Beefalo are causing problems in the Grand Canyon


I know just the guy to handle that job.


Isn’t this just evolution in action? A new species enters a location and starts to impact species that were there before. This can create interesting dynamics (predator/prey cycles) or even drive some species to extinction.

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They sound delicious


In the sense that all environmental impacts caused by humans are “evolution in action.” But it’s certainly not what would normally be called natural selection, especially since we’ve all but eliminated the predators who would otherwise be feeding on these herds.


Except this isn’t a natural species. Its a man made hybrid that’s (presumably) escaped. So its effectively an invasive species. One that isn’t optimized to live in the wild, but (again presumably) for feed and water levels necessary for commercial meat production. So yeah to the extent that any invasive species is an example of a evolutionary pressures cause by a novel species exploiting a new environment or new niche, this is an example of the same.

But then there’s this:

Based on the stated amount of hybridization (10%) the herd in question doesn’t qualify as “beefalo”. Most bison herds have some hybridization with cattle, and don’t show any real behavioral or morphological differences from “pure” bison (a quick search shows that the 10+ gallons of water a day number is identical to numbers for any bison). So I’m willing to bet this is more an issue of bison turning up where they haven’t been in a long time. Or an environment that isn’t really all that optimized for them winding up with a herd somehow. Just relocating them should solve the problem.

You see a lot of hand wringing like this in certain conservation circles. Its not a “real” bison, or wolf, or wild bore or what ever because there’s some hybridization there. Even though there’s no practical difference, hybridization happens naturally and often predates our deliberate manipulation, and can be an important source of genetic diversity after a big genetic bottleneck.

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Hey, look! It’s one of those long-lost predators who would naturally be keeping this species in chec—never mind we just shot it.


We actually don’t know that. Buffalo and cows can and will naturally breed. In fact, most wild buffalo herds in the US have some cow in them. There are very few “pure” buffalo left.

These seem like pretty arbitrary and capricious qualifications. Natural? Man made? Humans are part of nature, so a “man made hybrid” is natural. Invasive? Doesn’t that simply mean “new to the area?” That can happen in a variety of ways, from rivers drying up to birds carrying insects to an island. I have a hard time seeing this as something so far from nature that it needs to be treated as something non-natural, and outside the realm of evolution.

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Which is what I get at a few lines down from what you quote. There’s an element of the conservation movement that regards any amount of hybridization as making those populations invalid for reasons I’ve never been ever quite figure out. It tends to be the same element that favors absolute protectionist models, like always preventing every forest fire and avoiding any kind of active land management that isn’t about preserving things exactly as they currently are. We’ve got an increasing amount of evidence that this is actually bad for conservation areas.

It weirdly leads into stuff like this: where by people attempt to back breed extinct (or functionally extinct) animals from domestic stock and re-introduce them. Which is totally at odds with the “it has to be always the same for ever and totally untouched by man” mentality that the idea seems to come from.

Unless you go by the actual dictionary definition of nature, which is generally something like:


  1. the phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations.
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As do I. Which I noted in my original response to you. I don’t think the article passes the smell test. This herd doesn’t seem to be materially different than any other bison herd out there. And from what I can tell bison and buffalo have at the very least been raised there by humans for quite a long time. I think this is more another example of where our land management strategies have gone weird on us. Otherwise you’re largely playing semantics.

Beyond that I think you’re making the mistake of thinking evolution and ecology always move in a direction of more biodiversity, complexity, or always progress in a “good” direction. Introduction of a new species, especially the sort of instant way in which human driven introductions tend to operate, can have huge negative impacts on those species and the environments around them. Especially in the short term. You see big drops in biodiversity, and environmental changes that can leave an area effectively barren. Assuming that a long enough time line will make everything good again, that species will adapt and environments shift to their benefit just because evolution and nature is fundamentally incorrect. These things are neutral. On a long enough time line they all might just die out, the bison the plants, the rivers and ponds might go away. Or they might not. Its a crap shoot.

So the basic thing would be we have an active interest in maintaining those environments and species that we rely on to survive, or even just simply enjoy for any given reason. Invasive or re-introduced species make that harder, particularly in the short term.

Your hand waving over “what does natural even me, we’re nature, so its all nature” is certainly valid in the broadest, longest term, big picture sort of way. But in the practical world its basically just justification for anything we’d like to do. It’s totally natural to dump all this toxic shit right over there! Or to completely eradicate keystone species! Or light off nukes cause we like the way they look! In the long run the world, and life, will likely make it out OK. But at the very least we’ll fuck up our own vacations, make food harder to get, and generally have a worse time of it as a species. Worst case we drive ourselves into extinction. None of which is very much in our interest.

That doesn’t look like my dictionary, the OED.

Yours has “definitions”?

How quaint.

We haven’t had a good knock-down nuckle-dragging dictionary-definition flame war in several months. This ought to be good.

For certain, limited definitions of the term “good”.



Sounds like a hybrid between a buffalo and a bee.


Used to work on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Two legged varmints much more of a problem on that side - various grifters trying to make it into Disneyland, aka a theme park rather than a national park.

Surprised National Park Service isn’t culling these problem creatures, either themselves or with hired guns, literally. No reason to let these critters destroy an area that’s already short on water, vegetation and erosion control, none. If there was a population explosion of mule deer - a native species - corrective measures would take place and we’d likely not even hear about it.

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This definition is the product of an outdated world view placing humans above and outside of nature. The same worldview that has precipitated and willfully ignored climate change as a result of human activity, among other things.

If the definition of “nature” is expanded to include humanity and all of humanity’s endeavors—including endeavors which have profound impacts on the wider environment—then “nature” becomes a meaningless term.

Agriculture? Part of nature!
Industrial pollution? Part of nature!
Nuclear war? Part of nature!
Cyborg uprising? All natural, baby.