From: The Ghost Park, April 5, 2011 Men's Journal
If you think global warming is some distant threat, come visit Yellowstone, our most beloved national park. Acres of trees are dying, trout runs are disappearing, and starving bears are attacking campers. It’s an ecosystem in collapse, and things are only getting worse.
by Paul Solotaroff // photographs by Christopher LaMarca"To her credit, she hadn’t become a “problem bear,” the park officials’ term for hundreds of hungry grizzlies who venture into town prowling for food. Though Yellowstone’s 600 bears aren’t confined to the park itself — they’re given free run of the greater ecosystem, an area that stretches from central Wyoming to the forests of northern Montana — there simply wasn’t enough alternative food to see all of them through the summer.
And while full-grown males have the brawn and bravado to venture off the range in search of meat, a mother grizzly rarely leaves the safety of her turf, lest a wolf pack or another bear kill her cubs. Timidity had its virtues: She wasn’t one of the 80 or so bears shot the year before while picking apples off a tree or nosing through trash in someone’s backyard, or given a lethal injection by U.S. Fish and Wildlife vets for grazing on the bluegrass near a school.
Six weeks before, the first shoe dropped. On June 17, 2010 an adult male bear (or boar, as they’re called by biologists) killed a veteran hiker who had the wretched luck to cross his path. Erwin Evert, a botanist and and retired science teacher, had spent most of his career studying Yellowstone’s flora and had just brought out his life’s masterwork, the first comprehensive catalog of plants in the area in more than a hundred years.
On his daily hike near Wyoming’s Kitty Creek, the easternmost of the park’s gateways, he wandered into a copse where a team of federal researchers had trapped and sedated a bear. Alas, they hadn’t posted warning signs or waited until the boar was sufficiently roused to pad back into the brush. Dazed and in pain (he’d been darted three times with a chemical cognate of PCP, then had blood, teeth, and hair pulled for study reasons), the bear bit Evert through the skull and skittered off; he was shot two days later by marksmen in a chopper who tracked his radio signal. There hadn’t been a bear-caused fatality in the park in 24 years, though given the grim developments of the prior decade — a 10-year run of extreme drought and heat, and a glut of famished grizzlies — the screw was bound to turn. On July 28, it turned again, and this time it wasn’t about human error or the caprices of nature’s law. This time, it was a taste of things to come.
Sometime after midnight on a streamside slope near the northeast end of the park, the sow and her three cubs entered Soda Butte Campground, drawn by the lingering smell of broiled fish. After trying in vain to pry the tamper-proof lids off food bins and garbage cans, the sow poked her nose under the fly of a tent. She bit the leg of its occupant, Ronald Singer, who managed to drive her off with panicked blows. A short while later, around 2:15 am, Deborah Freele awoke in her tent at No. 11 to find the sow gnawing on her arm. She shrieked and fought back, but the bear bit down harder, snapping bones.
By now, there was tumult in adjacent sites, people dashing around and honking car horns in warning, and the sow let go of Freele and ran away. A couple of hours later, rangers and deputies scoured the pitch-dark camp. Near the western end, 600 yards from Freele’s tent, they came upon the gnawed remains of a man named Kevin Kammer. Kammer, a medic from Grand Rapids, Michigan, whose lifelong dream was to fish Yellowstone’s streams, had been dragged from his tent, killed by several bites, then consumed from chest to groin. There were several sets of prints on his flattened tent — the sow’s and at least one of her cubs’.
The federal Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, which took charge of the investigation, needed a month to conclude that there was “no clear explanation for the behavior of this bear,” though a lucid possibility fairly leaped off her chart.
Her weight at the time of death was 216 pounds, or about 80 pounds less than average for a full-grown sow. Like her cubs, called malnourished by the zoo’s curator, and countless other bears forced downhill by hunger, she was a forerunner of the turmoil that awaits us all: species pushed to breaking by climate change.
Suspended over the Earth, like the bolt of cheap foam that underlies a living-room rug, are trillions of gas molecules that shake when light hits them, creating heat and sending it earthward. Those molecules, produced by natural activities like plant respiration and volcanoes, have hung there since the planet became livable, post–Ice Age; absent carbon dioxide, methane, and other dense vapors, Palm Springs would still be permafrost. And as we’ve learned by drilling holes into Arctic ice sheets to read their chemical profiles, the ratio of those particles had held remarkably firm for 10,000 years or so, balancing the energy retained from the sun with the amount sent back into space.
But since the construction, in 1750, of the first coal-fired factories (and the invention, a century later, of the internal-combustion engine), the density of greenhouse gases has increased by a third, holding in much of the solar radiation that bounces off sidewalks and snowcaps. This set up a vicious feedback loop, in which the extra heat was reflected down into the soil or got stored in those giant holding vats, our oceans.
"If we could somehow scale back carbon, we’d still stay hot for centuries, manifesting the energy trapped in seas,” says Running, the University of Montana ecologist. “But if we don’t scale it back, we’ll soon cross a threshold where all of the sea ice melts — and then there’s no telling how high the oceans will get or any known way to make it stop.”For eons, nature balanced its own emissions by capturing some of the gases in carbon sinks like marshes, soil, and forests. Trees are particularly deft sponges of carbon: Their leaves or needles convert it to sugars that feed them from crown to root, and they go on sopping up noxious particles until they rot, burn down, or get logged. But when clear-cutting commenced on a massive scale in the middle of the 19th century, the planet doubled down on its carbon load, making much more and trapping less. Roughly half the world’s woodlands have vanished since then. There’s a net loss the size of Greece each year — and no effort under way to start replanting."
M's notes: I've got an idea. Stop wasting earth's precious carbon to produce or buy things that contaminate it like plastics, factory produced food and "natural" gas.