Now comes one of the craziest -- and appealing -- ideas in the biological world: reintroducing species to the Americas. Eventually, this could allow Americans to go on camera safaris in this country and see scenes that humans haven't witnessed on this continent since about 11,000 B.C.
The genesis for this idea is the growing realization that Native Americans were not the fine ecological stewards we imagine. In the Americas, hunters began using effective spears about 13,000 years ago, and in only about four centuries nearly three-quarters of the large animal species had disappeared. Something like that also happened in Australia.
Ok Nic, you're right, Native Americans I'm sure did contribute to the extinction of many species of animals in North America, but you're talking about an ecology that hasn't existed for 13,000 years. Don't you think that some adaptations might have occurred since then?
So in a commentary in Nature in August, a handful of scientists led by Josh Donlan of Cornell University suggested a 'Pleistocene re-wilding'' -- the introduction of species from elsewhere that would closely resemble those in the ecosystem of the Pleistocene era, from about 1.65 million years ago until about 10,000 years ago.
The proposal provoked gasps of horror, some from Americans who did not wish to look out their back window and see a cheetah devour a camel -- or, worse, their child. There's been such a furor about reintroducing wolves in Yellowstone that I doubt this column will go over well with Montana and Wyoming ranchers.
But the idea is not for a Jurassic Park. Things would start slowly with less threatening creatures like the Bolson tortoise, which can weigh 100 pounds. It is now found only in Mexico but was once common in the U.S.
The next step would be to find a 200,000-acre ranch in the Southwest that saw an economic opportunity in working with scientists to recreate a Pleistocene ecosystem and then charging tourists to come and gawk. And, yes, such a game reserve would have a strong perimeter fence.
Something similar is being tried in Siberia. As the journal Science recounted in May, biologists in the Russian region of Yakutia are trying to create a Pleistocene Park by reintroducing species similar to the ones that humans killed off there long ago.
No no no no, this is a stupid idea. You already acknowledge backlash from ranchers for the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone and Idaho, in some cases reintroduction is a good idea, but it has turned many people who are otherwise very concerned with environmental issues against environmentalists. When you start reintroducing something that as far as most Americans are concerned was never even here you're asking for trouble.
This proposal could also be a boon for environmentalism. At a time when environmentalism defines itself largely by what it is against, re-wilding provides a positive vision. What could be bolder than giving our children the first glimpse in 13,000 years of an America as it was before humans introduced high technology like spears?
Didn't you hear me? It wont be a boon to environmentalism. Ok, so you didn't hear me, but still, not going to boost environmentalism. But you are right about one thing. Environmentalists do need to be for something instead of against something. This is why a major push needs to be made to move the United States away from dirty fuel (coal, oil...), and towards clean renewable energy like wind and solar. So, interesting article, interesting thought. But if anyone seriously considers this I might scream, things change in 13,000 ecologically this aint the same country it was then, you might just end up with a lot of prey incapable of avoiding predators causing animals that are a part of the North American ecosystem to be driven to extinction by animals that haven't been for a very long time. Like Jurassic Park, stupid idea, but again like Jurassic Park, an intriguing thought.