And yes, there are a hundred other man-made obstacles as well. But most everyone knows the damage caused by the elm-bark beetle, rabbits introduced into Australia and the American south’s battle with kudzu.
But I read a Guardian article the other day, titled Expanding national parks not enough to protect nature, say scientists. The subtitle is almost more interesting to me: ‘Urgent’ coordinated action to tackle overconsumption, farming subsidies and the climate crisis also needed to halt biodiversity loss.
If your hound is hunting for ‘urgent coordinated action’ in the United States these days, he’s barking up the wrong tree.
I’m very much afraid that particular species went extinct a long time ago, starved to death by what was supposed to be its protector—bipartisanship in government. We once haggled with one another in the spirit of listening, finding solutions both liberals and conservatives could live with and sending proposals to the Senate, where details were worked out in a collegiate atmosphere.
My god, how archaic that sounds to write in 2022.
(A quick warning: This story is considerably longer than what I usually offer. But if you want to stick with me, take a deep seat in the saddle, pull your Stetson low over your eyes and put your collar up against the wind.)
But we pretty much shit-the-bed on protecting nature in cattle country.
First, buffalo were the staple product upon which the American Indian depended for his livelihood. Meat, blankets, teepee structures, clothing, needles, even basic farm-tools came from the buffalo. Second, our national motto of manifest destiny depended upon a genocide perpetrated upon the Indian nations. It seemed like a good idea at the time (for everyone except the Indians) to kill off their staple product, so we sent trainloads of shooters west to eliminate buffalo.
And eliminate they did. What the Indians harvested carefully with bows and arrows, we murdered by the millions with rifles.
(Smithsonian Magazine) Hunters began killing buffalo by the hundreds of thousands in the winter months (note the pile of skulls above). One hunter, Orlando Brown brought down nearly 6,000 buffalo by himself and lost hearing in one ear from the constant firing of his .50 caliber rifle. The Texas legislature, sensing the buffalo were in danger of being wiped out, proposed a bill to protect the species. General Sheridan opposed it, stating, ”These men have done more in the last two years, and will do more in the next year, to settle the vexed Indian question, than the entire regular army has done in the last forty years. They are destroying the Indians’ commissary. And it is a well known fact that an army losing its base of supplies is placed at a great disadvantage. Send them powder and lead, if you will; but for a lasting peace, let them kill, skin and sell until the buffaloes are exterminated. Then your prairies can be covered with speckled cattle.”
Indeed. Buffalo reduced from 60 million to 300 by men with rifles.
By the end of the 19th century, only 300 buffalo were left in the wild. Congress finally took action, outlawing the killing of any birds or animals in Yellowstone National Park, where the only surviving buffalo herd could be protected. Conservationists established more wildlife preserves, and the species slowly rebounded. Today, there are more than 200,000 bison in North America.
But we’re writing about invasive species, right?
Man himself is the most invasive species ever to walk the planet, but we’ll leave that alone for the moment and stick with the present conundrum. Actually, upon reflection it’s not a conundrum, but a solvable problem that vexes only a small (but politically powerful) portion of the population, cattle ranchers in the west.
Western cattlemen have indeed covered the prairies with their speckled cattle and the results are carefully noted from the dust-bowl 1930s to modern times, when it now takes ten or more acres per cow (sometimes a hundred) to exist. Men introduced this bovine invasive species as they drove Indians elsewhere. It hasn’t been a good thing for either native Americans, the land or buffalo.
A word or two from Ted Turner, creator of CNN and billionaire buffalo rancher.
(Turner Bison Exchange) Our Philosophy. Optimum economic production is the point at which “net profits” are maximized in a livestock operation. To achieve optimum production, we produce bison that fit their environment, instead of artificially changing the environment (extreme feeding and supplementing) to fit what we think our bison should be.
Our ranches are extremely ecologically diverse, from the deserts of southern New Mexico to the Flint Hills of Kansas to the great plains of Nebraska and South Dakota to the mountain savannahs of Montana. Our philosophy is that Mother Nature is far superior than we when it comes to selecting our replacement animals. We expect our bison to grow, maintain themselves, produce a calf and get rebred on minimal supplementation and energy inputs. Our bison graze year-round and are expected to breed and produce a live viable calf every year. Non-productive animals are culled from our herds. If they aren’t productive and viable in their environment, then we don’t want them. Our bison need to work and support our ranching and conservation endeavors.
The Turner herd:
Now approximately 50,000 head, the Turner Herd is a “composite” herd of all available genetics in North America. There are two unique groups of bison within the Turner Herd. In 1996, Ted purchased Vermejo Park Ranch which had a small legacy herd of bison (the Castle Rock herd) that had been present at Vermejo since the 1920’s. Genetic testing of the Castle Rock herd showed them to be “unique” within the known bison genome and free from any measurable (now) cattle mitochondrial DNA.
In 2009, Turner Ranches partnered with the state of Montana to hold a quarantined herd of bison from Yellowstone National Park for five years for further testing of Brucellosis, a bacterial disease capable of having devastating effects on bison, cattle and elk. Through this partnership with Yellowstone, Turner obtained a portion of the production of the Yellowstone animals and now owns one of the only privately-held herds of Yellowstone bison, thought to be the “mecca” of bison genetics. Both the Yellowstone and Castle Rock bison herds are held separately from the balance of the Turner herd to maintain the integrity of their lineage and unique genetics.
Bison Production and Conservation.
Turner Ranches owns grass, first and foremost, which we market through bison.
That’s key to the argument for Bison, as cattle ranchers market cows, which must be bred, fed, watered and cared for in place. Those requirements have shown cattle to be unsustainable in what was once endless prairie grasslands.
Our ranches are structured for either bison production or bison conservation. Production ranches are managed to maximize efficient harvest of grass to produce bison. Production ranches manage their bison in large herds on range year-round with minimal supplementation for the environment in which they live. The breeding bull-to-cow ratio in our herds averages one bull per 12 cows. Bulls are normally extracted from the breeding herd when they reach five or six years of age. Nonproductive cows (not bred or not bringing a viable calf to the fall corral) are normally culled.
Yearling replacement females are run with the cow herd after a weaning period (under normal moisture conditions). They are selected based on their individual gain on grass and conformation as they approach two years of age. Breeding bulls are selected from long yearling (18 months old) prior to their cohort entering our feeding operations for slaughter. They are selected for their individual gain on grass and conformation. Both replacement heifers and bulls will be selected from the top 10% of their cohort based on individual performance from weaning to long yearling or two-year-old.
Several Turner ranches are structured and managed for conservation of bison genetics. These Conservation ranches have herds of bison that are considered unique and important to the preservation of broad based bison genetics and for restoration purposes. Production is not the top criteria in these herds but rather keeping the genetics intact and broad based. Often calves are not weaned and not all open cows are culled. A high compliment of young males will be kept in the herd until they are two years old, assuring that we keep breeding broad based, not line bred by a few dominant sires. Aged bulls in the herds are minimized, with few being older than four-years-old. Conservation herds are minimally supplemented as our other herds. Less stringent criteria are used on culling females. Replacement females may be randomly selected from their age cohort rather than selected by production criteria.
None of which will change the lack of conversation between cattle ranchers and those who promote bison.
But I thought it might be of interest when the environmental conversation turns to ‘invasive species.’ We once had prairie grasslands in America from the Mississippi River to the foot of the Rocky Mountains. They are gone today, but not irreplaceable.
The likelihood is slim. But the likelihood of the world we live in today was impossible to conceive a hundred years ago. Many things are implausible, but few things impossible.
Good night and god bless. Thanks for staying with me. You can climb down off your horse now and dream tonight of endless grasslands.