Tag Archive: human

Bears, beavers and bugger it – the camera is coming!

What is a holiday? A chance to do what you like doing? Yes, exactly. And I like taking photos which means I take my camera on holiday. No ifs, no buts and no amount of protestation from my good wife.

And so it was I agreed to a holiday in Yellowstone. I say “agreed”, it’s hardly a hardship to spend time in one of the most exciting places on earth. If you’ve never been to this part of the world, it is above all else, exciting. The scenery is gobsmacking, the wildlife abundant but that’s not the attraction for me: Yellowstone is damned exciting. It’s exciting because it’s effectively a volcano spewing and spluttering its intentions ceaselessly; it’s exciting because it was America’s first National Park signalling a new era in land custodianship; it’s exciting because it now attracts 3 million visitors a year; it’s exciting because with the return of wolves in 1995, it is claimed to be one of the last true wilderness areas of the northern Hemisphere. Now, we could debate the definition of ‘wilderness’ all day but anywhere that creeps close to it (especially a place with wild wolves) that also accommodates 3 million people, is VERY exciting to me.

Ian taking some time out…with a friend.

Swan Lake at dawn

Amanda my wife, and our close friends Eileen and Ian, had never been to Yellowstone whereas I had the knowledge built up over many visits with tour groups. This inevitably resulted in me becoming the (unpaid) tour guide, a role that was remunerated only through the occasional opportunity to take pictures – I did less than 1gb in two weeks so please don’t give me a hard time!

Initially based in Mammoth, we took in the famous Lamar Valley where one early start rewarded us with roadside wolf howling, the like of which I’d never experienced. Thick forest prevented a view but we knew…we felt…those wolves were close. From West Yellowstone we saw grizzly and cubs, black bear up close (a bit too close for Eileen), beaver and river otters. One morning we witnessed a young wolf swimming the Yellowstone River and bumped into the same animal close to the road the following day. Moving south we immersed ourselves in the rustic delights of Old Faithful Inn for two nights before leaving Yellowstone for Grand Teton where moose were abundant but the fall colour was regrettably past its best.

These River Otters can really shift – I just managed to grab this shot as a family swam upstream one evening at sunset.

Bison herd at Firehole River

It’s been several years since my last visit to Yellowstone and there was a noticeable change in the profile of visitors with many more nationalities represented –  surely a sign of emerging economic wealth and perhaps in tandem with an increasingly urbanised lifestyle, a latent yearning to flirt with nature? I’m not sure, but it seems that the wilderness is no longer the preserve of wealthy Westerners and although I have concerns about the impact of ever-growing visitor numbers, that is surely no bad thing?

Burnt Lodgepoles at dusk.

Our final day was spent on horseback high above Jackson Hole and in full view of the National Elk Refuge, the controversial wintering grounds for beleaguered elk and not a million miles different from the practice of feeding red deer in Scotland – like I say, for anyone with an interest in the human-wildlife dynamic, this is an exciting place.

The Good, the Bad and the very, very Ugly.

If you scratch beneath the surface of the Yellowstone story – and it’s one helluva of a story – it will draw you in and sink its metaphorical teeth into your heart and mind. Over the years, this place has taught me more about wildness and how different people perceive and relate to that wildness, than anywhere else I’ve been.

The food is crap if you’re vegetarian; the French Vanilla cappuccinos are delicious but too sweet and the monster-sized trucks that pass as family cars get right up my nose (as do photographers that never reduce their tripods below head height) but if you can put up with these minor encumbrances, Yellowstone (and Grand Teton) is a delight.

Amanda after an early start and a lack of caffeine.

The mind-boggling lobby at Old Faithful Inn.

Against the context of the emerging ecological ethos of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, you might be interested in these web sites.

Greater Yellowstone Coalition

Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative

The stickiest problem of all.

It’s a sticky one. In fact it’s so sticky, no government or conservation group (at least any reliant on membership revenue) will touch it with a bargepole. But in reality, you can forget climate change, species extinction or habitat loss, there is only ONE issue at the root of all those other issues: Human Population. There I said it. And to his credit, Mark Carwardine has said it too in this month’s BBC Wildlife Magazine. Even David Attenborough recognises the futility of conservation without a radical rethink on our own burgeoning population. ” I’ve never seen a problem that wouldn’t be easier to solve with fewer people, or harder, and ultimately impossible, with more.” David is obviously an intelligent man, but you really don’t have to be a nuclear scientist to conclude that.

So when should ‘we’ as intelligent, responsible members of society, say something? There are 7 billion of us now with 9 billion predicted for 2050. Just half a century ago, that figure was 3 billion. Quite frankly I don’t see a human rights issue in protecting the right to breed, but I do see an issue in trying to accommodate a population that can’t be fed or have access to basic resources. So is now the time to stop worrying about offending religious or human rights groups and to speak out on what is a mind-blowingly obvious global issue?

Now before you start pelting me with rotting vegetables, can I just say that this is not about culling old people, Asian people, short people, any people. As Chris Packham has said, there are not ‘too many’ of any particular type of people, there are just too many ‘organisms’. In other words, we have to look at this biologically rather than emotionally. And there is light along the tunnel. It’s a fact that when women have access to education and family planning facilities…AND when they are treated as equals to men, the birth rate falls.

The problem is staring us in the face and although riddled with emotional and cultural considerations, so is the solution. Perhaps we all need to put our brushes down and stop sweeping this under the carpet?

www.populationmatters.org