Bison & the Anthropogenic Reality

                                                          “Cool-Aid v.s. Real-i-Tea”



An Eon or two ago, the North American pre-man wild-scape developed a thing called grass. It thrived and adapted into a decadent indigenous member of the ecological community. It was a literal sea of life, un-managed and virtually un-interrupted and must have appeared as if beauty were the objective. According to the laws of nature, which are frustrating to yet another decadent indigenous or not depending on your perspective, the price of beauty is balance. Whereas the laws of nature with oversight by the eons have no concept of good and evil, political and societal agenda or anything else for that matter save succession, the price of balance owed to beauty was yet one more thing of beauty, bison! Scientifically anointed as the most successful, invasive and decadent-indigenous large mammal in the history of the planet; the vast herds numbering into the tens of millions must have appeared as well, as if for the purpose of beauty.

Enter man, specific and germane to this philosophy, man of the Anthropocene. Whether you are among the scientific community that agrees or concedes to the concept and regardless of the debate over when or by way of which human innovation it started, we think we know that we currently exist in the Anthropocene Age or Epoch: the recent and informal geologic chronological term that serves to mark the evidence and extent of human activities that have had a significant global impact on the Earths ecosystems. For the purpose of this philosophy we will assume that man is indigenous and agree: that as an organism, we are invasive, decadent, unmanaged, virtually uninterrupted and capable of beauty, but historically predisposed to anthropocentricities and destruction.

Enter modern 21st Century man and technology applied to symbiotic co-existence with other ecological community components that make up the natural world, and by way of an authorism, coining of the term, Anthropocene Earthling. I propose that the Anthropocene Earthling represents the adaptation of man to natural world awareness and contribution as a beneficial organism. This fits in nicely as a successive window-existence prior to the Planeteering Age which is considered the geologic chronological term for that which comes after the Anthropocene, potentially!

So! We have three keystone species or two keystones, grass and bison, and one questionably indigenous, questionably beneficial as an organism, and potentially keystone to that which contains the possibility of beauty by way of symbiosis and balance: man! This formula works whether your perspective is cemented in scripture and theology, naturalism, agriculture, conservation or alien-seed scenario. We think we know that greenhouse cataclysms are prevented more by grasslands and prairie systems than rain forests. We know that bison were selected by the natural-world as the preferred natural management regime. We think we know, and assume because they are indigenous, that bison are an affective tool for North American ecological restoration. We think we know: that what we learn and accomplish with regard to the latter is of significance to other keystone species and biomes globally. We know that the tribal cultures of North America regard the bison as the keystone component within the sacred circle of life. We know that we can easily produce, manage and market bison in the 21st Century for sustenance. We think we know that conservation of the species and the conservation significance of their presence on the land is both complicated and important. We know! that we don’t know everything about bison.  We think we know the questions to ask as prerequisites to learning about them. We know that before the 20th Century, as far back as the Paleocene, the only management success was harvest that eventually gave way to attempted genocide and eradication and we thought we knew we were right and acting on behalf of progress. We know that bison once numbered in the tens of millions and think we know that the half million head today represents an apology and correction in progress. What will we think we know tomorrow? If you’re as tired of reading what we think we know, what we know and what we don’t know as I am of writing it, then I propose that this represents and illustrates the anthropogenic bison reality complicated by myth and mystique, real-i-tea and cool-aid, injustice, epiphany and progress. There is no other wild indigenous species on the planet that this is as true of.

We have observed, interacted with and lived in parallel with bison since a time before recorded history, watching them adapt and persist, and becoming one of their realities. It is unrealistic to set them up as the monarchs they once were with free run of North America, although I would accept a grant to examine something recreationally; Imagine if we could some how fold space-time and affect North America as man of the Planeteering Age or Epoch. What would that look like? We would acknowledge the importance of allowing bison migration and build towns, cities and super highways around them and their migratory routine. We might have built facilities along the migratory route for harvest. Maybe even through seed selection as opposed to hybridization or GMO technology, provided food plots to a symbiotic end. Consider the likelihood of a different western heritage and culture taking form as a nomadic tender. Interesting how that leads us recreationally back to a tribal reality, arguably a bison reality and most definitely Anthropogenic. These concepts are fun-food for thought, but not realistic to emulate, nor are they the current reality for bison of the Anthropocene which connects bison, man, prairie systems and grasslands.

The Anthropogenic reality of 21st Century bison includes steel, fuel, technology, space, tribal cultures, emerging bison cultures, global markets, science, historical and contemporary anthropocentric vision, agriculture, conservation, man, grass and many others. Wow, and in the words of Black Elk, all for “islands of existence” in which to stoically persist. They are the great adapters and survivors of the natural world in spite of all things natural, anthro, intentional and otherwise. We now propose to take a deeper look at them for the purpose of having answers and conclusions as a matter of fact, to help them. I think this is exciting, but I also hope for their sake that it excites thinking, and that our attention is placed equally on having the right questions for our answers and conclusions. The bison have seen the precipice of extinction and survived by finding their way into the hearts and minds of cattle men, conservationists, entrepreneurs and land owners, literally in-breeding their way back and defying gnomic gravity. Bison now live in an alien world filled with invasive exotics, another anthropogenic reality, and are thriving. Why? Go where you will with the answer but I like the “cool-aide” answer of, because they’re supposed to. I’m sure science will provide the “real-i-tea” while the philosophers and laymen bison-cultures continue building the herds, because they’re supposed to! The later being the most positive among anthropogenic bison realities.

Public perception is the scariest among all realities for bison of the Anthropocene.  On one hand scary may be an overstatement, while on the other it fits like a glove. Public perception and response in regards to the product of bison meat can be cited as the primary reason and vehicle, for the species repopulation and preservation. There are other cultures contained within the diversity of public opinion and perception however, which thrive on “cool-aid” and reject “real-i-tea”. These cultures are based in extremism and perception in place of knowledge. They spend their resources propagating the existence of their perception as opposed to the namesake of their cause. They paraphrase good science and report it badly, causing cultural coagulation among herd-building communities and spear-shaking behavior between them, which is both unnecessary and unproductive. They have money, which is power, and a big part of the anthropogenic reality of bison. The “cool-aid” they push is wild and free roaming, in the 21st Century, as long as it’s behind a fence, and not in the grill of their SUV. They foster no supplemental feeding for fear of adversely affecting the wild character of bison, while denying them migration and leaving them to starve during occasional harsh seasonal realities and espousing the battle cry of humane over dinner! They perceive themselves as disconnected and thereby superior to the natural-world, instead of part of it. They look down on agriculture instead of fostering sustainable change, while willingly falling prey to label prostitution. They propose to be saving something, from some one; I’ll let you take it from there!

Moving on, another Anthropocentricity applied to bison of the Anthropocene is cultural clash. This reality exists within and between bison-cultures and represents the most interesting lesson among the many that I believe the bison have to teach. We make rules for them. Not rules within regulatory agencies with the premise of law or to facilitate regulation in the absence of law, but truths. I have the advantage of seeing multiple bison and bison existence-models and a plethora of truths being proven. For this reason, I have learned to always ask the bison what is true. I have also found that what is true of one herd, may or may not be a truth for another. Logically, I am left to conclude that this reality is an expression of their predisposition for adaptation. Grass-fed vs. Grain-fed matters less to bison than the fact that “fed” is included. Private-herd vs. Public-herd matters less than the inclusion of “herd” in the reality. Conservation vs. production matters less than islands of existence and whether they are, introgressed vs. non-introgressed matters less than the fact that they are! The point is, having what they need and becoming many is how it all began for bison and I propose to be the most important thing for both them and us now.

Yet another kind of cultural-clash and dangerous reality for bison is the friction between bison cultures and other or non-bison cultures. Among these would be the cattle cultures that perceive bison as a threat. This is not the case and, as a matter of fact, the opposite is true. Never the less, western heritage brings to mind cattle, horses, drovers and barons that are perceived as having settled the west by way of the latter. Also note-worthy and germane, is the fact that new wealth and baron-status was achieved as a direct result of the economics within 19th Century bison eradication and the hide sales to Europe facilitating, in part, the industrial revolution which is the preferred time-marker in some scientific communities for the beginning of the Anthropocene.  In concert, we should give credit to military action against the Native American people by eradicating their main food supply, all too unfortunately resulting in government and military appearing historically as non-bison cultures. These two examples are not nearly as true as they once were, but to some degree persist as bison realities. Cattle are still preferred and privileged to vastly more public land for grazing; mostly because of management and containability myth. Bison are not addressed specifically for the purpose of regulation, but rather included in with cattle regulations as bovine. Many states either classify them as livestock or wild life, while others classify them as neither and both. Many public servants in charge of parks and public lands would much prefer as stewards of a natural ecosystem, to utilize bison as an indigenous grazer but are met with resistance by neighboring cattle communities, again for reasons based on myth. There is no state that gives this American icon the right of way, or right to land and life preferentially to cattle, in America! Iconically the American public identifies with this noble-native, but ironically very little is attempted or accomplished to affect their stand alone positive and more secure reality.

Other non-bison cultures would, or may, include: any culture that is part of the North American invasive alien-species and ecologically destructive fracas that progress and civilization contains. Sheep, an alien, carry a herpes virus fatal to bison, yet with no provisions for the protection of an indigenous food source it is expected that the bison steer clear of the sheep. Brucelosis is not a bison disease; it is a European cattle disease and represents a negative impact by way of an alien, yet bison because of myth, misinformation and bad reporting are tagged with its prevalence. Civilization has fenced, paved and railroaded into existence the interruption of their ability to wander with aim and find what they need. I propose they have been adapting and migrating the whole time, but in a different way. The bison now, more than ever need us, and we now, more than ever need them. We shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves with regard to any shortcomings historically or currently germane to what falls, by choice, within our purview. The bison will persist and be available, representing a societal first-step when we are ready. Bison may well serve as a keystone species to something more than prairie and grassland systems, but rather the ideological. They might just be macro enough for us to focus on, thereby facilitating more positively all things micro and tooling the ecological reclamation of North America.

The story of bison includes us, and our story includes them, since time has been recorded on cave walls.    Sioux mythology suggests that, in the beginning, we were so connected that a race was held to determine which of us would be availed of dominion. Keep in mind that the scriptural definition of dominion is, “responsibility to”, and that the champion succeeding on our behalf was the Magpie. This connects some interesting dots philosophically and begs the question, who’s saving who? We like to think we are saving something and tend to impose that anthropocentricity. With everything that the bison have been through, I comically think of a just-for-fun reality in which bison secretly have laptops and Internet access and saying something like, “did you hear? They’re saving us again, when will they learn?” In a more reality-based scenario, they simply remain and stoically persist, asking for only that of us, while effecting a refusal of their absence.

The Anthropocene exists and will soon be official. It contains anthropocentricities and realities for

bison and those realities, by definition, have everything to do with us. Examining bison historically or scientifically without including anthropogenic realities, or to consider bison of the 22nd Century without including us, as a part of their story, is “cool-aid” and in no way reality!



Tim Frasier