A grizzly momma invests a lot of time in raising her young. As a species, they can react very slowly to changes in their environment. The more options we leave them, the better their chances of surviving.
In the 1969 movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Robert Redford’s character, Sundance Kid, is asked to demonstrate his shooting ability. A feared gunman, Sundance takes out his revolver, aims carefully at the target laying in the street and misses. He shoots again and misses. Quizzically, he looks at the man he hopes will hire him for his shooting ability and asks, “Can I move?” With that, he holsters the six-gun and then, faster than a striking sidewinder, draws and fires repeatedly, sending the target skittering across the ground as each bullet finds it.
I’ve thought about that movie scene and how it relates to wildlife over the past several months as we wandered over 12,000 miles, enjoying the bounties of western North America, yet seeing firsthand the expansive footprint of humanity.
The ability to move, to change with circumstances, is what has kept wildlife populations vibrant throughout history. When habitat changes, animals must “move”, changing how or even if they use the habitat.
Natural habitat changes have happened throughout time and certainly affect wildlife. Forest fires, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, drought, floods, melting or advancing glaciers all change how wildlife can use an area. Wildlife either adapt to the new reality, move to a new territory or perish. If the adaptation just requires a behavioral change, some animals are often able to accommodate that rather quickly. A dramatic change, requiring a functional natural selection process to cope, requires more time. The genetic process works much more quickly in highly productive species such as rodents than it does for, say, elephants or grizzly bears that invest considerable time raising each generation.
How pliable or adaptable a species is to changes in its environment is often referred to as resilience. The more resilient the species, the better it handles change. When change comes in small doses and over long periods, these species can find ways to roll with the habitat punches and come out on top.
A critical corollary to resilience is options. What alternatives does an animal have when changes happen? When changes are small, options are often wide open. What happens with a catastrophic event though? Perhaps a range fire ravages a mule winter range. In the long term, this might actually be good for the range and good for mule deer. In the short term though, what happens when the deer show up, expecting bitterbrush but find only burned stumps? This is a pretty dramatic change for them, regardless of how resilient they might be to smaller changes. Is there someplace else nearby where they can go? If not, then that herd is going to suffer high winter mortality, not because they weren’t resilient, but because there just weren’t any options.
So, back to Sundance Kid’s question: “Can I move?” If an animal can “move” by changing tactics, sliding into a different habitat for a time and otherwise adapt to the situation, it can thrive. The key to resilience is options. The wider the field of options, the better this works. Animals can be amazingly resilient if they have enough options.
As the human infrastructure continues to expand, we need to keep this in mind. Our actions don’t just cause immediate and obvious impacts to wildlife. They also carry long-term consequences by slowly choking options and constricting niches. If we don’t give this much thought, we force wildlife into smaller and smaller boxes until they collectively scream, “I can’t move!”
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Perfect Light Photo Supply
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho