Monday, March 3, 2008
A problematic species at the current time in the Highland ecosystem is the red deer, like this group of Alladale stags shown here. Commercially valuable as game animals, they are extremely heavily stocked on unfenced private estates, and they browse trees, especially in winter, and by so doing contribute mightily to the stasis of the forest-land system in the Highlands.
Research dating back to eminent Highland ecologist and human ecologist Frank Fraser Darling's A Herd of Red Deer suggests that deer culling is needed to get the trees to regenerate. Red deer, a forest species almost identical to American elk, need forest not so much to survive, but to live well. But there is very little in the Highlands for them. And lots of bog and heather.
I like Highland deer culling for many reasons, but one is because understanding this system is a powerful tool for breaking down those unexamined assumptions that many different kinds of people use when they look at the environment.
Let me explain. But to do so means caricaturing a couple of stereotypes. Forgive me, and bear with me. In the name of science.
Take a Maine hunter, for example, conservationist, sportsman, thinks of himself as a rugged guy. A small "r" republican, believes in private enterprise, supports business. A self-made man. He might come to the Highland landscape with the assumption that the deer somehow belong to the state. The usual US formulation is, "owned by the state but held in trust for the people." A very traditional way of looking at the land in the USA. Our rugged hunter, who might have a poor opinion of government conservation, might also have a very hard time seeing why a private individual would possibly own the animals.
For our next example, take an equally stereotypical New England liberal environmentalist. She might come to the Highlands with the assumption that the deer are nature's creatures and best left alone, and that the real problem is the hunters. Would be aghast to see the heavy hind cull the Alladale team are using. Brutal, evil hunters!
Our hunter is, of course, quite mistaken in his assumption, and by studying the facts and problems of Highland land management, might come to see how in some circumstances commercial values can destroy the very things he loves and lives for.
Our liberal, on the other hand, is equally mistaken, and by studying the facts and problems of Highland land management, might come to see how in some circumstances her liberal values are actually at some tension with the ecological needs of the Highland landscape.
Both, if they are willing to let knowledge and ideas sink in, will come away better people for their new understanding, more pragmatic, less dogmatic. More comprehending of the other.
Going to a different system makes you think harder about the system you're in.