Ecosystems are Like the Tides

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When I entered the US Navy in 1963 I took an extensive class in Navigation.  One of the major subjects within the class was, “Tides”.

Jim Beers, retired Refuge Manager, Special Agent, & Wildlife Biologist U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Jim Beers, retired Refuge Manager, Special Agent, & Wildlife Biologist U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

In addition to “high tide” and “low tide”; and spring tides and neap tides, our instructor mentioned a particular concept that was both peculiar to those times and a likely subject for a trick question on our frequent tests.  That topic was, “Ebb Tide”.

Now, “ebb tide” is the period of time when the tide is “falling” (i.e. “ebbing” as in the ocean level is becoming lower).  That may sound simple enough now but in 1963 there was a popular song complicating this otherwise simple concept for students preparing to take a test that included “tides”.

Ten years earlier (1953) a song came out titled “Ebb Tide”.  It became very popular and in 1956 Frank Sinatra made a classical recording of it that was familiar to and often sung quietly by men of all ages for many years.  The lyrics gave the distinct impression that the tide “came in” like a guy approaching his sweetheart with whom he lingered romantically for a time in the “Ebb Tide”.  In other words, tidal changes that never stop going up or down on every coast or coastal waterway or bay or river near the sea (although winds, storms, rainfall, lack of rain, river levels, bays, river locations, currents, earthquakes, and other etcetera’s can increase, decrease delay or speed up tides) were described in a popular song called “Ebb Tide” as some sort of stable condition (i.e. things stopped) in what was otherwise always a dynamic and changing tidal situation.  Students that did not pay attention would often check the test question choice for “define ebb tide” not as “the ocean level becoming lower” but as “the stable water level period when high tide is achieved’ (which never existed).

That false romantic notion of “Ebb Tide” is just like the false romantic notion of the vaunted “Stable Native Ecosystem”.

Just as no one can foretell the exact, actual high and low tide for any coastal location one year from now (the Tide Tables only tell you what the predictable pull of the moon will do under stable conditions without winds, rains, drought, etc.)): no one can foretell what any Ecosystem will consist of one year hence (much less what sort of “ecosystem” is natural ,“native”, expected, or appropriate last year, this year or next year.  An ecosystem can be defined as anything from a large geographical area to those things that make up your eyeball.  Just as tides have always and will always be susceptible to many other external factors and will behave accordingly; so too will any particular (federal, state, County, mountain, wetland, agricultural, urban, rural, icy, humid, personal, etcetera) Ecosystem change depending on biological, meteorological, social, economic, or other human factors such as migrations, disease, wars and political strife.  There is no more a stable or appropriate “Native Ecosystem” than there is some mythical “Ebb Tide” wherein the tide stands still.

“Native” Ecosystems are merely estimated historic anomalies in a constantly changing environment be it Canada in 20,000 BC, Germany in 300 AD, Florida in 1492 AD or Wyoming in 1880.  They are historic touchstones worthy of study for knowledge about our alternatives to future problems like the earthquakes that flooded coastal Japan and coastal Indonesia in recent years, the volcano that destroyed Pompeii or current situations like big game/livestock losses to predators or best agricultural practices to sustain optimum plants and animals for recreation, erosion control, wild and domestic animal forage, or human safety.

The imagined plant and animal mix in North America either when the first Asians (Native Americans) arrived or when the first Europeans arrived have no more relevance as to what animals or which plants “belong” in the same places today than that wolves belong in Central Park or free-roaming buffalo belong in central Illinois.  Those insisting on “restoring” “native” plants and animals in the places they select utilizing government force are charlatans with hidden agendas that would otherwise be resisted and marginalized.  Some examples would be:

–       Animal rights and anti-hunting/fishing advocates that want to eradicate “Non-Native Species” like brown trout, pheasants, Great Lakes salmon, West Coast and reservoir striped bass, muskies and rainbows beneath dams, chukars, etc. as incremental steps to eliminating hunting, fishing and the human use of wild animals.

–       Academics that lobby for a (or many select) “Native Ecosystem” as a never-ending government cash cow of grants, studies, recommendations and career enhancements.

–       Bureaucrats at both the federal and state levels that are interested in increasing staffing, increasing budgets, generating promotions and pension increases, increasing the land controlled by them, increasing their power over others, and obtaining public adulation and recognition from powerful and rich persons.

–       Politicians hungry for the votes of urban (and therefore removed from the effects of their “Native Ecosystem” longings) voters, support of rich environmental and animal rights’ organizations, glowing media coverage from sponsoring more laws, and the donations of powerful entities that stand to profit from tailored changes like solar power farms, wind turbines, electric cars, dam removals, and other extreme changes disguised as “good” for the “Native Ecosystem”.

–       Various environmental and animal rights organizations that are funded by donations, inheritances, grants and subsidies dependent on publicity and lurid romance biology yarns revolving around criminalizing European settlement of North America, capitalism, private property, and the use of natural resources for things as diverse as power, fur, and food production that despoil the “Native Ecosystem”.

–       An unmentioned gaggle of national interest groups with agendas as diverse as gun control, government land control, ending ranching and timber management, and eliminating all natural resource management and control for human benefit.

–       International, wealthy and powerful entities like the UN (Agenda 21), the World Wildlife Fund, the Wildlands Project and very rich persons interested in vacating land around their estates while causing its’ value to drop in order to buy more as cheaply as possible.

–       Population Control advocates like Ted Turner and Bill Gates and associated eugenics organizations who work to restrict a dwindling human population to cities where they are controlled ostensibly in order to restore a “Native Ecosystem” in the rural areas they vacated.

–       Radical political leaders interested in generating hatred of certain groups and/or support for evil political agendas like Hitler’s praise for “Pre-Roman plants and animals” as a way to build pride in his ruthless Nazi restoration of a bygone “Deutschland” while engendering animosity towards all those invaders that subsequently entered Germany and despoiled what he would restore.

Ecosystems, like tides, are constantly changing within natural parameters.  As human communities change; as weather changes; as time goes by: ecosystems change.  There is nothing sacred or more desirable per se about the Great Plains or Midwest that once hosted a sea of grass with wooded lowlands, buffalo and wolves, now hosting towns, farms and ranches with pheasants and brown trout (2 non-natives) in streams.  Neither is better nor worse.  Neither “belongs” more than the other.  Neither is more “complete” or more “balanced” than the other.  Neither “needs” wolves or buffalo or pheasants or brown trout.  Excluding wolves and buffalo because of human safety and economic reasons like wolf depredations and buffalo damage to crops and fences is sensible.  Adding pheasants and brown trout for human enjoyment and positive economic reasons is likewise sensible.  The measure of “better” or “worse” lies with the human community that lives in and with the ecosystem in question.  America was a very different ecosystem before Asians invaded it as the glaciers receded and a very different ecosystem after Asians or what we call today, Native Americans, settled and lived a hunter/gatherer existence in tribal communities.  Likewise, European settlers living a more organized agricultural/urban existence created yet another very different ecosystem whether in Eastern, urban seaports or great Midwestern ranchers and farms, or in mountain valleys and western beaches where orchards, vineyards and  towns mixed with livestock, logging and Universities.  None were better or worse, except by the perception of knowledgeable humans of the day that lived in them with Constitutional rights and the wherewithal to be the best that they can be.

So when you hear or read romantic nonsense about the “Native Ecosystem” remember Frank Sinatra singing “Ebb Tide”.  Both are romantic entertainment about something presented as static that is always changing and in flux.  While the song is a harmless ditty, the “concept” is a tar baby hiding a mass of hidden and dangerous agendas.  Know them for what they are; otherwise while one may cause you to miss a question on your Navigation test; the other can cause you to lose your home, your community and your way of life if you live in one of the many rural American locations that the rich and powerful have targeted for restoring the “Native Ecosystem”.