July 26, 2017

Settled Landscapes

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By James Beers:

“Settled Landscapes” is a term both mellifluous and of primary importance as I write this in early 2015. It is especially important to the rural residents of the Lower 48 States of the United States and the rural inhabitants of the European continent.

I first became actually aware of the term and its’ importance about ten years ago while learning all I could and writing about wolves and grizzly bears, two large and impactful predators that had been declared “Endangered” for a wide range of hidden agendas and that therefore were being forcibly imposed by federal fiat and power on a growing area of rural America in the Lower 48 States.

I was reading some comments by Dr. Val Geist, a retired Canadian University Professor, Ecologist and Wildlife Biologist par excellence. He was making the simple, yet undeniable, statement that given a long list of very negative effects on humans, human communities, human economies and the wolves themselves; his words, “wolves do not belong in ‘Settled Landscapes’” not only caught my attention but have rung ever more true over the years. Although I have never met Dr. Geist, I have learned more from him over the years through frequent communications and collaborations.

So, what is a “Settled Landscape”?

To the environmental extremist, it might be the buildings on Manhattan Island, but not Central Park itself. It might be New York City’s 5 Boroughs (Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens and Staten Island) but not Long Island or Westchester County. It might be the Eastern Seaboard but not everything West of the Appalachians and East of California, Oregon and Washington State.

To an old Alaskan bachelor trapper, it might be everything South of the 60th Parallel that roars out of the Bering Sea by Nunivak Island heading East just North of the Alaskan Peninsula and Skagway to make the Northern Border of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Many older Alaskans still see those lands South of that Parallel as what they once called a century ago, the place of the Cheechakoes or those that were new to or recent arrivals in the “real” Alaska.

To many urban Americans, it might be all of the Lower 48 States outside the current edges of suburban sprawl form the metropolitan center they tell others from far away they are “from”.

To politicians, it is where (like Willie Sutton the notorious bank robber once answered the question in prison about why he kept robbing banks and answered matter-of-factly “because that is where the money is”) the “votes are”.

To the government bureaucrats it is anything they want to make of it or even ignore it in the regulations they write under the burgeoning authorities they reap as present-day politicians pass law after law to garner the votes and financial support of the urban worthies who see the results as affecting only those places and bumpkins outside the urban sprawl surrounding where they live.

What, you might be asking, did I see of such importance in Dr. Geist’s observation? What I saw was the simple and undeniable truth that as humans advance, order and improve their living conditions and communities certain animals that once occurred in those now “settled landscapes” must of necessity be either controlled at certain levels (i.e. big game, furbearers, upland game) or eliminated in those “settled landscapes”. Some examples of animals that can become incompatible with growing or advancing human societies and therefore call for management controls on their numbers and distributions, or for their elimination would be:

* Elephants in areas of agriculture where their wanderings destroy crops and endanger children and elderly persons as they pass through inhabited sites as free-roaming buffalo once did and would do again if imposed on rural residents of the Lower 48 States.

* Poisonous snakes, constrictors, poisonous spiders and frogs, etc. that reside in or near and wander into human living sites.

* Animals that carry and transmit diseases and infections like tapeworms, hoof-and-mouth, plague, rabies, anthrax, etc. like wolves and coyotes that endanger human lives or property such as livestock, valued wildlife or dogs.

* Animals that compete for forage with livestock or game animals; or that destroy haystacks, orchards or food-producing plants like elk and deer.

* Animals that denude property of plants and are responsible for deadly disease outbreaks or that make holes that cause livestock and humans to injure themselves like prairie dogs.

* Animals that are unpredictable and present threats to humans from rural children and the elderly to hikers, campers, joggers, dog walkers, hunters and other rural recreationists and workers like grizzly bears, cougars and wolves.

Uncontrolled large predators like grizzly bears, wolves, cougars or panthers, jaguars, coyotes, or black bears that kill and attack people, destroy livestock operations, kill dogs and other pets, carry diseases and infections dangerous to humans and other animals, generally make rural life regress toward what Thomas Hobbes described in his 1588 book, Leviathan, as “the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

It is entirely sensible to recognize and address these conflicts with wild animals as matters to be reckoned with as “landscapes” are “settled”. Tolerance for large predators was the only option for Native American communities before European settlers arrived; just like tolerance for large predators in and around “landscapes” being settled by Europeans with primitive guns and almost no other means of reducing the growing conflicts they experienced as “settlement” began and continued to grow was the only option. As settlement grew and intensified; awareness of human dangers, livestock losses and rudimentary recognition of the health dangers to humans and desirable animals escalated with the sophistication and intensity of control of certain species that could be tolerated like black bears and cougars, and the elimination of those that could NOT be tolerated due to their inherent and uncontrollable danger to humans and the extent of their destruction to human communities and their economies like wolves and grizzly bears.

The tolerance for some species like black bears, cougars and coyotes was composed of many aspects from the difficulties inherent in trying to rid any area of coyotes to the behavior of low-density black bear and cougar populations to generally avoid humans and human communities WHEN THEY ARE HUNTED, TRAPPED AND OCCSIONALLY SHOT AT thereby making them what we call “shy” and “furtive”. Wolves and grizzly bears exhibit no such tendencies. Wolves and grizzly bears persist as dangers to humans and as behaving in exceedingly destructive ways to all manner of human interests no matter their density or the densities of humans IN SETTLED LANDSCAPES.

But, what is a settled landscape? A “Settled Landscape” is all of the Lower 48 States with three exceptions.

The first exception to “settled landscapes” is the POLITICAL exception. This exception is often mentioned regarding the Yellowstone’s (i.e. National Parks); the “National” Forests/Refuges/ BLM et al lands; the “Declarations” and Executive Orders decreeing “Wildernesses”, “Sanctuaries”, and “Preservation”/”Scenic”/”Historic” et al Areas: and the two clearly and exclusively federal land holdings that elude any State jurisdiction, i.e. the District of Columbia and all “Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock yards, and other needful Buildings” as mentioned in Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution. These are, with only three exceptions, NOT exceptions in any legal or Constitutional sense to definition as “Settled Landscapes” as those landscapes “settled” under the authority, jurisdiction, protection and government authority of that State in which they occur.

A “Settled Landscape” is legally and Constitutionally ANY and all land in the Lower 48 States (Alaska is an exception due to the Alaskan Native Claims Settlement Act and I am unfamiliar with the State/Federal relationship in Hawaii) under the authority and jurisdiction of the people and government of THAT STATE. Unless a State relinquishes its’ sovereignty and authority over any land within the state to the federal government, the federal government’s ownership of National Parks, National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, BLM lands, and all other “Declarations” and “Orders” are subject to State laws. In other words, although federal agencies that “own” parcels of lands within a State are not required to pay State and Local Taxes to the State and Local governments they are subject to State authority like other landowners, with only three exceptions:
1. Yellowstone National Park was placed under the jurisdiction of the US Army and withdrawn from the Territory of Wyoming in 1872, 4 years after becoming a Territory in 1868 and 18 years before it became a State in 1890. It therefore remained independent of the State of Wyoming and was transferred to the National Park Service in 1917. Other National Parks outside The District of Columbia are. Like their counterpart National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, et al, merely landowners of property subject to state jurisdiction. The federal government exercises what is called “Exclusive Jurisdiction” over Yellowstone similar to:

2. The District of Columbia as defined in the US Constitution, and:

3. The “Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-yards, and other needful Buildings” (i.e. Department of Defense lands when taken and maintained as properties “needful” for national defense but not when sold off or given to political patrons like environmental groups or transferred to federal agencies.

The foregoing is an explanation of POLITICAL claims of exemption from the commonly understood concept of “settled landscapes”. In other words, “Settled Landscape” not only includes (politically) land with a certain density of “settlers”; it covers all the lands that were, are or could be “settled” under the auspices, protection and laws of the state within which they lie. Federal agencies (with the 3 exceptions above), while landowners within the State, can close certain areas or roads or uses in accordance with the laws of the state governing all land owners in the state, they are not free to introduce animals prohibited within the state or to kill or trap animals within the state outside state authority unless they have specific permits to do so. Now read that again and ask yourself, – “HOW did the federal Congress and President and Supreme Court contrive and invent the ‘power’ to simply say ‘wolves will be here and grizzly bears will be there’? If I own a ranch with deer on it, I can’t just shoot deer in my crops or haystacks the year-around without a state permit any more than the federal government can just decide to kill or poison certain birds or fish or mammals on federal lands (with the aforementioned 3 exceptions). I can no more decide to introduce and release lions or jaguars on my ranch without state authority than can federal bureaucrats decide to release wolves or grizzly bears on their lands. If my dogs get loose and bite your kid or kill your foal or kill grandma out by the mailbox or chase down your son on his bike or kill your dog on your porch or run your sheep over a cliff, etc.: why am I held responsible for compensation and subject to incarceration AND FEDERAL BUREAUCRATS LOOSING WOLVES AND GRIZZLY BEARS ON OUR “SETTLED LANDSCAPES” THAT DO THE SAME THINGS ARE NOT??

The second exception to “settled landscapes” is the BIOLOGICAL exception. There is biologically no exception to the concept of “settled landscapes” be it the Chicago Loop Area or the Big Hole Valley of Western Montana. Each has a human community engaged in whatever supports healthy families, children, elderly members and the community services they need and can afford. Each has dogs and wild birds and furbearers (raccoons, skunks, etc.): each has predators like coyotes: each has available fishing and netting (smelt): and each prohibits those animals that are dangerous like poisonous snakes, constrictors, and alligators; each controls those animals that are destructive (rats, coyotes, foxes, skunks, pigeons, etc.); and each encourages desirable species like songbirds, waterfowl, and rabbits.

Notice that residents of the Big Hole Valley in Western Montana (a vast area of large ranches and few people) has trouble with species like wolves that kill cows and calves and sheep and lambs and dogs but they can neither control the wolves nor eliminate the wolves as was the case for many happy and productive decades before federal laws and federal interlopers put wolves back in The Big Hole and cowed the State bureaucracy into not only acquiescing but also in singing a duet about how wolves only kill the old and sick; wolves don’t kill livestock or reduce big game numbers; and wolves will restore stream banks and make the lame walk, the blind see and generally clean up the air and the water. We must ask ourselves, if the Chicago Loop and the State of Illinois can manage the wildlife under their authority, why can’t Montana and The Big Hole do the same? Under what authority in a just and Constitutional Republic with a Constitution can the federal government simply decide to put deadly and destructive animals into one “settled landscape” and not another? Finally, why does the federal government choose to exercise this questionable and unjust authority in The Big Hole of Montana and not, Stowe, Vermont or Napa Valley, California?

The remaining biological aspect of exceptions to the “settled landscapes” concept is the one being used by every charlatan politician for the past 40 years; that is excluding places that (reputedly) “need” protection. This may be a desert area (like the California deserts long milked incrementally for political support and votes by the two ancient US Senators from that State) or it may be an expanse of ocean recently made into a “Sanctuary” by a Presidential Executive Order or an Alaskan oil-rich area or a Utah low-sulfur coal deposit set aside from any future exploitation by Presidents looking for adulation or to divert public attention from other matters: all of them have in common that 99% of the population neither knows nor care what is happening, they only “feel good” that such vacant space or unsettled landscape is being “saved”.

Be it vast tundra, desert lands, mountaintops or an arbitrary expanse of ocean; the concept of it being “unsettled” or never being “settled” is unsupportable biologically. Even the mountain tops and ocean visited infrequently by hunters, geologists or fishermen are connected to the “settlements” from whence these men come. Like the desert and tundra are connected to and utilized by men for transportation and sparsely-settled communities, who is to say they are independent of adjoining settlements human activities biologically?

To conclude, all this is very relevant to the USA and the European Continent where the same things (forcible wolf presence and gradual elimination of animal control for human benefit) are being perpetrated by the EU in Brussels with the same enablers and incentives that we see being imposed by the federal government in Washington, DC. As in the USA, real political or biological exceptions to the “settled landscape” concept are rare to non-existent though frequently mentioned and inferred.

The presence or absence of various wildlife species; the abundance and distribution of wildlife; the costs and revenue sources for management and control of wildlife; the uses of wildlife; and the authority over wildlife in “Settled Landscapes” should always rest with and remain with the LOWEST level of government THAT REPRESENTS THOSE HUMANS AND HUMAN COMMUNITIES LIVING IN THE SETTLED LANDSCAPES AFFECTED BY SUCH ACTIONS AND WHO ARE ULTIMATELY RESPONSIBLE FOR DETERMINING AND ENDURING THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS. The only practicable exceptions to this rule of law in the Lower 48 States are Yellowstone National Park and large Department of Defense landholdings.

Dr. Geist, in discussing alternative sites for wolves (and by my extension grizzly bears) often mentions large, FENCED government reservation like nuclear power plants, military lands, etc., as practicable sites: though such contained wildlife communities would require intense and expensive perpetual management to sustain. When considering “reservations” or “refuges” for animals like wolves and grizzly bears in “settled landscapes” it must be recognized that visitors to Yellowstone, or defense sites made available to the public, and resident workers are in danger and the questions of liability for injuries ON SITE and the disposition of animals OFF SITE ought to be established before any release on the excepted area adjoining any settled landscape. Impacts on defense operations and facilities in such locations would have to be carefully measured and evaluated as well as protected from likely future behavioral adjustments by such animals There cannot be any arguable business about wolf control outside Yellowstone affecting Yellowstone wolves or their pack structure if that is what the residents of the settled landscapes adjoining the Park deem is in their best interest when such animals stray back under State and Local authority and jurisdiction.

“Wolves”, like far-off powerful government dictates about plants and animals like grizzly bears, “do not belong in ‘Settled Landscapes’.” It is a testimony to American and Canadian ethics that wolves and grizzly bears have been maintained in Alaska and much of Canada to date. Likewise it is a testament to European concern that supporting a similar “rewilding” of the European continent is occurring. That said, the presence or absence of either dangerous or destructive animals must, in the final analysis, be the responsibility of those living in the “Settled Landscapes” affected by these species be they Chicago Loop picnickers or French shepherds.

If there is to be any hope for such animals in the future; only the continuing acquiescence of those living with these animals in their “Settled Landscape” and the continued financial support of those from elsewhere desiring the presence of these animals in the “Settled Landscapes” where others live, gives any hope of anything but a repeat of the historic accounts of the inevitable human reaction to these animals since the time of the Ancient Greeks and The Thirteen Original Colonies of what is now the USA. That is to say intolerable incident after incident until; despite Washington, despite Brussels, despite the King, despite the Lord of the Manor; the residents of the “Settled Landscapes” decide they have had enough and take things into their own hands and using a wide range of methods and even some new ones not even seen before once again make the “Settled Landscapes” safe and productive for human settlements.

Jim Beers
14 February 2015

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Jim Beers is a retired US Fish & Wildlife Service Wildlife Biologist, Special Agent, Refuge Manager, Wetlands Biologist, and Congressional Fellow. He was stationed in North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York City, and Washington DC. He also served as a US Navy Line Officer in the western Pacific and on Adak, Alaska in the Aleutian Islands. He has worked for the Utah Fish & Game, Minneapolis Police Department, and as a Security Supervisor in Washington, DC. He testified three times before Congress; twice regarding the theft by the US Fish & Wildlife Service of $45 to 60 Million from State fish and wildlife funds and once in opposition to expanding Federal Invasive Species authority. He resides in Eagan, Minnesota with his wife of many decades.
Jim Beers is available to speak or for consulting. You can receive future articles by sending a request with your e-mail address to: jimbeers7@comcast.net

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