Archive for the ‘Land Use Ethic’ Category

Another capture season has come to an end on Panthera’s Teton Cougar Project.  It was a challenging year but we were able to put out a few new collars and recollar some cats whose collars fell off over the past year.  Our method for finding mountain lions is the same as mountain lion hunters – we split up and hike, drive or snowmobile looking for tracks.  Snow makes this much easier but anyone who tells you snow tracking is easy may only be looking at clear tracks.  The right snow conditions can make picking a cougar trail out of the tracks of wolves, deer and elk very challenging.


Generally cougar tracks are big and round and their strides are short. This makes them stand out compared to snow trails of ungulates BUT when there is a light crust on top of the snow, cougars will keep their toes tightly together and take longer strides, making the trail look more like deer or small elk.


From above this looks like a hoof…


But if snow conditions allow you to peek inside you will see the toes and fine claws of a mountain lion.


Sometimes you are forced to rely on how the animal is moving to identify a trail – cougars love sneaking under low-lying branches and they “lurk” through the landscape. They travel from tree to tree, wrapping around the trunk, under branches and through thick bushes. Wolves, elk and deer cruise in more of a straight line.


Can you pick out the cougar trail among the tracks of dozens of elk? It is the one on the left sneaking under 1-2 foot high branches.


M85. It is amazing how relaxed all cougars are – but especially M85 is when he is in a tree. He is only 10 or 15 feet away from me when I took this picture.


He took the drugs very well. Safety of the cat as well as the team is priority in these situations. His eyes are covered to help cool his adrenaline and he is covered in snow to cool his body since his temperature was slightly high.


Very interesting callouses on his feet. I haven’t seen this before and I’m curious about what would cause this. He didn’t have these on his toes last year when we caught him.


His front feet were similar but not as dramatic as his hind foot.


Dew claw on the front foot.


He is an extremely healthy looking cat. One of his canines showed some damage which is expected being around 7 years of age.


His new collar will last 2 years before it automatically falls off which means we will likely never catch him again.


Heading home, best of luck to M85. There are still several months left in the cougar hunting season and a big male like him is highly sought after but he is a smart old cat – lasting 7 years is very unusual for a male in our study area.


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Hunting is one of the few primitive activities still enjoyed by many modern humans and it is different for everyone.  Some hunters head out into the woods and blast a trophy bull elk at 300 yards, remove the head for a mount and go home satisfied.  Others have a heavy emotional experience of killing a beautiful animal so that they may live in a healthy, environmentally sustainable way.  Who can say which practice is better?  I say the latter.  Here are some ideas for using more of your animal if you, like me, want to honor the beast by getting as much as you can from its death.


A beautiful 2 year old cow elk. In this animal lies hundreds of pounds of the healthiest meat you can’t buy at a store, nutritious fat for cooking, bone broth to boost the immune system, a hide for tanning, sinew for crafts and glue, and many other possibilities that are only limited by time and desires.



Cuts of meat. I skinned and de-boned this elk in the field. It saved a lot of time on the butchering and a lot of weight hauling out. Those long strips of meat in the bottom of the picture are the tenderloins covered in sinew. All muscle groups contain sinew but these strips are the longest and easiest to process.



A freezer full of meat is a great feeling.  The meat can be ground up into burgers and breakfast sausage, cut for stews and steaks, or marinated and dried into jerky.


Here is what the sinew looks like after being dried and pulled apart. This is the strongest natural fiber in the world and was used by primitive people for sewing, bow strings, floss, gluing to the backs of bows to make them shoot faster, and probably many uses I’ve never heard of. I’ll use this sinew to back my bighorn horn bow. I saved the short scrappy pieces and put them in that jar to make the highest quality natural glue – also for the horn bow.


Just believe me when I tell you that bone broth is worth your time. If you aren’t including it as part of your diet then take a few minutes to research the benefits to the immune system, joints and ligaments, tooth enamel etc. There are a few things that every person on earth consumed for thousands of years, for good reason, that has since been forgotten. Bone broth is one of them. Also organ meats and animal fat. I like to roast the bones for half an hour to improve flavor then add veggies.


Add onions, celery, parsley and whatever else strikes your fancy then let simmer for 48 hours.


Strain, jar and freeze. Use glass jars – not plastic like me. Use the broth for stews or drink it straight when you are feeling sick.


You can cut any and all fatty bits off of your animal and render it to make high quality lard. Just put the chunks in a pot on top of a cast iron pan (this helps avoid burning) and simmer for several hours. You can speed up the process by cutting the fat into smaller pieces.


Straining out the dried up meat bits.


You’ll know when you’ve gotten out all the fat. The pieces will turn into dried up little cracklin’s.


That’s all for now.  Stay tuned for hide tanning, other primitive crafts and winter tracking in beautiful Wyoming.

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Just finished a provocative book and wanted to pass along some highlights.  First, I’ll write a synopsis and my thoughts on the book for those readers who lack the time/desire for a long blog post.  Then I’ll share a bunch of quotes from the book that I thought were interesting, for those that want to keep reading.

Sex at Dawn is the title.  It is about sex and human evolution.  The authors claim that humans evolved to have multiple sexual partners throughout our lives and that suppressing these instincts like we do in modern society is causing huge amounts of needless suffering, broken homes and traumatized children etc.  It is no secret that humans are extremely sexual animals – possibly more so than any other animal on earth.  Most animals only mate at certain times of the year whereas humans can mate at any time.  Most animals only mate for reproduction but humans do it for enjoyment, social bonding, diffusing conflicts and many other reasons.  The only mammal that shows similar mating habits is the bonobo chimpanzee which happens to be tied with other chimps as our closest relative.  But in the elaborateness, creativity, and passion of our mating rituals, we are really a unique animal.

So that is the premise – we are probably the most sexual animal on earth (and they spend 200 pages with supporting evidence for that argument).  The conflict then is that since agriculture, these instincts have been suppressed forcefully, brutally, and culturally and the suppression continues into our modern society with our cultural norm being monogamous marriage for life.  While pair-bonding may have existed in hunter-gatherer societies, there is basically zero evidence that sexual exclusivity was part of that.  There are many nitty gritty details of our anatomy (penis shape, for example) that show we were meant to have sex frequently and with many different partners.  I won’t go into those here.

It may be a huge relief for some couples to realize that their struggling sex life is not because there is anything wrong with them, but that we were designed to be excited by having new partners.  Having “new” sexual partners produces chemicals and hormones that are huge contributors to our happiness and physical health.  We are also designed to have life-long intimate relationships – hence the struggle.

The authors readily admit that they don’t have all the answers for how to integrate our natural dispositions into our modern society.  But they suggest that we don’t take sex quite so seriously, that we should consider open marriages and experiment with what works for us.

This is no doubt another major challenge to try to integrate our natural instincts into our modern world and I don’t think its possible to totally re-create hunter-gatherer lifestyle but I do think that with an open mind we can do a lot better in this arena.  If you are interested in learning more, the book is cheap on Amazon.  There is way more detailed info in there than I can talk about here.


For those who want to continue reading….

The first issue that comes up for most people is jealousy.  Didn’t we evolve to feel jealous and secure a mate as a way of passing on our genes?  The authors argue (and I agree) that jealousy spurs from a fear of loosing a relationship.  Imagine living in a world with basically total relationship security.  Would we still get jealous?  A typical group of hunter-gatherers were stuck together for life and had an abundance of intimate relationships.  Add to that a cultural stigma around possessiveness and jealousy, where the number one prerogative is diffusing conflicts and keeping everyone happy, where trust and love for one another is required for your survival.  With those stipulations I can imagine a world where jealousy would be minimal.  From the book: “First born children often feel jealous when a younger sibling is born.  Wise parents make a special point of reassuring the child that she’ll always be special, that the baby  doesn’t represent any kind of threat to her status, and that there’s plenty of love for everyone.  Why is it so easy to believe that a mother’s love isn’t a zero-sum proposition, but that sexual love is a finite resource?”

Here is a quote of a quote from the book, about a culture where promiscuity is encouraged and monogamy is taboo:

“I think of my parents’ bitter divorce, of childhood friends uprooted and destroyed because Mommy or Daddy decided to sleep with someone else.  Lugo Lake, I think, is not so much a kingdom of women as a kingdom of family – albeit one blessedly free of politicians and preachers extolling “family values”.  There’s no such thing as a “broken home,” no sociologists wringing their hands over “single mothers,” no economic devastation or shame and stigma when parents part.  Sassy and confident, a Mosuo girl will grow up cherished in a circle of male and female relatives… When she joins the dances and invites a boy into her flower room, it will be for love, or lust, or whatever people call it when they are operating on hormones and heavy breathing.  She will not need that boy – or any other – to have a home, to make a “family.”  She already knows that she will always have both.”

Not to say that these are all a result of promiscuity but the book also lays out many ways in which hunter-gatherer cultures ‘had things figured out’:

“800 skeletons examined in Illinois valley reveal a clear picture of health change that accompany the shift from foraging to agriculture. Farmers’ remains show a 50% increase in chronic malnutrition, and three times the incidence of infectious diseases (indicated by bone lesions) compared with foragers who proceeded them.  Increased infant mortality, delayed skeletal growth in adults, fourfold increase in portico hyperostosis, indicating iron-deficiency anemia in more than half the population.  Archaeologist Timothy Taylor believes that human ancestors who first controlled fire were taller than the average person today.”

“French Jesuit missionary Paul Le Jeune spent six months with Mantagnais in present-day Quebec was exasperated by the natives’ generosity.  “if my host took two, three, or four beavers, whether it was day or night, they had a feast for all neighboring Savages.  And if those people had captured something, they had one also at the same time; so that, on emerging from one feast, you went to another, and sometimes even to a third and a fourth.”

“Madsen calculated that in just an hour’s work, a forager could collect the caloric equivalent of eighty-seven chili dogs, forty nine slices of pizza or forty three Big Macs – without all the heart-clogging fats and additives.”  In regards to the Native people of Utah collecting Mormon crickets.

“!Kung San of the Kalahari desert had an average daily intake in a good month of 2,140 calories and ninety-three grams of protein.

“Jared Diamond writes “Hunter-gatherers practiced the most successful and longest-lasting life style in human history.  In contrast we’re still struggling with the mess into which agriculture has tumbled us, and its unclear whether we can solve it.”

Many people argue that life expectancy for hunter-gatherers was 30-45 years.  I have never believed this to be true and I was glad to see the Sex at Dawn authors address this falsehood.  They point out that life expectancy is normally calculated by including infant mortality rate.  And that you can only age bone samples to say that a person was 30 years OR older.  When this factor is eliminated prehistoric humans probably lived from sixty-six to ninety one years with higher levels of overall healthy and mobility than we find in most Western societies today.

Some interesting thoughts on adolescents (by the way they offer citations for everything):

“deprivation of bodily pleasure throughout life – but particularly during the formative years of infancy, childhood, and adolescence – is very closely related to the amount of warfare and interpersonal violence.  Cultures that don’t interfere with adolescent sexuality show far lower levels of violence between individuals and societies”.  Mangaian youth are encouraged to have sex with one another, with particular emphasis on the young men learning to control themselves and take pride in the pleasure they can provide to a woman.  The Muria of central India set up adolescent dormitories where adolescents are free to sleep together away from concerned parents. They are encouraged to sleep with different partners, as it is considered unwise to become too attached to a single partner at this phase of life.”

“If we accept that our species is and always has been optimized for a highly sexual life and that adolescent boys are especially primed for action, why should we be surprised by the explosions of destructive frustration that result from the thwarting of this primal drive?”

“what isn’t debatable is that conventional marriage is a full-blown disaster for millions of men, women and children right now.   Conventional till-death (or infidelity, or boredom) -do us part marriage is a failure emotionally, economically, psychologically, and sexually.  It doesn’t work for too many cultures.  Yet while few mainstream therapists would contemplate trying to convince a gay man or lesbian to stop being gay, when it comes to unconventional approaches to heterosexual marriage, Perel points out, “sexual boundaries are one of the few areas where therapists seem to mirror the dominant culture.  Monogamy is the norm and sexual fidelity is considered to be mature, committed and realistic.

Anecdotal excerpt of a person who grew up in a non-conventional communal household: “The communal household enjoyed a kind of camaraderie i have never felt since.  I swapped books with my stepsisters, listened in awe to their stories of crushes exchanged tips on teachers. Their father imparted his love of great music and their mother her passion for cooking a sort of bond formed among the 10 of us.”

I’d love to hear peoples thoughts or specific questions/concerns.  Some potential concerns I could address: birth control, sexually transmitted diseases, infant mortality rates, securing genetic passage, our anatomy that supports the argument of us being a promiscuous species, etc.

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At the Art of Mentoring in Santa Cruz I got to hear stories from people that had traveled to Africa to spend time with an isolated group of bushmen.  This tribe is one of the last in the world that are practicing a culture that has been unbroken for several hundred thousand years.  Cultures mature over time just like people do.  And I think cultures go through similar phases of growth such as infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age (or wisdom).

Which phase is our  American culture in?  We have been around for about 500 years.  Although you could say that we are a continuation of European culture – namely Christianity which has been around for 2,000 years or a little more.  Throughout that time many traditions were snuffed out and lost so even if this culture can be traced back a few thousand years, it is a fragmented and distorted one.  Either way, 2,000 years is a blink compared to a 500,000 year unbroken culture based in nature.  It is sometimes shocking to realize a culture like that still exists.  I think we forget that what we know isn’t just a product of our life experiences, its a product of what our culture has learned and experienced.  It takes a long time to figure out what life is all about and it definitely can’t happen in one lifetime.  I don’t think it can happen in a culture separated from nature either.  A culture separated from nature compared to a culture based in nature is like comparing a domestic dog to a wolf.  Same goes for a wild vs domestic human.

In this bushman tribe there is a healer or shaman.  He was asked: what is the most important thing in life?  His answer:  “To teach the children how to tell the different animals apart from their tracks.”  This bodes well for my line of work.  The wisest person in the oldest culture on earth thinks that teaching children how to track is the most important thing in life.  But I think his statement goes deeper than to just teach kids about tracking.  I think what he was saying, is that if the children learn how to read animal tracks, then they will see the interconnectedness of everything as well as their own place in the world.  And that to him, is the most important thing in life.

There were many other amazing stories that this group of people shared from their time with the bushmen.  Stories about the trance dances and feeling vibrations building until they shot through their bodies and into the sky, stories of extra-sensory perception – knowing people were on their way and then having them show up unannounced, and participating in rain dances that brought rain the following day.  Many of these types of things I have read about in native cultures all over the world.  To me it makes sense, there are bound to be incredible things that a culture would figure out after living a rich existence close to nature for several hundred thousand years.

These are jumping mouse tracks. They are like the wet-climate cousin of kangaroo rats and good for me to know since I'm currently studying for an evaluation in southern Maine next month.

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I got to do my first Golden Eagle banding with the Wildlife Research Institute yesterday.  Here are some pictures.

Small male Golden eagle chick

Golden eagle chick

secret Eagle ridge

big talons

eagle foot

baby golden eagle

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As a tracker and student of nature (nature being everything) I’m constantly following mysteries and trying to connect everything to everything else.  One such thing is emotion.  When a person understands nature – that is, really can see how things are fitting together and depending on each other, everything starts to makes sense.  Life isn’t random anymore.  Everything anyone does is for a reason.  Also, anything that anything does or has as part of its strategy (antlers on a deer, thumbs on an opossum etc) is all for a very specific reason.  To me though, its the more subtle parts of an organism’s strategies are the most fascinating.  For example, when I go off on a survival trip by myself I get about two hours into it before I’m hit with an intense feeling of loneliness.  Why is this?  Well it makes perfect sense biologically and evolutionarily.  Our strategy is that of a social animal.  Being with people who care about us is the safest place to be and our bodies know that.  Our bodies have been learning these survival skills for millions of years.  They are wired, like all plants and animals for two things: to keep living and to reproduce.

I believe that we should go back to the way things once were when we didn’t have this level of security or comfort.  I think we would be happier if our houses were made of bark and only lasted a year or two before we had to rebuild.  To me, balance is more important than comfort.  What is ironic is that returning to a more “natural” way of life is actually the least natural thing an organism could do.  We have evolved to attain food, security and comfort at all costs.  All of our emotions are weighted towards this.  In today’s world our bodies have figured out that money equals life.  If we loose a thousand dollars we feel it physically.  Our bodies make us anxious and stressed.  We don’t like it.  If we win a million dollars our bodies give us euphoria.  To voluntarily abandon the comforts and security of this way of life is completely unnatural.  No other animal in the history of the earth has done that – chosen to give up security because they have an overabundance of it.

It may be depressing to think that everything we do is because of our biology.  And that may be depressing because believing in our limitless creativity may have been an essential part of our survival strategy.  Either way, I feel drawn to search out the most true answer to what is going on, despite its emotional ramifications.  And I think it is quite possible that there is a greater purpose of our being here, getting to fully experience and explore this fascinating biology from the inside.  And luckily fascination is a wonderful feeling and I don’t think there will ever be a shortage of things that provoke it.

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one of the traps with deer bait

I was lucky enough to get to take part in a cougar capture attempt with wildlife veterinarian Winston Vickers.  He is trying to catch a collared cat whose batteries are low.  Yesterday he got word that a kill was made and that the cat was feeding on it for the past couple days so we hiked two traps up into the mountains and set them at the kill sight.  We waited until midnight and then had to leave.  It’s not easy to convince a wild animal to walk into a steel cage.

bighorn sheep have cool hooves made for maximum traction

This sick yew was killed by the cougar we are trying to capture

cougar research requires a lot of gear and a lot of work

Distinctive claw mark from this cougar

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Here is another excerpt from Tending the Wild:

“Although native ways of using and tending the earth were diverse, the people were nonetheless unified by a fundamental land use ethic: one must interact respectfully with nature and coexist with all life-forms.  This ethic transcended cultural and political boundaries and enabled sustained relationships between human societies and California’s environments over millennia.  The spiritual dimension of this ethic is a cosmology that casts humans as part of the natural system closely related to all life-forms.  In this view, all non-human creatures are ‘kin’ or ‘relatives,’ nature is the embodiment of the human community, and all of nature’s denizens and elements – the plants, the animals, the rocks, and the water – are people.  As ‘people,’ plants and animals possessed intelligence, which meant that they could serve in the role of teachers and help humans in countless ways – relaying messages, forecasting the weather, teaching what is good to eat and what will cure an ailment.’

This view of other life as related, equal, and highly intelligent is what Enrique Salmon (Raramuri) calls a ‘kincentric’ view of the world.”

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Use Nature

One of the biggest misconceptions I hear is that to save the environment we need to leave it alone.  This idea would be bizarre to a native person because they understand that its through our use of nature that we learn to respect and care for it.  Consider the difference between a person who lives in the city and goes hiking on the weekends versus a person who is required to feed, clothe and shelter themselves indefinitely off of 100 acres of land.  The first person appreciates nature from a distance while the second is inseparable from it.  They know each plant and animal that occupies the land like members of their own family and they are deeply grateful for how their deaths allow life.  This is the level of nature connection that is required for humans to live sustainably on Earth because it is the truth of our interaction with the natural world.
I’m reading an excellent book about indigenous land management called Tending the Wild – Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources.  Most people don’t realize that natives were the masters of permaculture.  Here’s an excerpt from Tending the Wild:
“Growing alongside the many kinds of crop plants were a variety of native herbs and trees.  Insects buzzed and clicked, and birds chattered.  The land smelled good and radiated beauty.  The farmer was using the land quite intensively, yet much of the natural plant and animal diversity remained.  He explained to me the importance of diversifying crops, using locally available resources, retaining overstory trees, and planting vegetation that harbored beneficial insects that would feed on the ‘bad’ insects.”
It is important to realize that many plants actually rely on human harvesting for continued growth and reproduction.  This is why I think learning about wild edible and medicinal plants is one of the best things a person can do for the health of the land they live in and their own health.  I also think that hunting is one of the most beneficial things that can happen on a piece of land when it is done in the right way.

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