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The Unintended Consequences of Actions that aren't Thought Through

Quite often, people have acted in an effort to correct some perceived problems without truly thinking about what the possible or probable consequences of those actions would be. As a result, there have been many negative and unintended consequences of the actions. 

Often, those consequences are to the detriment of nature. For example, yesterday I wrote about how the European beaver was nearly driven to extinction because of a huge demand for castorium. Obviously, the issue wasn’t due to people wanting to wipe out the beavers, that was merely the end result because it hadn’t been thought through. There are many other examples and I’ll just name a couple.

Bison

During the period of colonial expansion in the US, one problem people had was with the Native American tribes. Several methods were tried to control the ‘Indians’, from putting them on unwanted plots of land, to outright killing them. Naturally, the first nations fought back.

Then someone got a brilliant idea (I’m being sarcastic), based partly on observation. Many tribes, including some of those that were considered the most troublesome, relied heavily on American bison, incorrectly called buffalo. The bison provided meat, leather for clothing and footwear and shelters, blankets, and so many other necessities. Without thinking it through, it was determined that the first nations could be controlled by killing off the bison. The great slaughter began. Millions of animals were killed and simply left to rot. It didn’t control the first nations, but it did nearly cause the extinction of the bison. Many people today would see that as the logical conclusion of the wholesale slaughter. Except for where they are actively farmed for the meat, Bison now only exist in isolated pockets, such as the National Bison Range in Montana.

Wolves

People feared wolves and wolves were killed practically everywhere they were seen. Wolves are major predators of deer and one of the immediate consequences of killing off the wolves was an explosion in the deer population. It wasn’t long before the deer were competing with cattle and sheep and eating crops that were grown for people. Wolf populations dropped tremendously. 

Compounding one error with another, biologists were alarmed to find that the wolves in Yellowstone National Park were dwindling in number. This was one of the few bastions left for the wolf (and bison). By then, efforts were already underway to reintroduce the wolf throughout its previous range. Without much thought, it was decided that they would simply boost the number of wolves in Yellowstone by importing some Canadian wolves. This decision was made with minimal thought. The problem is that the native wolves were a small subspecies about the size of a German Shepherd. Canadian wolves are much larger. As a result of the actions taken, the last sighting of a native wolf in Yellowstone was in the 1990s and that subspecies is now likely extinct, killed and eaten by the larger subspecies of wolf. 

What’s more, the reintroduction of wolves through the former range has had minimal impact in controlling the deer population. By the time reintroduction was started, there were already so many deer that the population was increasing too fast for the wolves to control.

I could give many more examples, but the point is that actions are often taken with very little thought in regard to the consequences. Most often, that results in either additional problems, or it makes the situation worse, without coming close to solving the original problem.

  • Do you think that in both of these mentioned situations, more thought should have been given before action was taken?

    • Yes
    • No
    • I can understand why they did what they did

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What do you think?

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Written by Rex Trulove

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12 Comments

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  1. Probably, people thought it was a good idea at the time, and the simple pleasure of the idea working and solving their problem quickly, stopped them from thinking long term about other possible unwanted results.

    People also placate other people, and solutions are thrown at problems to make them go away, more than to properly solve them.

    There have been many such disasters here, with introduced species here in Australia too.

    Farmers were once paid a bounty (by the Government) to shoot and kill off the Tasmanian tiger, which was killing off a few of the farmer’s sheep. Now, they are extinct.

    • The tiger that is, not the sheep, nor the farmer, as yet either.

      Although, with the short-sighted approach to solving the water shortage problems here in Australia, the farmers are all giving up now too.

      They (the Government) leave (ignore) a problem existing for many years, then at the last moment, when it is already too late, they throw some money into the fires, and they just cause a bigger blaze to occur.

    • Many species will become extinct without any help from humans and that has been happening for a long time. It is a shame when people meddle and make the situation worse, even though they might think that they are doing something good at the time.

  2. This is a worldwide problem. One of our native British species is the red squirrel – it is actually a European species, and a saw some of them during my recent trip to Germany. However, somebody had the bright idea that the American grey squirrel would look good alongside the red ones. Big mistake! In the competiton for food, the greys far oustripped the reds, which are now found in only a very limited number of locations in England and Wales – there are more to be seen in Highland Scotland.

    In other words,. introductions need to be made with great care, as do efforts to control certain species.

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