"This land still has the memory of what the bison means to it."
I've read a lot in the last year on bison and prairie ecosystems, and the PBS documentary Facing the Storm hit every subject in under one hour (watch it here). Of course, it infuriated me and made me cry and made me leap for joy, but I'm a prairie nerd.
What most strikes me about our legacy with bison is what's now and next: that Montana continues to sponsor hunts / kills for bison who "escape" Yellowstone in the winter. How neat our national parks are. How contained like a garden. Here is where some things may be partially wild, but only here, and only how and when we want them. Our national parks are reflections of ourselves--we fear ourselves, we work so hard to control our wildness, our emotions, our passions. And the harder we work, the tighter the coil, so when we snap we snap big. We can't stand the illusion of our civilization, but we work hard to pretend we do--with helicopters and snowmobiles chasing animals.
Bison may be saved from extinction, but wild bison hardly exist at all. We pick and choose traits we favor, and breed out the wild. We try to breed out the wild in us, too--in cubicles, in ipads, in crazy bloggers using computers to ironically convey a message of the wild. Words fail here. Out there, out there they do not.
I want to see a buffalo commons in western Kansas come to fruition. Soon, the Ogallala aquifer will run dry there and the last remnants of duped settlers will be gone. I can't think of a better way to heal the land, our country, and ourselves then to see the apex creature return to the Plains--one that manages (what an awful word) the landscape far better than we do. That's why when I saw the image of bison grazing in a prairie dog town I fist pumped the air. Prairie dogs create lush vegetation for bison. Bison create landscapes for prairie dogs. Then all kinds of other wildlife come in and benefit even more.
We can't stand that the land still remembers the past. Our rows of GMO, chemical-infested corn can't cover it enough. Our doped-up, super fatty cattle can't cover it up even as they foul streams and trample grasslands and wildflowers. I think the Plains will return to some echo of their memory. But we carry that memory in us, too--the wonder of first coming across the ocean of grass, and the reverberation of rifles from passing train cars filled with sport hunters.