First the good news: Eagles and wolves have been taken off the endangered species list. Now the bad news: Eagles and wolves have been taken off the endangered species list. These may seem like contradictory statements, but if you read Brian McCombie's article that serves as our cover story this week, you will understand.
"Wildlife Gone Wild" is freelance writer McCombie's report on what is being referred to as the resurgence of wildlife in Wisconsin. The irony of the story of the eagles and the wolves is only one aspect of the perceived phenomenon. Both species had been hunted and harassed to near extinction before the intervention of federal law and regulatory zeal, combined with more enlightened attitudes toward the fate of these iconic animals.
But higher visibility and greater numbers are not restricted to just these two members of wild Wisconsin; deer, rabbits, geese, coyotes and other, less obtrusive animals are apparently faring quite well, despite human incursion into their habitats. Indeed, in many cases, certain species prosper in close proximity to human settlement, deriving shelter, food and/or protection from natural enemies by sticking close to the dominant environment-altering species.
Of course, we know little about the natural balance that existed in this area before the large-scale arrival of European settlement. It is pretty certain, though, that before humans applied plows to the ecology, there were a lot more bears and wolves and other scary predators around. Wildlife may be making a comeback of sorts, but the wilderness is far from returning.
An interesting speculation on all this is a new book by University of Arizona professor of journalism Alan Weisman. In The World Without Us, Weisman assumes the sudden removal of humans from the planet and postulates what would become of our built infrastructure and how nature would manifest itself in reclaiming the earth. In an interview in the July issue of Scientific American, he says that "North America would probably become a giant deer habitat in the near term." Eventually, though, the large food source would give rise to larger predator populations.
Weisman ends his interview on an optimistic note: "I don't think it's necessary for us all to disappear for the earth to come back to a healthier state." But it is necessary for us to have a healthier relationship with the earth to assure that none of the existing species disappears.