We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Stewards of Yellowstone

According to the Book of Genesis, at the time of creation, God placed dominion over the world in human hands.  The final judgment on how well we've handled things since is still out, but so far we don't seem to be doing all that well.  There are moments, however, where we get it right, and a recent example of "getting it right" comes from Yellowstone National Park.  A BBC posting entitled, "How reintroducing wolves helped save a famous park," contains a four-minute video clip describing the way in which Yellowstone has benefitted from the re-introduction of wolves into the park.  Reintroduced nearly twenty years ago, wolves have reduced the elk herds that were over-grazing the park, which in turn has allowed the forest to grow back and other woodland species to return to the park—a kind of reverse self-deportation if you will.  Beaver, for example, have returned and with them the reemergence of important habitats that are managed by them.  The wolves also suppressed the coyote population in the park, which again has allowed other species, such as foxes, to regain their place in the ecosystems of Yellowstone Park.

A brochure produced by the Wyoming Sierra Club sums up the changes in Yellowstone this way,
The return of the wolf to Wyoming has had significant ecological benefits in a relatively short period of time. Ecological concerns contributed to the decision to return wolves and should play a role in how states manage this keystone species. Although it is easy to focus on the perceived negative impacts of wolves, it is important to recognize the actual benefits they provide to our ecosystem. By regulating wildlife herds and reducing the prevalence of diseases, revitalizing riparian areas, reducing coyote densities, providing food for scavengers, and indirectly improving conditions for a host of other species, wolves play an essential role in maintaining the ecological health and integrity of the landscape.
A series of postings by the National Science Foundation (here) make the point that beavers also play a stewardship role in the park.

Perhaps it is time that we put a footnote to the Genesis story, reminding us we exercise our stewardship of this planet best when we do it with God's other stewards within the systems of checks and balances built into the order of Creation.  Amen.