One of my favorite writers and noted American naturalist Aldo Leopold is, perhaps, the first to describe what is now known as a “trophic cascade”. Leopold observed over-grazed mountain slopes and connected this with the extermination of wolves.
How trophic cascades work, and how they can be restored is explained in this video about the far-reaching effects of the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone;
Scouting provides young people the opportunity to understand how our own lives are woven into the fascinatingly complex web of life. This understanding has its own cascading effect. How we are connected to the web of life informs how we exercise our rights and obligations as citizens, how our actions affect these connections, and our solemn responsibility to act with integrity to protect and preserve our connections to the natural world.
In 1995 wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park.
Wolves prey on elk, elk feed on aspen trees.
When there were fewer elk there were more aspens.
More aspens mean more beavers who feed on and build with aspens.
More beavers mean more beaver dams, and beaver dams change the course of rivers.
More aspens also stabilize river banks, and this also changes the course of rivers.
It’s amazing, but true; re-introducing wolves to Yellowstone nearly twenty years ago changed the course of rivers.
Scientists call the natural system I’ve just described a “trophic cascade”. “Trophic” refers to the food chain, and “cascade” describes how top-level predators (like wolves) effect other species down the food chain and the very environment they all share.
Every Scout has the chance to go camping and see the great cycles of nature like trophic cascades up close (well, hopefully when it comes to top-level predators, not too close!). We can learn a lot about ourselves from observing the natural world.
The trophic cascades wolves caused in Yellowstone makes me pause to think for a moment about the cascading affect of what we say and what we do every day.
It’s all there in the Scout law isn’t it? When we are trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent our own happiness cascades to those around us. Our actions and decisions effect our environment, they create opportunity, they influence others.
Wolves occupy a specific role in nature, they don’t make many rational choices; but we make lots of choices every day. What we choose to say and how we choose to act can have negative or positive cascading effects.
When you make a choice choose to follow the Scout oath and law, and the cascade that follows will always have a positive influence on those around you.