Sunday, April 22, 2018


Teepee Grass Exclosure, Little Missouri National Grasslands, ND. Photo 9/15/08.Exclosures are plots of land that have barriers that prevent certain species from entering the plot. In western North America, the excluded species are usually domestic grazing animals such as cattle, horses, and sheep. In scientific studies, an exclosure is established as a baseline to which the rest of the surrounding landscape can be compared. This, in turn, shows the effects of grazing or browsing animals upon the environment. In centuries past, the barriers were made of stones and wood but this changed with the invention and mass production of barbed wire in the late 1800's. 
There are many exclosures in western North America. Some examples: The Lamar Exclosure is in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, east of the Lamar Ranger Station on the north side of Lamar Valley. Established in 1957 to restrict shrub browsing by elk and pronghorn antelope, the exclosure saw an increase in diversity, size, and range of shrub species over the decades. Today, the exclosure contains a grove of quaking aspen; only aspen seedlings are found outside of the exclosure. This aspen suppression is attributed to herbivory, the browsing of elk. Then there is the Quinn exclosure, southwest of Quinn, South Dakota on the Buffalo Gap National Grassland. It was set on a north-facing side slope in mixed-grass prairie. Today, the exclosure hosts a thicket of chokecherry, plum, green ash, buffaloberry and other shrubs while outside of the exclosure, where cattle graze, grasses and forbs dominate and few shrubs are found. The Flagstaff Exclosure is on the Lewis and Clark National Forest south of Checkerboard, Montana, in the Castle Mountains. Dense tufts of rough fescue comprise 50% of the cover in this exclosure while outside of the exclosure, where cattle graze, rough fescue comprises only 6% of the cover. This is a recurring theme. 
Originally, North America was open range. Herds of wild animals were free to migrate. In the late 1800's, the bison and other ungulates were virtually exterminated and replaced with European cattle. The cattle occupied the bison niche and, at first, were free to migrate like the bison. However, as farming operations were established, cattle encroached on the farms and ate the crops. Disputes arose. Farmers and cattlemen fought over land rights. This gave rise to the need for fencing to exclude the cattle. Wood and stones were scarce and expensive, so the relatively inexpensive, newly invented barbed wire was strung across the open range. This conflict simmered for years and many of you may recall that it boiled over on the set of the movie Oklahoma when a brutal fistfight erupted between farmers and cowmen, a grisly spectacle made all the more horrific as the bystanders - women, children, and the elderly - heartened the brawlers with festive music and dancing. 
This land is my land. 
They sang:

The farmer and the cowman should be friends.

Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends.
One man likes to push a plough, the other likes to chase a cow,
But that's no reason why they cain't be friends.

They should, but would not. Now, this fight was not sanctioned by any athletic federation and, as a result, there was no boxing ring. There are three ropes around a boxing ring, much like the wires on a barbed wire fence, however, there are no barbs on the ropes and none are electrified at this time. Why the ropes? A newcomer to the spectacle might reason that the purpose of the ring is to prevent the boxers from escaping and beating up the people in the audience. Another might reason that it is to keep the audience from storming the ring and beating up the contestants, much like European soccer. So the fans debate: Which directional movement do the ropes prevent, into the ring or out of the ring?  
This helps us to understand where the Louisiana Territory settlement went wrong. Which directional movement do fences prevent? Originally, fences were strung to exclude grazing animals, preventing animals from assaulting the croplands. But this changed with the expansion of agricultural lands; fences were strung to include grazing animals, both wild an domestic. In the case of wild animals, especially bison and pronghorn antelope, they were always included or confined to a relatively small, relatively wild preserve, which prevented humans from assaulting the animals. Thus, the function of the barrier inverted, from exclusion to inclusion, reversing flow like the mighty Chicago River. This has created a plethora of rural zoos across the globe, caged wildlife zones, animal enclaves, where wild animals are not free to migrate and, at best, are managed much like cattle, manually rotated from pasture to pasture or culled when they escape or exceed grazing capacity. 
Those three exclosures shown in the photos, they are exclosures within exclosures, really, and they have demonstrated that the animals in the greater exclosure are exceeding the carrying capacity of the land. In recent decades, we have observed the ascent of another species that has rapidly exceeded the carrying capacity of the land, expanding its range, population, and consumption at an unsustainable rate, eliminating other species and habitats and degrading ecosystem health. It ranges across all barriers, is found in every partition. We would propose an enclosure for this species, to allow recovery of the remnant ecology and free range of wild animals, but it owns the patent for the barbed wire and we would expect that the species, finding itself competing within a confined space, would resort to blows.

Friday, April 13, 2018


Flock of Sandhill Cranes at Rowe Sanctuary, on the Platte River in Nebraska. April 8, 2018
Dawn, erupting. This morning there were about 70,000 cranes in the flock. At the peak of this migration, there were 650,000 cranes at the sanctuary. This breezy, chilly morning, they were roosting in the river, standing idly on sandbars and sandy shallows squawking to one another. 
About an hour after sunrise, the birds at the western end broke ranks and flew. This initiated a wave of bird flight that washed over the entire flock of roosting birds, covering 8,000 feet in two minutes. You can watch it here
This may remind one of an Esther Williams water ballet or a college football card stunt. Maybe it can explain how it is possible that elderly knitters can form a mob and proceed to burn down an entire business district and loot all the appliance stores. Like these cranes, at dusk, they settle into their wingback chairs and knit until dawn. 
This is how that can be: Regarding great works of architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright once stated, "Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union." This is true in the case of the individual crane - or any bird, mammal, fish, reptile, amphibian, insect, or plant, for that matter. They are all at the intersection of science and art, a sweet spot, electrifying the mind and heart.  
A mob emerging.
(© Daily Herald Archive)
But once 70,000 individual cranes are aloft, the individual cranes vanish, subsumed into the flock. They cohere, become a unit, and this becomes another entity, a new creature with 70,000 organs. Confined in space, with discreet boundaries, and moving in unison, it behaves like a mile-long cobra, a sprinting cheetah, a Shastriya Nritya dancer, or a seething mob of Molotov cocktail-throwing octogenarians.
This is called Emergence. This organismic property of flocks of birds, schools of fish, herds of animals, and swarms of insects is a property that is not shared with the individual members of the group. It arises or emerges from the interaction of the members. This is one of those constructs where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Here, the added energy is from interactions between the parts. 
As the science goes, the members of the flock, herd, school, or swarm follow certain rules, namely, Separation, Cohesion, and Alignment. 
Separation: They keep a certain distance from one another, like birds on a wire or passengers on a plane flight. 
Cohesion: At the same time, they steer toward the average position of their neighbors, keeping a certain closeness to one another, which maintains boundaries and group identity. This we are able to perceive, it is ostensive. 
Alignment: Each moves in the same average direction. 
Following these rules of interaction, the result is an elevated state, a higher being, the organic shape that moves across the sky like a giant flying snake. In turn, this electrifies humans, who, in turn, feverishly churn out photographs, paintings, and grandiose prose. 
Emergent beings were once common in North America. On April 18, 1804, near the confluence of Corvus (American) Creek and the Missouri River, south of Oacoma, South Dakota, an electrified Merriwether Lewis stood on high ground and wrote these words:

This plane extends with the same bredth from the creek below to the distance of near three miles above parrallel with the river, and is intirely occupyed by the burrows of the barking squril hertefore discribed; this anamal appears here in infinite numbers, and the shortness and virdue [verdure] of grass gave the plain the appearance throughout it's whole extent of beatifull bowlinggreen in fine order...a great number of wolves of the small kind, halks and some pole-cats were to be seen...The surrounding country had been birnt about a month before and young grass had now sprung up to hight of 4 Inches presenting the live green of the spring. this senery already rich pleasing and beatiful, was still farther hightened by immence herds of Buffaloe deer Elk and Antelopes which we saw in every direction feeding on the hills and plains. I do not think I exagerate when I estimate the number of Buffaloe which could be compreed at one view to amount to 3000.

A great naturalist, not a spelling bee champion. The numbers vary, but it is estimated that, prior to European settlement, North America had forty million bison, forty million pronghorn antelope, ten million elk, two million bighorn sheep, one billion prairie dogs, billions of Passenger Pigeons. Today, there are a half-million bison, one million antelope, one million elk, seventy-thousand bighorn sheep, twenty million prairie dogs, and no Passenger Pigeons. Similar sharp declines can be shown for American Golden Plover, Red Knot, Sage Grouse, fifteen bat species, wolverines, fishers, pine martens, grizzlies, wolves, and many more. 
Imperiled species, thousands of them, are listed with various environmental organizations - Red List, Working List, Natural Heritage Inventory, Endangered Species List. But we find no Emergents on any of these lists. No mention of threatened or extinct herds, flocks, schools, swarms. Resource agencies may refer to "herd management" but rarely does it consider emergent properties. Lowered expectations, apparently. This is not a surprise; when Lewis scanned the horizon, there were no fences, roads, cities, transmission lines, dams, livestock, or croplands to thwart herd, school, swarm, or flock behavior. Emergence hadn't been obstructed.  
So it is, as the Sandhill Crane habitat shrinks, and flock behavior is restricted, we don't expect to see the Sandhill Crane Flock make any Red List. Poor folks, they don't have a union and management sure doesn't seem to care.