Interview of Josh Schlossberg ― Resistance Radio

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(Sound of a mountain lion)

Hi, this is Derrick Jensen and this is Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network. My guest today is Josh Schlossberg. He is a Denver, Colorado-based investigative journalist who writes about ecology, wildlife, climate change, and energy for various publications including EnviroNews, Truthout, Earth Island Journal, Denver Westword, Boulder Weekly and The Ecologist. You can follow him on Twitter at @JoshSchlossberg. Today we talk about how mountain lions can help stop chronic wasting disease in deer, elk, and moose.

So first, thank you for your work, and second, thank you for being on the program.

JS: Yeah! I’m glad to be back. Thanks for having me.

DJ: So maybe the place to start is by talking about what is chronic wasting disease?

JS: Yes. That is probably the best place to start, and I want to preface that by saying: so I’ve been writing about ecology, disease, things like that for years and years. Chronic wasting disease was somehow barely on my radar. So I moved out to Colorado about four years ago and started hearing more about it. So that someone such as myself who actually focuses on these issues was barely aware of it makes me think that for most people it’s not something they’ve crossed paths with.

So basically chronic wasting disease is a disease that has manifested itself primarily in cervid populations; so this is deer, elk and moose; and it’s a fatal brain infection caused by a prion. What it is, is a malformed protein, and it causes abnormal folding in the brain. So it’s not alive. It’s not a virus, it’s not a bacteria, but it acts as if it’s alive, and they cause these devastating impacts. Other prion diseases are mad cow disease and the human form, Creutzfeldt-Jakob. There are a few other diseases out there caused by prions. So basically it’s safe to say you don’t want to get these. And deer populations, elk, moose, across the U.S. have been dealing with this. It’s been decimating herds. It’s actually been moving into Canada, I think two provinces in Canada. It’s been found in Norway and Korea somehow. So it’s spreading literally around the world right now, and they think in Colorado specifically about a third or two thirds of the population has it. So what it does; they call it the zombie disease. That’s a bit melodramatic but it does shrink them and makes them stumble and listless, so people perceive it as being like zombies. And it does eventually kill them, and it’s highly contagious. And it was first discovered, by humans at least, in Colorado in 1967 in captive deer populations. It’s probably been around, but the question is whether human practices, habitat degradation and other things like that, are spreading this disease.

DJ: So let’s back up for a second. You said that it’s based on prions and you also said it’s contagious, and I don’t really understand how this works when you have – I understand that if you have a bacteria, then one animal can poop, and it can be in the poop or with a different bacteria or virus I can cough and you can get it. But it’s a prion so it shouldn’t be reproducing. I don’t understand how it becomes contagious. How does this work?

JS: Right. So basically it is spread similarly to bacteria or viruses. They think that it’s spread from animal to animal, so when they’re just hanging out and sniffing each other or whatever, and also through vegetation that’s laced with urine, feces, saliva. So they’re all congregating in the same areas. That’s a lot of what’s happening, is because there’s such limited habitat, especially during the winter for instance. Specific areas that are sheltered because cervids need to winter. So what happens is it’s all over the plants that they’re browsing and eating. And then they pick it up that way.

There are also recent studies – actually it came out about a month ago, I saw, about naturally occurring salt licks. So basically there are areas in nature where there are just these salt formations and deer love that. So that’s another site that they think causes the spread. So the prions just attach to this vegetation or whatever and then they spread to the animal and then it gets in their system and into their brain.

DJ: And when it kills them, is this affecting the population by killing them at a reproductive age or is it mainly killing the old and the weak?

JS: My understanding is that it can kill any of them. I don’t know whether there is conclusive evidence about that. I think any disease is more likely to prey on the young and the sick and the weak already, but from my understanding, and again, I could be wrong about this; any animal, any deer, elk or moose can definitely get it.

DJ: So the question really is: is this disease – like, chytrid can devastate entire populations. You used the word “decimate” earlier, so I take it from that, that with this prevalence, you said 50-70% have it, something like that? That it can definitely make populations decline, is that what I’m hearing?

JS: Yeah. There are different numbers in different areas. They don’t really know exactly how many deer in areas have it. The estimates are one half of Colorado’s deer herds, specifically, and a third of the elk herds are infected. So it varies in different states but it’s definitely getting worse. And there was this study, I believe it came out in February, from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, so they’re the state agency that deals with wildlife. So it’s rising, the prevalence in deer and elk herds here. And it’s striking the fawns at a younger age. Basically they are concerned about whether this is going to eradicate certain herds.

DJ: And so your recent article about this talks about the relationship between mountain lions and this disease, and your headline is “Mountain lions could help stop the spread of a fatal infection in deer.”

So can you talk a little bit about that?

JS: Sure. So this is based on a few studies, some of which were conducted by scientists in Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and these are peer reviewed scientific studies. Now, I want to preface the findings by saying that they don’t know for a fact that this would make a major dent in chronic wasting disease, but there are definitely some promising findings that I thought were important to put out there. So anything that might lead to a reduction in the spread of this disease I think is worth at least looking into. So basically these studies, which are kind of fascinating, were done in Colorado on the Front Range, which you’re familiar with. And basically what they found is that mountain lions were preying more upon the diseased deer, so the ones with chronic wasting disease. And they compared that to random samples based on what hunters were taking out and they found that more of the kills from the lions included these sick animals, which is fascinating in that this is before the disease is necessarily perceptible to the human eye, any of the wasting or stumbling or shrinking of the muscle mass. Somehow these lions are picking up on the fact that these animals are sick, and what they may be doing is culling the population, so reducing the number of animals that are out there with that disease, and that could lead to a reduction in the disease. But I want to follow that up with one of the other studies that said there’s still a huge prevalence of the disease, almost up to a quarter of some deer in the Front Range are still getting the disease. So it’s certainly not anywhere near eradicating it, but it is indicative of the fact that these lions are picking these sick animals out and consuming them, and basically removing most of that biomass that might be diseased from the environment.

DJ: And at least at this point, there are no studies showing that the mountain lions are suffering any effects from consuming these deer. So it’s not crossing species that way.

JS: Right. So there is a species barrier. I did even ask the, his name is Michael Miller with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, he’s one of the scientists that worked on these studies. And he says there’s been no evidence that it’s passed along that way. However, and I almost included this in my article but I left it out, because it didn’t really fit into it; there is a possibility that it could spread into other species. So this is something worth paying attention to.

There is a study out there where they injected chronic wasting disease; infected brains, so the deer brain was infected; they injected that into cats. Just domestic cats. And they did find that some of them did contract the disease. Now a couple of things here. Sticking a diseased brain into somebody else’s brain does not happen in nature. You need humans to mess with things to that degree. So that’s an unlikely route. However, it does speak to the possibility that it could somehow mutate and spread, especially because mountain lions and domestic cats are actually pretty similar genetically. The fact that also cats go out there and are eating carcasses a fair amount, that could be a concern with domestic cats. So it’s possible. It hasn’t been demonstrated in nature. And it’s similar to another study where they injected macaques with this infected brain stuff, and those are the primates that are closest genetically to humans that are currently being used in testing labs. And they also found that that spread. So in theory, humans could get it. It’s not happened yet. It’s still that more difficult route of injecting that brain material directly into the animal’s or the human’s brain.

So anything’s possible, but for right now it doesn’t seem as if it’s very likely.

DJ: So I want to move on to mule deer, and you mentioned mule deer in the article. And before we talk about mule deer more, I just want to ask if mule deer are more susceptible than white-tailed deer, or is it simply that there are more mule deer in Colorado?

JS: I think it’s just the fact that they’re more prevalent. I don’t think it’s selecting for one subspecies or the other, because it’s also infecting the elk and moose, so I think it can infect any of them.

DJ: So getting to part of the heart of this, although we might be able to suggest that increased mountain lion numbers would help control this disease; with lots of modifiers in there like “might,” “would,” or “could”; at the same time wildlife management agencies … well, why don’t you just take it from there?

JS: Sure. I understand what you’re prompting. So basically, yes. If with mountain lions a certain population is reducing the sick deer population, in theory more of them would do a better job of it. That seems very possible, very likely. Colorado Parks and Wildlife scientists are the ones who have been looking at the fact that the lions are helping to cull these deer. However, that same agency is also doing what they’re calling studies to kill off the mountain lions and bear in certain areas in Colorado. It’s a complicated concept that they have. So basically there are two different plans. One’s called the Piceance Basin Predator Control Plan and one’s called the Upper Arkansas River Predator Management Plan. So CPW, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, would kill between 15 to 45 mountain lions and between 30 to 75 black bear over about three years on the Western Slope of Colorado, and then half of the mountain lion population in this 2000 mile area in south central Colorado, so they’d use cage traps, snares, they’d track them with hounds, and they’d kill the animals with firearms.

So this is the agency’s justification: they’re trying to figure out how much lion and bear are reducing deer population, because deer populations have gone down. But, again, what are you comparing that number to? The baseline number? So there’s a lot of disagreement about how many deer should be out there. A lot of assumptions – conservationists are saying that the Parks and Wildlife Services just wants to have tons of deer because a lot of what their goal is, is to get more people hunting, because that’s how they’re funded. But regardless, the CPW wants to have; right now it’s about 450,000 deer in Colorado, the mule deer. They want it to get up to 560,000. They admit that killing the predators isn’t the solution for it, but they basically want to find out “Well, if we reduce predators does that mean that there are more deer out there?” Especially because a lot of the fawns have been killed. Of course that’s kind of how nature works. So when you have the human influence in there and hunters want to have more deer, yeah. Obviously bear and mountain lion and predators like that, their natural predators, are going to compete, but are they really killing off that many deer? And at the same time, it’s almost like, is that really a problem?

DJ: Yeah. This all really annoys me. And we see this everywhere. The dams and the overfishing wipe out salmon populations, and to help stop the further destruction of the salmon populations, they kill sea lions. It’s just crazy because sea lions and salmon have coexisted forever. I’m sure that if you and I just did a little brainstorming session we could come up with about 50 examples that are the same as the one you’re talking about here.

JS: Sure. So the human influence has disrupted things. The agency has this level of animals that they like out there. And so basically with this study where they’re killing the predators, they would find out “Okay, there are fewer deer being killed.” I’m not sure if that’s really that much of a mystery, that the lions and the bears do kill some of the deer. Are they really that much of an impact? I don’t know. So a lot of conservationists are pushing back against that, and there are lawsuits. And what they’re saying is that if CPW really was concerned about deer numbers they would be focusing on expanding habitat, and one of the biggest impacts on habitat right now is the oil and gas industry, and even in Colorado Parks and Wildlife, you can find in my article in the Ecologist, or you can go to my website They have made statements that land that they’ve acquired in the past – CPW’s acquired some former oil land – that was drilled and had lots of roads, so basically they said that that land was impacted by energy development and that had reduced the number of deer. So they’d already admitted that that happens, and then there are other studies. One that came out of Wyoming that found that deer avoid the drill pads by half a mile or something like that. I can’t remember off the top of my head. But they definitely don’t like that energy infrastructure, so it’s, say, an average of one kilometer away from all gas wells.

So it doesn’t take a genius to correlate the fact that with more development and less habitat deer don’t do as well. But CPW, for their end, what are they working with? Are they necessarily going to be able to stop development? I’m not really sure that’s in their purview. So it seems like what the answer would be is the creation of more wilderness by an advocacy put out by conservation groups. But most conservation groups are looking at things very piecemeal and aren’t really looking for holistic public lands protections. So I don’t know. The trends don’t look very good.

DJ: You know, we don’t have to go here if you don’t want, but we’re talking about habitat and it reminds me of another article you wrote this spring, that begins “Conservationists are challenging a logging proposal that would clear-cut 1,300 acres in the White River National Forest northeast of Aspen, including endangered Canada lynx habitat and units adjacent to the protected Woods Lake Roadless Area.” Point being: at the same time they’re complaining about – the state agency, not necessarily the same one – complaining about deer numbers, they’re also going to clearcut 1300 acres right there. And that’s not the only logging project in Colorado either.

JS: That’s Forest Service, so that’s federal, but still the agencies that are moving forward with, let’s just say degrading habitat, and that’s a fact. But their argument and their role is to try to balance, I guess, in their minds, wildlife ecology and human demands. And humans are demanding more and more energy and other things. So the question is are we going to address those underlying conflicts or not?

DJ: So, I don’t know – you didn’t address this in the article, and I don’t know if you know the answer to this. But how are mountain lions doing in general in Colorado?

JS: I’m certainly not an expert on all that aspect. I would recommend this multipart series by a journalist named Rico Moore, and he wrote, I think it’s a 12 part series for the Boulder Weekly on mountain lions in Colorado specifically, talking about some of these management plans and whatnot, and just how they’re doing in general.

So I would definitely recommend that. There’s a lot of great information there. I would say from my own understanding that they’re somewhat stable but it’s hard to tell, because they’re really elusive animals. So I know that there was this other study, and I tried to track it down and actually talk to the scientist for my article. I wasn’t able to get ahold of him in time for the publication, but his suggestion is that there have been overestimates of the number of mountain lions. So even with these CPW plans to cull a certain number, they’re basing that on higher numbers that even exist out there. So some folks would say that they exist, obviously. They’re out there, but not in the numbers we might have thought. What is the optimum number based on habitat? I don’t know who’s to say. But it seems like, my guess would be yeah, there aren’t as many as there used to be before humans came into the scene, that’s for sure.

DJ: As you know, I grew up in Boulder, and I left in 1983 or 1984. And I remember in the 70’s there was much concern among at least some people there, in Boulder, because there were so many deer who were so weak and sickly. And at the time I thought that that was simply because they were living near town and it was just crap habitat. And I’m not suggesting this because I don’t know the actual truth of it, but I wonder whether that was some kind of chronic wasting disease already. That would have been 12 years after it was discovered in the state.

JS. That’s entirely possible. That’s very likely.

DJ: And I remember also at the time – I mean, this whole notion that mountain lions might be able to help; I don’t think that’s really new, because I remember at the time there was a discussion – and once again, we didn’t know if it was chronic wasting disease. We just thought they were sick deer. And the people that I knew, for what it’s worth, these were my college buddies. We were thinking “Gosh, what would really help would be some predators.”

JS: Yes. That’s typically always the answer to prey populations like that. Any time there’s, for instance, in national parks, sensitive ecological areas where there too many elk congregating by riparian areas that are very sensitive. It’s because they’re too comfortable and there weren’t wolves there to chase them around. So you bring wolves back into the area who chase the animals around a bit, they don’t just congregate and mash up that delicate riparian area. There is a balance. Nature’s been doing pretty well since a long time before we came around.

DJ: So can you talk – I know this isn’t your primary area of expertise, but can you talk a little bit more about, like, the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone and some of the other cascading effects that had? If you want to, just touch on that and come back to also other possible positive cascading effects of living with bears and mountain lions.

Actually before I do that, I want to mention one thing about bears, because I live in northern California and there are tons of bears here. And I just learned a cool thing not very long ago, which is that I know that bears kill trees. They will, especially adolescent or young adult bears, will try to show off by breaking trees. Testosterone is an amazing thing. It’s pretty funny. They’re like boys strutting around beaches or something. But also they will strip the tree of the bark to eat the inner bark. And I was asking a friend of mine, who is a wildlife biologist, what would be the ecological advantage of bears doing this? How does this help the forest?

And he said that where he lives, the forest is a combination of Douglas fir and either live oak or tan oak, I don’t remember. One of the two. And he said Douglas fir grows faster, it reproduces more, it reproduces more easily. It basically has every advantage. It grows taller. It has every advantage over the oak except that bears really like the inner bark of Douglas fir and they don’t much care for the inner bark of the oak. And so, in this case, where he lives is a mixed oak-Douglas fir forest, and the reason it stays mixed, well there are other reasons too, but the bears come in and kill a fair number of the Douglas firs to eat the bark.

JS: Okay. Huh. Interesting.

DJ: And then of course the oak provides a lot of food for a lot of birds and the acorns are really good for deer and everybody else. Everybody wins except for the individual Douglas firs who die.

JS: Sure, sure. Sacrificing themselves for the larger good of all. Yeah, that makes sense. That makes a lot of sense. I’m definitely not super well-versed on all the cascading effects, but I do know about predator introductions and stuff like that. I do know in Yellowstone that aspect having to do with the riparian areas has been really important, and also to do with more willow and aspen trees. It basically reduced the number of elk because of increased wolf predation, and also it changed their foraging behavior in general. So they returned to the way they used to be, which was a little bit more skittish and kind of moving around. So it was like once you removed the wolves, these elk had gone from hunter-gatherer, from almost nomadic, to the way humans transitioned to agriculture. Sticking in one spot and kind of consuming that landbase, as opposed to ranging around and letting it recover.

So that’s my understanding of just what predators would do in general for certain populations. They get a little bit too comfortable. You think about back east where I used to live, and the prevalence of Lyme disease, you know there are questions about this, but the deer there are super comfortable around people, like way too comfortable. They get really close. Out west the deer are a little bit more skittish because they’re a little bit more wild. Back east they don’t really have many predators much, but now the coyotes are coming back into the picture, and that might change things a little bit. Nature does rebound when it’s given the chance. Sometimes.

DJ: You know this reminds me also of – I’m going to come back to: is it actually a good idea to reduce the mule deer numbers anyway? Because I have a friend who just retired from teaching at Binghamton University in New York, and he’s been fighting for a long time. The university has a small forest, and the small forest is being killed because there are a bunch of deer and they can’t kill the deer because of animal rights activists, frankly. But at the same time there are no predators. So the deer are overrunning everything, which is absolutely devastating ground cover, which absolutely devastates ground birds, which absolutely devastates salamanders, newts, all sorts of little creatures who need underbrush. So there’s a question of is it a good idea in any case to manage for larger number of deer?

JS: Yeah. And that has been some of the criticism that these ideal numbers, say just specifically in Colorado, that they’re trying to reach, that it’s sort of arbitrary and not necessarily based on the optimum health of of the ecosystem, but it’s coming more from the idea that we need to provide more deer for hunters to be able to hunt. And then again, you trace the funding of agencies, state agencies like CPW and other wildlife agencies across the US, and they do get a large percentage of their funding from people buying hunting licenses.

Now to spin this a little bit, hunters could actually be playing a useful role in terms of checking, testing the deer that they kill for chronic wasting disease. So they could be, in a sense, a barometer for the spread. However, not many hunters are testing their meat. There have actually been studies about trying to figure out why not. So here’s a way in which they could be assisting, and it’s just smart because even some federal Canadian agency said that you should always test your deer because you could potentially have the spread to humans. It hasn’t happened yet, but anyway. It makes perfect sense if you are hunting and consuming cervid flesh you should be testing it. But most of them are not testing it. So that’s a real potential opportunity. Think whatever you want about whether the hunting is benefiting the ecosystem. A lot of studies show it’s not necessarily doing that. But they could at least give us an indication of the amount of spread that’s out there. But they’re not doing that very much. It’s disconcerting because it also means that a lot of people are eating potentially contaminated meat and that’s not a great thing. And of course we know when hunters are out there hunting, they’re also hunting for the biggest animals, not necessarily the sickest, and it’s the mountain lions that will be culling for that.

DJ: So you would think, from the perspective of making sure you’re getting clean meat, that as a hunter, you would want to have large numbers of mountain lions so they can be eating the ones with chronic wasting disease simply to make it so you don’t. Even on that level, it seems it would be a good thing for the hunters.

JS: Yeah, in theory. But I think in their minds they see the lions as competition, which is kind of true, but is it to that extent where they wouldn’t have enough deer to shoot? I don’t know if that’s really valid. I did get a peek into the minds of folks that – I personally am not a hunter. I don’t eat deer. But back in Oregon I attended some of these meetings where ranchers would be concerned about wolves. This was during a time when wolves were starting to come back into Oregon. They didn’t reintroduce them, but they came in I believe from the wolf packs introduced into Idaho. So they crossed over and a lot of the ranchers were very concerned, and kind of ridiculously so, comparing the wolves to child molesters. That’s literally what one of them said, that they needed to build ten foot high fences to protect the children. Things that weren’t really valid, and, you know, concerned about their livelihood. Wolves kill some of their cattle, but a very small percentage, and they’re usually compensated, all that stuff. But it did give me a glimpse into their mindset. So I don’t think this is really about science, rationality, ecology. It’s folks who are living in rural areas, who feel as if they’re having laws forced upon them by people in the big city. So basically even to do with anything on Colorado, it’s like people living up in the mountains; “Oh, people in Denver are going to tell me what to do?” Or in Oregon; “Oh, I’ve lived out here in the countryside and then the people in the big cities or in Portland are making all these decisions, or in Salem are making all these decisions for us.” So I don’t know how useful that is, other than just understanding the mindset of, I think, the threat that a lot of these folks feel. So anyone that’s suggesting that there be more mountain lions; you’re a hunter who lives in rural areas, you feel like it’s the big city bureaucrats who are forcing this decision upon you. So I really think ultimately this is a cultural conflict.

DJ: Yeah, I agree. My entire adult life I’ve lived in the rural West and for the most part, it’s some of the most nature-hating people I’ve ever encountered in my life. It’s interesting, because I was taught to hunt by a couple of really good hunters who also were very nature-oriented. And it was great. And so that was my – and I didn’t learn as a kid. I learned this in my early 30’s, and so at that point my perception of hunters was that they were wonderful human beings who were going out to get some food. And then after that I encountered – I learned how rare the people who taught me were, and encountered what are known as “slob hunters” or – I would be out hunting and there would be people wandering around drinking, and that’s just a terrible idea. And a lot of the nature-hating that you’re talking about. Basically people would just shoot at anything that moves.

JS: I think there are definitely examples of both. I think there are folks out there who are genuinely concerned about the ecology, that are just taking enough to eat, but then I think there are a large percentage of folks that, yeah, they don’t give a shit. They’re just out there to kill stuff. I do think this also factors in. They’re the monsters of yesteryears, so that bears and the big cats, everything like that – you trace our origins back to early humankind, and those were the bad guys. Those were the literal monsters and kind of the reason we evolved to be afraid of the dark, because there were big cats out there. And they even think that there were certain species that evolved specifically to prey on humans. They found these skulls in these kind of lion dens that have the puncture marks. So these animals did definitely used to kill humans, and they still, you know tigers and lions kill humans across the world. There is an occasional person who is killed by a mountain lion, although that’s super rare. So I think, still, that instinctual fear is a part of the hatred towards these animals, and then kind of indifference by a lot of other people. They’re like “Yeah, well, they’re kind of monsters and they’re scary.”

But I tell you what. I walk around in the forest all the time. I did one time come across a mountain lion. The whole thing about mountain lions is you rarely see them but they often see you. So if you think about the number of times you’ve been in the proximity of them, and they’re probably looking at you, and the number of people who are actually affected by them, or attacked or anything like that; you’re way more likely to be attacked by your neighbor’s dog. So if you’re not afraid of petting a golden retriever on the street, you shouldn’t be afraid of mountain lions.

DJ: And frankly, given rates of murder, you’re probably also way more likely to be killed by your neighbor.

JS: Way, way, way way more likely.

DJ: Or by your neighbor’s car, for that matter.

JS: That is very true. But I think it’s important just to understand all these layers, because you lay out the numbers, and here’s the science, and this is what makes sense. But these decisions are not rationally made by people I think a lot of the time. There is that innate fear of the beast.

DJ: Yeah, which is certainly magnified by our culture.

So we have about seven to ten minutes left. So I’m going to ask you the first wind-down question, but it’ll be a slow curve here. If you were put in charge of – oh, first off, you’ve been talking about Colorado. Can you talk a little bit, before we start winding down, can you talk a little bit about chronic wasting disease nationally? And you said internationally. Is it prevalent – you know we’re saying 50%, however many percent in Colorado. Is that true, probably, in Wyoming, Montana, Maine, all over? Or is it worse in Colorado?

JS: Right. So I don’t have all the data on that. I specifically looked into the Colorado stuff because it’s kind of hard to get good numbers for that. A lot of western states do have the chronic wasting disease issue. I do know that there was a situation in New York as well, but they were able to contain that to a certain degree. They put a lot of effort into basically, I don’t know if it was quarantining or what. I’m going to be looking more into that. But there are articles out there that discuss that. New York has been somewhat successful in dealing with that. But it is primarily in the western U.S. and I don’t have off the top of my head how many states, but I do believe it’s many of them. So if you are living out where there are mule deer, for sure, and back east it’s the white-tailed deer; it’s probably either there or soon to be coming there.

DJ: Next: so if tomorrow you wake up and you find out that Donald Trump has appointed you to be the czar of chronic wasting disease, what approach would you take to habitat management, wildlife management – I think you and I both don’t really like the word “management” but we’re going to use it now. What approach would you take to most benefit the natural world regarding this disease?

JS: I think it’s pretty basic. I don’t think there’s really any counterargument that can be made. However, it’s almost never advanced because it’s extremely controversial. But preservation of a landscape and not allowing any forms of extraction in terms of logging, mining, drilling, etc., is pretty much the only thing that has proven to enhance the ecology of an area. There’s a lot of hyperbole, I guess, about destruction of landscapes and whatnot. There are arguments to be made that a landscape isn’t necessarily destroyed entirely if you remove trees from it. But I do think the most accurate term in pretty much 100% of cases of human encroachment in any way is “degradation.” So landscapes undoubtedly get degraded as soon as there is a human influence. And since we’ve already commandeered the vast majority of the land in the U.S. for, you know, human development, housing development, or agriculture, etc., and we have a very small percentage left of public lands where there are somewhat, I wouldn’t use the word “intact” ecosystems, but mostly functioning ecosystems. If you listen to scientists such as E.O. Wilson, who is advocating for protecting 50% of the planet, like a half-earth concept. If my task was to do something to fix this problem, the only genuine solution would be creating, if you want to call it wilderness – landscapes in which you cannot extract, in which you cannot degrade the ecology.

DJ: I would not disagree with that. So let’s just flesh this out for a moment. So if you were able to set vast areas aside from oil and gas and mining, logging, etc., would you make them – would the restrictions be pretty much the same as what you would consider wilderness areas in the United States? Where you can – people can backpack, they can hike, they can do things like that, but mechanized vehicles, etc., are disallowed.

JS: I mean of course there are varying levels of impact on a landscape. I mean, if you think about an area where you would never allow a human to even set foot in it, and there are some areas where they do that at least seasonally, for nesting of birds. There’s an area not far from me outside of Denver where I believe they set it off for several months because of bears raising their cubs, something to do with that. So there can be an argument made for that. However I do think people walking through a landscape vs. going in there and clearcutting the forest and bringing in skitters and stuff like that, that’s a huge difference. I don’t think that a human walking through an area on a backpacking trip is necessarily causing chronic wasting disease or anything like that. So even in my fantasies of being an eco-dictator, I don’t know if that would necessarily be part of the proposal. But I do think that industrial extraction has been tied to these issues, and of course the discussion is how much we want to balance human needs against natural needs. But if the goal is specifically to protect the ecology, if that was my task, not to balance anything between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom and ecosystems, I would have to say yeah, make the areas wilderness areas. You can walk through there if you want to, but you can’t stay.

DJ: That sounds great. We have like one or two minutes left. Do you have anything else you want to say about chronic wasting disease or mountain lions that I haven’t given you the chance to?

JS: I just think that chronic wasting disease is a symptom. I think we have to look at just the way humans affect the landscapes in all that we do. And it may be that we continue to move forward with certain practices. Maybe we do continue to drill. Maybe we do continue to log in public lands. It’s likely that we will. But the most important thing, this is what I always say; let’s just honestly assess what our impact is. So if you’re out there and you want to hunt, and it reduces the population of certain deer, etc., etc., fine. But we have to be truthful with ourselves about how these activities are causing a degradation, these are not. Maybe we’ll choose something that’s somewhere in the middle, but if we don’t even have an honest assessment of what we’re doing, then we’re going to have no idea how to move forward.

DJ: Well thank you for that. And thank you for all your work, and I would like to thank listeners for listening. My guest today has been Josh Schlossberg. This is Derrick Jensen for Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network.

Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen
No Responses — Written on August 12th — Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen

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