The Greater Yellowstone Saw Crew spent the last week slashing aggressive Juniper to restore land just outside the Bighorns.
Rocky Mountain Juniper is native to this region, but after centuries of colonial overgrazing, its companion species have been wiped out and it took over the area. Its aggressive thirst makes it difficult to bring back its deciduous neighbors, which used to feed megafauna like bison, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep. The ghosts of these large mammals seem to haunt the landscape, now only home to elk and invasive cows.
This is complicated by the fact that, a modern day Hydra, the Juniper grows new heads wherever we cut off old ones. Within days there are new sprouts. A year later, there are new branches, and the tree is more or less reborn. Killing one requires patience, luck, and aggressive tenacity.
It feels odd to cut down hundreds of native trees, but they have become selfish over the years. Each one takes just more than its fair share of resources, and the result is an ecosystem in trouble. It reminds me of us. Humans lived as companion species to these trees for thousands of years, keeping the ecosystem in check with controlled burns. Then colonists arrived, and each individual took just more than their fair share. The result was ecosystem collapse. We’re not so different from the Juniper.
Land restoration is about renewing relationships with the multispecies world. If Juniper can relearn their place, I believe humans can too. It’ll take time, but eventually we can bring back the beauty of functioning, complexly intertwined ecosystems. We can relearn our place as a keystone species, and remember that relationships are not just interhuman; we are only one member of a beautiful community of life on this planet.