On nature and human nature

We’re tied to the natural world — despite our efforts to the contrary.

 

In late April, California authorities arrested a 51-year-old man in connection with what may turn out to be the biggest bee heist in the state’s history. The suspect could face federal charges for allegedly rustling hundreds of hives, causing losses up to $1 million. Investigators had been tracking the thefts across six California counties since January. Finally, they uncovered a nursery in Fresno County that they described as a “chop shop for bee hives.”

One victim of the heist, a Montana apiarist named Lloyd Cunniff, lost 488 hives, worth $400,000 — enough bees to pollinate 244 acres of almonds. Cunniff told the LA Times in January that the bee thieves would have needed a forklift and two-ton truck to make off with as much as they did. “This isn’t some fly-by-night guy who decided to steal some bees,” he said. In early May, following the arrest, Cunniff recovered about two-thirds of his equipment, including rescued bee survivors, who were quarantined and fed antibiotics as they recovered from their ordeal.

All’s well that ends well, but not all crimes are so neatly solved. Agriculture is big business, and where there’s money, there’s mischief. Agricultural crimes cost the U.S. billions of dollars a year and result in higher costs for consumers and lower profits for farmers and ranchers. Crimes range from the theft of bees (or the almonds they pollinate) to corporate seed espionage, and from stealing alfalfa to good old-fashioned cattle rustling. Humans aren’t the only thieves in nature, of course: The scorpion fly pilfers from spider webs to give fly corpses to potential mates; gulls are called the “pirates of the seashore”; and raccoons, well, they come already wearing masks.

Editor-in-Chief Brian Calvert
Brooke Warren

In this issue, we delve into some of the strange intersections between humans and animals. Associate Editor Tay Wiles introduces us to members of Nevada’s Agriculture Enforcement Unit, who ride the range investigating a spate of mysterious cattle injuries. Wiles helps us understand the ties ranchers have to their livestock and the lengths Westerners will go to in order to protect our animals. It’s not just domesticated ungulates, though. For our cover story, writer Julia Rosen takes us into the paradoxical world of bighorn sheep conservation. In California’s Sierra Nevada, a sophisticated program has helped rare bighorn recover. But it has also pitted conservationists against each other, since sheep success sometimes comes at a cost for mountain lions.

From bee stings to bovine mysteries, such tales remind us how closely we are tied to the natural world, despite our efforts to the contrary. And, as is often the case, the more we learn about nature, the more we learn about human nature. The web of life is a mingled yarn, indeed.