Wednesday, July 9, 2008

How Friggin Cool!

Picture hijacked from ©2000 - 2004 Butterbrodt/Joyce

I've been hearing about the Hebior Mammoth for quite awhile now...and I heard today that it is finally on display. A relic of a Wisconsin project to drain a wetland to grow corn (outstanding, right?), the Hebior Mammoth was accidentally dug up....he died around 12,800 BC. What's interesting is that there are blade marks all over his bones...regardless of how he died, he was butchered for food by very early Americans (Clovis or even earlier!).
During the last ice age, which ended around 10,000 years ago, North America was not only once filled with mammoths and mastodons, but gigantic herds of grazing herbivores of all shapes and sizes. In North America, these were primarily critters related to elephants, rhinoceros, and pigs.
That's right - no cows, horses, or even bison. The "Pleistocene Megafauana" lived on the edge of the giant ice sheets, and at least as far south as North Carolina. Only after the full retreat of the last ice age, did eastern North America become overrun with bison, elk and to a lesser extent, white-tailed deer. The grazing patterns established by the mammoths were later utilized by the bison, and later utilized by the Native Americans, and later used by European pioneers, and have now become interstate highways, I-95 being a prime example. These grazing patterns also caused the expansion of a pretty inauspicious critter:

The bog turtle! Bog turtles are thought to have extremely rare prior to the Pleistocene era, and are still considered a Mid-Atlantic species. They live exclusively in sedge meadows with clean, spring-fed water and lots of sunshine. They do not like trees, bushes, stagnant water, or dry soil. The habitat I just described sounds like a wet, muddy pasture! In fact, their habitats can almost exclusively only be managed through working livestock in wetlands (which few people do anymore due to livestock disease and water quality concerns).

Bog turtles enjoy a huge range of human-listed status, "Endangered" being the one most commonly used from state to state. One of the problems is that these guys do not like to be found, so we (wetland biologists) actually have no idea how many bog turtles there are. All we can do is calculate how many bog turtles we expect to live in high quality habitat, and multiply that times the amount of high quality habitat, and I guess that's how many turtles we have? Sound scientific? It's not! But it's the best we can do with these secluded guys.

So, as the continent warmed, humans expanded our range. The mammoths all died, either through hunting or as a result of climate change. By the 1800s, all the elk and bison had been removed from the east coast as well. Leaving a few deer, and lots of cattle. Bog turtles continued to do well through the mid-1900s thanks to poor grazing practices (allowing cattle to graze in wetlands), and once we stopped that, an interesting thing happened. The wetlands turned into different types of wetlands..........wetlands that cannot support bog turtles.

Now, Maryland DNR, Pennsylvania DEP, NYDEC, and other agencies are paying landowners to cut trees in wetlands, spray herbicide in wetlands, and even graze goats in wetlands, all to support the few remaining healthy populations of bog turtles.

It's a good thing....but it kinda makes you wish we hadn't killed all the bison. A debate for another time...........were our bison a separate species (extinct 1825), or plains bison. I want to see a Nerd Cage Match over that.

Just kidding.


Hugh Griffith said...

Very informative and fun post! Sort of a dysfunctional little turtle -- you gotta love them.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Lovin' your blog !
i've added you to my blog roll

Tom Sorenson said...

Interesting - who would have thought we'd see the day people are getting paid to spray herbicide in wetlands?! It's sort of comical, really.

Rabid Outdoorsman said...

Is it strange that I am sitting here trying to think what BBQ mammoth would taste like? I am guessing not much like chicken! LOL!

Kirk Mantay said...

The majority of "certified bog turtle specialists" have never even seen a wild bog turtle. They are neat prehistoric relics. Thanks for stopping by Hugh, SBW, Tom, & RO!

BBQ mammoth would probably taste like McDonalds hamburgers aka old dairy cattle. Just my opinion.

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