It is important to talk about why wildlife matters because this puts hunting/trapping and otherwise killing wildlife in perspective. Not that hunting, etc. is wrong in itself, its that leaving out all the other voices – why wildlife matters to the rest of us – that is what is wrong. That wildlife has been comodified, politicized and montized is what is wrong.
So lets talk about what is right and just and good about being alive and being able to live with, rather than against, wild animals on the land.
Cougars bring a lot with them, to their place on the land – they put the coyotes, bobcats and foxes in their territory on alert. It doesn’t mean that the cougar is going to kill them, but these “medium” predators are put on notice that they could be killed by the cougar. This changes their behavior, alters their habits, and that change is felt all through the food web. A cougar eats deer, and elk, and some big horn sheep, also rabbits, porcupines, and other small animals, but is sustained by the larger kills of deer and elk – less energy spent for more food. But these deer and elk are not the biggest, healthiest animals. The cougar always wants advantage, never wants to get hurt. So the smaller, less fit, weaker, possibly sick or even dying animal is going to fit the bill for the cougar, or the bear for that matter, which can also scavenge carcasses from the cougar. So this is something we don’t want to do or can’t do, hunt the weak, sick, young or dying animals. The cougar does this for us, and in the process, makes the deer herd helthier, stronger and more watchful.
These are just the superficial things the cougar does right off the bat. There is much more to these, and every other animal that we don’t even realize. The fit their role, their place in the land, tighter and more interconnected than any piece of a jigsaw puzzle we ever cut out (invented). The cougar’s skeleton has been honed and refined over thousands of years of living with, and being changed by its prey and the very land itself. There is no cougar without all the other plants, animals, geology and even climate in which it has evolved. No animal exists “on its own”, but is embedded in a web of relationships.
The NM Dept. of Game and Fish says they want to kill more cougars to increase the deer population, but which deer? The elderly, hungry and lame? Maybe we’ll get more deer, but will they be healthy deer, or will disease only increase in their ranks, reducing their numbers even further?
Bears, what do they do for us that we do not do for ourselves? Bears eat, spread seeds, and fertilize the ground. They clean up carrion and prey on deer fawns, regulating the deer numbers, and spurring more breeding. Their place in the web of life is intertwined, that to remove them would bring the forest crashing in on itself. Bears are supported by dozens of plants, but the big 3 are Piñon Pine, Juniper, and Oak trees. These are the main trees of NM, along with the Ponderosa Pine, which also have a relationship with bears.
“A farm without a tractor is like a forest without its bears” is simplistic and superficial, but its just the beginning of the importance of the bear in the woods. Bears are omnivorous, so their relationships with plants and other animals is intimate and assertive, they “strongly interact” with other members of their community. To say they leave a large “footprint” is literal as well as figurative. Their absence would leave “big shoes to fill”, and again, we as humans are not up to the task of all things bears do naturally in their daily lives.
These large mammals like bears and cougars are irreplaceable for so many reasons, but its good to think about what those reasons are, write a few of them down, and talk about why wildlife matters ~ what are your thoughts and feelings?