Visitor Counter

hitwebcounter web counter
Visitors Since Blog Created in March 2010

Click Below to:

Add Blog to Favorites

Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

Subscribe via email to get updates

Enter your email address:

Receive New Posting Alerts

(A Maximum of One Alert Per Day)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Today, we hear again from Stanford Environmental Masters Candidate Michelle Berry(in association with The American Prairie Reserve) who continues to investigate the ecological history of the wildlife found in Montana as Louis & Clark's CORP OF DISCOVERY marched 20 miles per day in search of the Pacific Ocean.........As virtually all of us know, Lewis & Clark's early 19th century diaries are amongst the first written observations of the carnivores and hoofed browsers of this region.......They note Coyotes(Prairie Wolves) making a living on the periphery of large gray wolf packs, scavenging the scraps of bison, pronghorn and deer that the wolves left behind........Grizzlies with as many as 20 variable color shades were noted by the "CORPS",,,,,,,,,,,,,A "sea of plenty", fauna beyond imagination, especially in the "no mans land"(no hunting taking place in these demilitarized zones) between warring Indian tribes characterized the "Serengeti-sized" Bison herds, Wolf Packs(20 or more animals) and Grizzlies still roaming our great western landscape circa 1800AD, 200 years after the Plains tribes had adapted their hunting lifestyle to the Spanish Mustangs(upped the ante in favor of the Indian over the Bison) that had escaped from the Spanish Explorer Expeditions and subsequent Mexican colonial ranches.......Must have been a sight to behold on the vast treeless expanse of the Eastern Montana prairie!

why don't you call it scat----Meriwether?

I have read numerous journals from 19th century explorers, fur trappers, and government officials for my research project with American Prairie Reserve this summer (previous posts here andhere). The hope was that these sources would provide anecdotal insights into historic wildlife populations from Montana’s prairie ecosystem. In fact, these sources have been indispensable to my project by providing vivid, quotable descriptions of the landscape and wildlife. However, these sources also present several problems related to interpretation. This post shares some of the more interesting examples I have encountered.

I spent more time examining the journals of Lewis and Clark than any other sources. They take MANY liberties with spelling, terminology, and grammar. The following sentence about grey wolves is representative of their writing style: “we scarcely see a gang of buffaloe without observing a parsel of those faithfull shepherds on their skirts in readiness to take care of the mamed and wounded.” These misspellings are easy to understand. It is more difficult to decipher the different names that explorers used for animal species.
Lewis and Clark often mistakenly refer to pronghorn antelope as goats or deer. In addition, they, as well as most other early explorers, use the term wolf for both grey wolves and coyotes. Sometimes coyotes are distinguished from grey wolves by the name “prairie wolves.”
The grizzly bear seemed to cause more nomenclature problems than any other animal. The explorers document black, brown, red, white, grizzly, grey, and sometimes just “large bairs” throughout their expedition. It is particularly problematic when they call an animal a black bear, because they may have been referring to the species Ursus americanus, which is highly distinct from grizzly bears, or they simply may have been referring to the color of the bear.

“Weapons and physiognomy of the Grizzly Bear” by George Catlin, 1846-1848. Source: Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The Corps of Discovery, the official name of the US army expedition led by Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark, was the first group of American explorers to see grizzly bears, and they were certainly confused about the species’ taxonomy. Grizzly bears are known for being highly varied among individuals in terms of skeletal structure and fur color. This variability was so apparent that Lewis at one point speculated that the grizzly comprised up to 20 different species. However, on May 22, 1805, Lewis has a revelation and proclaimed, “I believe that it is the same species or family of bears which assumes all those colours at different ages and seasons of the year.”
Lewis and Clark’s journal entries on bears pose yet another interpretive problem. The explorers frequently refer to bear “signs,” which most scholars have interpreted to mean feces. The writers never once mention scat or feces to clarify the meaning of “signs,” perhaps because it would have been considered an improper subject in society at that time.

Clark's journal sketch of the bighorn sheep (enlarged to show detail). Source: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
Despite the mistakes or inconsistencies, the journals I read are still excellent sources of information on the Western landscape before white settlement. The Corps of Discovery contributed a great deal to the scientific knowledge of our country. Elliot Coues, editor of the 1893 edition of the journals claims, “The grizzly bear is the most notable discovery made in zoology by Lewis and Clark.” The expedition is also credited with “discovering” pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, mule deer, prairie dogs, kit foxes, and numerous birds like the greater sage grouse – although Native Americans had known these species long before explorers arrived.
The amount of observational data recorded in the journals of Lewis and Clark is remarkable given the pace of their expedition, frequently amounting to 20 miles a day. Though it is often difficult to deconstruct and synthesize information from these journals, both the greatest struggle and reward of doing historical research is the requirement to interpret.
Recommended reading: Paul Schullery’s Lewis and Clark Among the Grizzlies

American Prairie Reserve intern Michelle Berry is a Master’s student in environmental studies at Stanford. She has been tasked with examining historical works of literature and other primary sources to establish wildlife population estimates in the Reserve region of northeastern Montana.Her 10-week internship was made possible by the Bill Lane Center for the American West.

No comments: