I visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park a few years ago and left greatly disappointed. I had hoped to see an abundance of wildlife. Instead, I saw a grand total of 1 squirrel, 4 Canadian geese, and 6 crows. My daily constitutional in my neighborhood yields a greater variety of wildlife than that. It was depressing to discover suburban Augusta, Georgia offers better wildlife viewing opportunities than a famous national park. There are 2 areas of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park where wildlife watching is recommended–Cades Cove and the Cataloochee. However, when I visited, the road to Cades Cove was closed. The access road to the Cataloochee is a single-lane unpaved path winding up a steep mountain without guard rails. I judged it far too dangerous to continue up this life-threatening hazard. The National Park service should be ashamed of the sorry infrastructure here. It’s like something one would expect in a Third World country.
In a National Park, good wildlife viewing shouldn’t be confined to just a couple small areas. Wildlife should be abundant throughout the park. The problem with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the hands-off management policy of the park service. A dense old growth forest covers most of the park. This is poor habitat for most large mammal species, and it supports very low wildlife populations. An attempt to re-establish red wolves in the park some years ago failed because there was nothing in the park for them to eat, showing just how low wildlife populations are here. Red wolves can live off rabbits-the park doesn’t even have many of those. Moreover, this park, wrongly thought to be natural, is like nothing that ever existed in nature prior to ~1900. Native Americans, beginning about 14,000 years ago, set fire to the woods every year. This created a mosaic of habitats including open woodlands and grassy prairies. Large centuries-old oaks and chestnut trees were widely spaced with luxurious grasses and flowers growing in between. Before man colonized the region, large herds of megafauna maintained a similar landscape.
I propose that the National Park service transform Great Smoky Mountains National Park into a Pleistocene park by actively managing it to improve habitat for wildlife. After a detailed study they could install a management plan that would recreate an environment more similar to that of the Pleistocene than that of today’s aberrant abomination. Some old growth forest would remain standing, especially along creeks and rivers that serve as natural fire breaks. But most upland areas would need to be clear cut in some places and thinned out in others. Pasture grasses and native flowers could be planted and large mammal species such as bison, horses, and llamas could be introduced, so that the open environment could be maintained by their foraging and trampling. A fire management plan would also maintain this environment. Eventually, Siberian tigers could be introduced to control the population of large ungulates. Tigers would also cull wild boar and bears. A functioning Pleistocene-like ecosystem would be far more interesting and worthwhile than the park as it currently exists.
Accordingly, I ask that you sign my White House petition, requesting the Obama administration to order the Park Service to create a Pleistocene Park. You can do so in the following link:
If the petition gets 100,000 signatures by May 2, 2016, the White House will write a response. President Obama has shown little interest in the environment, since he’s been in office. He has not called for the establishment of more protected wilderness lands, and he’s thrown wolves under the bus by taking them off the endangered species list. I am curious how he would respond to this. I’m sure he will defer to the Park Service party line.
The National Park Service won’t like my proposal. I believe their policy, though they would never admit it, is to keep wildlife populations as low as possible, so they don’t have to bother with problematic human-animal interactions. U.S. Fish and Wildlife recently chose to delist grizzly bears as a threatened species. This will allow redneck states, such as Wyoming, to reduce the overall population of grizzly bears. (See: http://www.grizzlypeople.com/topten.php ) These jerks want to maintain a population of 500 grizzly bears by killing 50 per year. If there were only 500 humans left on earth, and 50 were killed every year, humans would rapidly become extinct.
A non-profit organization in Russia has already established a Pleistocene Park located in Yakutia, Siberia. Surgey Zimov hypothesized the extinction of the Pleistocene megafauna caused the transformation of a steppe grass environment in northern Asia to willow shrub tundra. Twenty years ago, he spear-headed an experiment to reverse this transformation. His organization bought tundra land and introduced horses to an enclosed area. They helped the horses along by converting this land into pasture. At first many horses were killed by wolves or died because they ingested poisonous plants. But the horses have learned not to eat the harmful plants, and they have proved capable of surviving the deep snows that some thought would doom the whole herd. The experiment supports Zimov’s hypothesis because the horses (with a little initial help) have transformed willow shrub tundra to grassland in their enclosed living space. The grassland is similar to what existed during the Pleistocene.
Pleistocene Park in Siberia. The introduction of horses led to the transformation of tundra shrub to grassland habitat in areas where the horses are enclosed.
Caribou, bison, moose, elk, and musk-oxen have also been introduced. (A small population of the former already occurred here.) Caribou are now the most abundant ungulate in the park. Researchers hope the moose browse down the willow shrub, so that more grazers can be introduced on a larger scale. Introduced elk escaped from an enclosure, but some found there way to the park without human help. The list of potential future introductions includes Bactrian camels, saiga antelopes, yaks, asses, Siberian tigers, and cloned woolly mammoths.
A secondary discovery of this experiment determined the conversion of willow-shrub habitat to grassland mitigates the effects of climate change. The hard compacted surface resulting from horse trampling keeps the permafrost intact.
Siberia is too far to travel. I want to see a Pleistocene Park established within driving distance of my house. Please sign my petition.