A table full of rambunctious young children greeted us as we entered the annual Ulm Arkansas, community celebration last night. Nearly the entire population of 170 came along with dozens of others who just like this little town. Ulm no longer has enough kids to keep a grade school open. There was a time not long ago when both a Lutheran and a public grade school were thriving. Many of us would do anything we can to help the young families of Ulm.
We also stocked the bird feeders since a cold front is coming in. Right now its raining but that is predicted to turn to snow and ice. We love to see the chickadees and cardinals flock our safflower seed–which the squirrels don’t like. Who wouldn’t want to help such cute little songbirds stay alive in a rough winter? Besides, they’re fun to watch. So my sympathy for their plight leads me to alter the ecosystem.
Much like sympathy for Bambi has led to a reduction in hunting in many areas. The cute little fawns. Who could kill such a sweet little thing? So the city people pass laws to outlaw hunting deer.
When the deer herd grows uncontrollably, as it will without predators, even the gardens of the suburbanites begin to suffer. Not enough, usually, to induce the governing authorities to kill any of them. And even when they do, they aren’t killing, they are culling. We can’t ever like this culling. That would be too mean and harsh for the dominant culture in today’s America.
An even harsher fact is that killing deer has to be done for the good of the deer herd and the ecosystem. Without a predator to keep their numbers in check, deer will destroy vegetation wherever they are. The resulting lack of food decreases resistance to disease and eventually causes a die-off of herds. Even worse, the entire ecosystem suffers a loss of other species depending on the food destroyed by the unchecked growth of the deer herd. An old Amerindian saying was: kill the wolves, kill the mountain.
Our spot up in the Ozark mountains is a middle of a wildlife sanctuary. Deer are everywhere here. We’ve seen coyotes, a more adaptable cousin of the wolf, chasing them. The coyotes, mountain lions, and wolves manage their land, keeping the deer population low enough that the vegetation survives and all the smaller species can survive.
Outside such refuges as ours, man is the manager of all ecosystems. Even in many wildlife refuges, man intervenes. I once visited a refuge in Ukraine where predators were excluded and the deer population has grown to the point where the native vegetation is virtually gone and the animals are kept alive with imported hay.
Today, the refuges for the wild animals of Africa are similar. High fences and lots of guards attempt to keep poachers out and the elephants, giraffes and zebras protected. Even the best, such as in Kenya, are little more than zoos with lots of land. In countries with less stable governments, such as Mozambique, the only elephants I could find were in cages. All others have been destroyed for trophies or medicines for Asian markets.
African human populations, on the other hand, have exploded in recent years. If current trends continue, the continent may be able to feed just 25% of its population by 2025. Recently in Uganda, I taught small farmers how to grow more food. Each family I talked to is having as many children as they can. Many brag about how many they have. Their little land is subdivided among all the children. Meanwhile, food aid from the West enables them to survive.
Meanwhile, the well-fed West, with low birth rates, sees the pictures of poor children of Africa and sends food, while over-populated African countries are fled by millions of their own people. One hospital I visited in Malawi was staffed only by volunteer foreigners. All the native nurses had taken better paying jobs in Europe.
While the Africans flood into neighboring Europe, America’s southern border is invaded by Hondurans. If they get across the border, kind Americans provide them food and shelter. Their parents get jobs and send the money back to Honduras–the largest source of income for the country.
We’ve come a long way from the days when we exterminated wolves and almost obliterated many migratory birds for their feathers. Someday, maybe, we will find better ways of dealing with overpopulation than encouraging them to leave their country or just sending food and nurses.
Our present well-intentioned policies are creating societies which are less and less resilient and more and more dependent. Someday, maybe, we will understand human groups as just one part of an ecosystem. Someday, maybe, we will understand that an ecosystem which continually declines in resilience will be destroyed along with all its species, including humans.