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”.