hope to equal. Which is why we need them, so much, to keep that ecological balance.
And I hate the idea of shooting wolves. It pains me so much, viscerally, to think of that bullet piercing through layers of grey hair, the wolf falling, bleeding onto the ground. But I think that hunt might be necessary for wolves to live with ranchers. If you take control away from people, they feel powerless. They act on their own. I think, I hope, that allowing a hunt will help bridge that divide. I hope those few wolves that are shot will help the rest survive. I hope wolves will learn to fear humans, to run at night, to make themselves invisible. I know, if we let them, they will survive. They’re fighters by nature.
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