October 9, 1999
Northern Great Plains Planning Team
USDA Forest Service
125 North Main Street
Chadron, NE 69337
Re: Northern Great Plains Management Plans Revision -- Draft EIS
Human beings think that we own, and have the right to dominate, every square inch of the Earth. That, besides being an absurd idea, is the basic reason why we are losing, worldwide, about 100 species per day. Habitat loss is at the top of every list of the primary reasons why species have become extinct or are in danger of becoming extinct.
We as a species survive only because of a host of services provided by nature (food, clean air, clean water, soil, the fixing of nitrogen, etc.), services which we cannot duplicate, and which we cannot even begin to provide in a sustainable fashion. For example, wetlands clean water far better than we can, cheaper, and without the use of fossil fuels. Natural ecosystems, which have evolved over millions of years, are also far more productive than anything we have replaced them with. For example, the grassland/bison ecosystem is far more suited to the Great Plains than our agriculture based on exotic species (cattle are native to Southeast Asia).
Thus, the top priority of your management plan should be the preservation and restoration of the native species, such as the bison, prairie dog, black-footed ferret, coyote, wolf, amphibians, bats, birds, fish, and plants. Of course, they can be secure only in a matrix that contains all, or as many as possible, of the original species. Even with all of our current knowledge of biology, we still don't know how to create viable ecosystems. The best that we can do is to try to preserve them intact.
Wildlife (all non-human, non-domesticated species) are not as flexible as we are. We can live almost anywhere; they must have certain strict requirements met. It follows that, if we are to try to preserve all existing species, which I think we should, we have to plan for wildlife first. This means giving top priority to habitat- and species restoration, and considering human needs (jobs, agriculture, resource extraction, recreation, etc.) only after the security of the wildlife has been assured. We are flexible enough to set aside sufficient habitat to preserve all native species and ecosystems, and satisfy our needs without disturbing those areas. Indeed, I am certain that, if we don't preserve those species and ecosystems, we will end up with either a drastically impoverished existence, or no existence at all!
Wildlife have already lost nearly all of their habitat, certainly all protected habitat. We can't afford to reduce their allotment any more. The lands under your care are a tiny percentage of the states where they located. Surely at least there we can afford to give priority to wildlife. If we don't, we will end up like Japan and England, where local ecosystems have been so decimated that the country is totally dependent on sustenance from abroad. Just as we have survived just fine without mining Antarctica, we can afford to leave the tiny portion of our land that is in public stewardship to the wildlife who live there.
Since we don't have enough knowledge of ecosystems to be able to create and manage them sustainably, your management plans should lean towards "hands-off" management, once restoration has been completed. As recent research has shown, mere human presence can often be harmful to wildlife (see Wildlife and Recreationists). Thus, human presence should be minimized. The best way to do that is to make access difficult, by minimizing roads, buildings, trails, and other human artifacts, and by excluding the use of technological aids such as motor vehicles, rafts, climbing equipment, and bicycles in habitat areas.
Alternative 4 (emphasizing "natural processes and restoration of impaired native ecosystems") is the only alternative that warrants serious consideration. The priorities should be: (1) preservation and restoration of native species and ecosystems, including replacement of extinct species with their closest living relatives (e.g. re-introducing grizzlies "borrowed" from nearby ecosystems); (2) preservation of Native American peoples and cultures; (3) minimal-impact recreation (no vehicles, including animals used as vehicles; no fishing or hunting); (4) all grazing by non-native species should be phased out as quickly as possible; (5) all resource extraction should be phased out as quickly as possible. Plant and animal control should be limited to the removal of exotics. All human artifacts, with the possible exception of water and bathroom provisions, should be removed. Removal of roads and parking lots should be given a high priority, to reduce human impacts on wildlife.
In short, all areas should be converted to wilderness, with minimal access, and limited to hiking. It is the least that we can do for our precious remnants of wildlife, whose habitat we have largely extirpated.
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
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