I love the story of the American west. Not so much how Europeans populated it, but how the ecology changed after European contact. The places we consider to be “refuges” for wildlife now, were once throbbing with unheard of numbers of deer, pronghorn, elk, and most notably, the American Bison.
Once the Bison became a commodity, it’s like the entire map changed. Populations of indigenous people had to adapt to modernized supply and demand. Evil began to propagate in a way that was unbearable as tens of thousands of bison would be slaughtered to clear the way for railway lines and to force the tribes of the west from the new settlements of oncoming homesteaders. All, of course, in the name of “progress”.
Then there is a moment of hope for this animal. William Temple Hornaday, a taxidermist, went west in 1886 to collect Bison specimens as it was widely believed that the bison populations would soon vanish. He became the spokesperson for conservation of the Bison, and was key in efforts to stop the slaughter and preserve the species.
Whether you are talking about the preservation of the North American Bison, repopulation of the Whitetail Deer, Rocky Mountain Elk, Eastern Wild Turkey, or fish species in the Great Lakes, there is a variable that often isn’t discussed. Human Resources deplete. Human beings die. Hornaday knew that his efforts would be severely limited by the fact that he wouldn’t last forever. In a letter to his successor at the national museum he wrote,
“My Illustrious Successor, Dear Sir:
Enclosed please find a brief and truthful account of the capture of the specimens which compose this group. The Old Bull, the young cow and the yearling calf were killed by yours truly. When I am dust and ashes I beg you to protect these specimens from deterioration and destruction….”
W.T. Hornaday, Chief Taxidermist
Once a pioneer of conservation is gone, someone must pick up the baton. What’s the ultimate weakness in this? Time keeps ticking. If no one picks up the baton, something still has to sustain the species. Food still has to exist, water still has to flow. Animals must continue to re-populate. Do human beings believe they have total control of all of this? Conversely, do we truly believe that all of this is simply chance and evolutionary process?
No matter what side of the fence you stand on, we have to agree that once a link in the natural chain of process is broken, we become extremely limited in our ability to help preserve these creatures. We are fully dependent on God’s design and timing. As a Christian, it would be inconsistent for me to believe that an animal like the American Bison remains today solely because of the conservation work of human involvement. While God gave Adam dominion over the resources of the earth, the sustaining of those resources is still in the hands of God himself.
We may be able to raise a fawn to it’s maximum potential as a trophy whitetail specimen by working tirelessly to control it’s environment. We may be able to implement laws and agencies that control population growth or decline, but at the end of the day, something as small as a tiny parasite or fly can wipe out an entire herd. Something as enormous as a sustained drought can all but eliminate food sources to the point of starvation.
King David gives us a stirring affirmation of God’s authority over all creation in Psalm 29. (Emphasis Added)
 Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.  Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.  The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over many waters.  The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.  The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.  He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.  The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.  The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.  The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare, and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”  The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.  May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace! (ESV)
God’s authority reaches throughout all creation. He plans out its purposes, creates it, sustains it, and determines it’s end. For us, that means that yes, we should give every effort we can to conserving and preserving these beautiful resources. Yes, we should do this to our greatest extend world-wide. And yes, we should always realize that what is beyond our control is completely inside of God’s control. We would do well to remember the message of the Proverb, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” He is the one who will ultimately sustain our efforts should it be his will.