European Bison Pose An Important Question: What Is Natural?
David already wrote about the fascinating case of the last herds of European bison, noting how the collapse of communism has lead to a "rewilding" process, where farms have been abandoned and many rural residents have moved into the city. Now Damian Carrington has an insightful and reflective piece over at The Guardian on how European bison force us to ask what "natural" really means. Whether it's selective breeding programs, an annual cull, or the question of whether and how much to manage the forests in which the bison roam, a fierce debate is going on between interventionist conservation and a more hands off approach. There are even questions about whether bison are truly native to the forests the first place:
"I'm more and more convinced that the European bison is not a real forest specialist," says Kowalczyk. "Its ancestor - Bison priscus - evolved on the steppes of Asia, and its very close relative, the American bison, is a grazer using open areas. European bison also have many adaptations to grazing: their dentition, muzzle width and stomach." The suggestion is that our ancestors drove the last bison herds off the plains and into the forests.
The idea of "preserving" or actively managing wild, endangered species has always been fraught with contradictions. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves less about how we go back", and more about how do we move forward, and where to we want to go.