I recently watched the PBS series (filmed by the BBC) The Great Yellowstone Thaw. It’s an incredibly beautiful series that focuses on the lives and struggles of animals that inhabit the Greater Yellowstone area — a giant swath of land that runs from the Beartooth Mountains in south central Montana to the Tetons in Wyoming.
It’s organized around animal “families” — literally in some cases. There is a family of beavers that has a system of dams on the Snake River which runs west toward the Pacific Ocean. There is a family of Great Gray Owls, several families of grizzly bears, bison, pikas, ground squirrels and wolves.
The landscape, of course, is — oh my — well, the word “beautiful” sounds kind of insipid as a descriptor.
The show has a not-particularly-subtle political message and that is that
global warming, oops, I mean climate change is affecting all of the large and small ecosystems in the Park. Early warm temperatures woke up a grizzly before he should have been done hibernating so he had a hard time finding food until his powerful sense of smell led him to a rotting elk carcass in a pond. The March thaw also made it easier for elk and bison to find grass and harder for wolves to catch them. It was a bad winter for wolves.
The biggest challenge is to a little creature, the pika, who NEEDS to live where it is very very cold most of the year, most being 12 months out of 12. Their territory is getting smaller and smaller and they are moving higher and higher up the mountains. They don’t hibernate — they are that tough in their furry cuteness.
The program also spent a lot of time discussing the great engineering skills of beavers. I’ve always liked the rodent and been happy to see a beaver dam in the mountains, but I had a very incomplete understanding of how beavers actually build and live in their condominium complexes.
Another thing that struck me is how much I wish I had my life to live over. The guys (mostly) in this program have cool jobs. They are (mostly) scientists and photographers who go around wearing warm clothes in wild places looking at nature. There is a wolf specialist who works for the park service. A grizzly specialist who has his own grizzly bear. A woman who studies pikas. A wildlife photographer who follows the great gray owl and has a deep (ha ha) understanding of beavers. I would LOVE to do any one of those things. In my next life I want to be born a boy, so I can wander around just another one of the guys, and without a learning disability so I can do the science.