Evolutionary biologist turned film producer Nate Dappen describes “Human Footprint,” an upcoming 6-part documentary, as a profound exploration of how humans shape the planet and what it reveals about our collective identity. As the documentary delves into human impact, it raises questions about the role of waterfowl hunting in today’s world and how the experience of duck hunting may influence non-hunting viewers. These intriguing topics were intimately explored while filming the “Top Predator” episode during a duck hunt. It’s a reminder that regardless of our personal involvement in hunting, humanity undeniably leaves a significant mark on the natural world. Prepare yourself for an exceptionally thought-provoking podcast episode. And don’t forget to mark your calendars for this documentary series; you won’t want to miss it.

HUMAN FOOTPRINT, a new six-part PBS science documentary, premieres Wednesdays, July 5 – August 9, at 9 p.m. ET.

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Based on a Relationship with Nature

Your dad was a fisherman. Did that experience put you on a path as an evolutionary geneticist?

Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere. Man, have I got a podcast for you all today. A topic, a great topic and it started like this. It started with a phone call that introduced me to a PBS documentary crew in Maryland at Eastern Waterfowl Festival. And it just flew off all over me. I got to spend a morning in the duck blind with some very interesting people. And the conversations we had were complex. It wasn’t just your normal duck blind conversation that morning. Heck, no. Listen up, folks, joining me this morning is Mr. Nate Dappen, all the way from San Diego, California. Nate, how the heck are you, man?

Nate Dappen: I’m doing great, Ramsey, great to talk to you again, man.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I really enjoyed meeting you all and learning a lot about you all’s documentary, about your series, and about your project. Nate, introduce yourself real quick. Who are you? Where are you from? What’s you about?

Nate Dappen: Man, my name is Nate. Yeah, my background is in science. I studied biology. I went through, got a PhD in Evolution Genetics. And then about twelve years ago, I transitioned out of academia and I started making films mostly about wildlife, about science, about conservation and about history and culture, sort of around those issues. So, I’ve been doing that pretty much nonstop for the last twelve years. And it’s brought me to a lot of interesting places and introduced me to a lot of really interesting people like you Ramsey.

Ramsey Russell: Did you grow up in San Diego, out in California?

Nate Dappen: No, I kind of grew up all over. I was born in California and then I spent about 6-7 years in Nairobi, Kenya. My mom’s an agricultural economist. Brought us out to East Africa and then came back to the states. But I feel like I shaped my identity in Virginia, which is where I went to part of elementary school, middle school and high school. And so, I feel in my sort of heart like I’m a Virginian, although I always have to defend myself to Virginians because I’m from northern Virginia and I always have to defend my Virginians to the southern Virginians.

Ramsey Russell: It’s a big difference around the Roanoke River between the north and the south. Tell me this, what was your relationship with nature, with the outdoors, with hunting and fishing or anything outdoors growing up?

Nate Dappen: Yeah. Well, I spent my whole life fishing. I was never a hunter but my dad was a very serious outdoorsman. Him and his brother spent their whole life traveling the world, having outdoor experiences. And I always feel bad. My mom’s kind of like a fishing widow. She’s just always sitting there waiting for my dad to come home from fishing and he passed on those traditions to my brother and I. So, I spent a lot of my life fishing in the outdoors. And hunting always sort of felt like a different beast growing up. It was something I was interested in. I’ve done it now as an adult a number of times, but it’s certainly not a part of my lifestyle and wasn’t growing up. But fishing very much is. My dad’s actually coming to San Diego on Friday and we have a lot of fishing plans.

Ramsey Russell: Do you identify as a hunter? You’ve done it, but do you identify with that.

Nate Dappen: I think I do. I don’t want to call myself a hunter. I don’t do it like you do and I don’t do it like other folks do. But I think my perspective on it is that everybody is. Everybody is and they do it in their own ways. But we try to create an identity around ourselves that either says we are or we’re not. And it’s mostly just sort of identity. No, I would say I don’t consider myself a hunter, although my buddy Rick, who you met, him and I are actually going to go. We’re going to go hunting for the first time together this fall.

Ramsey Russell: Fantastic. So, do you think your mom was an agricultural agronomist? Parts of Africa, Virginia around. Your dad was a fisherman. Did that experience put you on a path as an evolutionary geneticist?

Nate Dappen: Yeah, evolutionary biologist, I would say. There is no untying the foundation that our parents lay for us, whatever that is. I think it was a convoluted path for me to get to where I was. But absolutely my father is a physician and a serious outdoorsman. My mom’s an agricultural economist working at the intersection of agriculture and conservation and the improvement of rural livelihoods, folks who make a living work in the land. And I think all those things sort of combined to forge the interests that now are at the center of my life and were as a biologist as well. Certainly, my love for wildlife and the outdoors happened real young and it was thanks to my folks.

Ramsey Russell: I think that’s why I’ve always said this. People love what they know and they know what they touch. And I think of children that way. You know what I’m saying? How do you connect with something if you don’t know it? How do you know it if you don’t touch it and pick it up? You know what I’m saying? That’s why I’m asking these questions. Well, how in the heck did you go from something like an evolutionary biologist to a film producer? That’s the date I know is the film producer. How did you make a jump like that?

Nate Dappen: Well, growing up, I was always into the arts as well. My dad gave me his film camera when I was in high school and I was real big into outdoor adventure at the time. And I took that camera with me on all sorts of adventures and so when I went to college, I double majored in biology and art. I thought I was going to be a physician too. I wanted to be like my dad. So I double majored and I was premed. And so, I got really into photography and then capturing images of these trips that I went on capturing images of people, of wildlife, of landscapes, sort of set the- I became interested in the craft. And then as I transitioned into graduate school, I was in a situation where I had no money. So I started working professionally on the side as a photographer. And this was right around the time that film cameras, sort of digital cameras, started shooting high quality video. And so, all of a sudden, I had this tool that I knew how to use real well. And I started making some terrible short films with my now business partner, Neil Losin. And I’m begging your listeners not to go look at the early films because they’re real bad. But that started snowballing. The rest is history. As we started getting close to the end of our PhDs. He also has his PhD in biology. Very similar topics that he studied. We both kind of asked each other like, hey, this is a lot of fun. Seems really interesting. We’re not bad at it. Let’s just do it. And so, when we finished our degrees, we both sort of left together and started this business. I think a lots changed since then, but pretty much at its core, it’s still just us out there with cameras and telling interesting stories about interesting people.

How Humans Transform the Planet

It’s about looking at what we actually do in the world and what it tells us about who we are as a species. And the interesting thing about people is we change the environment, but we are also shaped by the environment. 

Ramsey Russell: Well, Nate, tell me about the Human Footprint. What is the Human Footprint?

Nate Dappen: So, for the last couple of years, we’ve been working on a 6 hour television series, a primetime television series that will air this summer on PBS, National PBS, every Wednesday night at 8:00 p.m. starting July 5. It’s a series called Human Footprint and it’s about how humans transform the planet. So, if you look at the globe and it’s pretty affected by us. But it’s not like a doom and gloom conservation story. It’s a story about how we kind of can’t help ourselves but build these cities and grow these plants and hunt animals and make clothing, and we do all these things. And I think the best way to define who we are isn’t by some philosophy. It’s about looking at what we actually do in the world and what it tells us about who we are as a species. And the interesting thing about people is we change the environment, but we are also shaped by the environment. So, we arrive in a place and we say, we don’t like it this way, let’s change it. And then we change it. And then once it changes, it changes us and that feeds into our culture and then that makes us change it even more indifferently. And it’s this constant feedback that happens over and over again and it’s continuous. And I think it’s really interesting because a lot of the elements that we think of as our identity are just shaped by how we change the environment and then how the environment shapes us. And so that’s kind of what the show is about. The show is hosted by really talented biologists from Princeton, a guy named Shane Campbell Staton, who you got to meet, Ramsey.

Ramsey Russell: Oh, amazing. Super guy.

Nate Dappen: Yeah, super guy. And it’s kind of about his perspective on this topic. So, Shane is an evolutionary biologist who studies how humans are a force of evolution in nature. So how humans are causing animals to evolve, animals and plants to evolve. And he’s the host of our tv show. But unlike a lot of hosts, who I think maybe they’re not really the real deal. They’re just a personality. Like Shane, he is a top notch, absolute legit scientist, publishing in the top scientific journals, winning all the awards for his work. He’s really a brilliant. He’s a brilliant scientist and a phenomenal host.

Ramsey Russell: He had said, because I pinned him up, once he started telling me about some of his research, I’m like, Shane, I got to get you on his podcast. Some of the research he’s done over in Africa, he has already demonstrated that because of poaching, primarily elephants are beginning to evolve, try to evolve without tusk because it make them a target. That is unbelievable.

Nate Dappen: Absolutely and I think when folks hear that, they’re like, no way. Because elephants are one of the longest living land organisms, certainly the largest land mammal on the planet. And it’s hard to believe that an animal that lives as long as elephants could evolve so rapidly. But poaching has been such a strong, selective force in nature that if you’ve got tusks, people kill you. And the only ones that are left out there are a few. In certain places where poaching is high are a few elephants that have a few mutations that don’t let them grow tusks. And now they’re the ones that are having babies and passing on those genes to their offspring.

Ramsey Russell: Man, that’s interesting stuff again. And it goes right to the heart of the human footprint.

Nate Dappen: That’s right.

Ramsey Russell: How we impact that and it impacts us. That’s crazy. How did you come up with this idea? How did you come up with this idea about the Human Footprint and a 6 part series? How did you come up with this?

Humanity’s Influence on Nature

We’ve done all sorts of things that now plants and animals, they’re evolving to live in a world that is dominated by us. 

Nate Dappen: Well, it’s a long story. Neil and I both, as evolutionary biologists, a lot of the stories that are sort of in the front of our mind are stories about evolution. And one of the things that’s become really clear. I think, because humans, we like to think of ourselves as separate from nature. We like to think that we’re different, we’re outside of it, that biological process happens in a bubble. And one of the things that’s becoming very clear is because we transform so much of the globe, because we have such a big impact on the environments where we live, we have become this incredibly potent pressure on wildlife and on plants. We’ve changed the chemistry of the oceans. We’ve changed the chemistry of the rivers. We have removed forests and replaced them with crops. We’ve done all sorts of things that now plants and animals, they’re evolving to live in a world that is dominated by us. And so, a lot of the research on this wasn’t really thought of in this way up until maybe about 20 years ago. And then papers started coming out that were looking at these long term patterns of things like pesticide resistance or antibiotic resistance or various bio controls and how bio controls cause evolution in some of the things they’re trying to control. And all of a sudden, researchers started finding out, like wait a minute, humans are causing evolution all over the globe? And so, Neil and I came up with a bunch of topics and we originally pitched know created this idea. And at the same time, Shane was studying this as a scientist and we ran into each other. And he had a few ideas, we had a few ideas, we put our heads together and we came up with this concept. And originally the show was just about evolution. And then when we brought to PBS, PBS was like, hey, I think evolution might limit the series. Why don’t you all turn it into a show that’s just about how humans change the planet? Because there’s so many ways that we do that that aren’t necessarily evolution stories. That was sort of the genesis of the idea. And then once we started thinking about it, we started realizing, oh, my God, once you start thinking about the world we live in, you start realizing how bizarre it is. I didn’t even realize how strange this world is that we live in today until I started working on this show. And now I will look around and we’re just such an interesting creature.

Ramsey Russell: How so? Go into that, Nate. How bizarre, how interesting. Why?

Nate Dappen: We’re so smart. We’re such good problem solvers. We’re tinkerers. We can fix everything. Almost any problem out there, you get enough people, enough brain power, enough resources, we fix it. And one of the examples I was just talking about with my wife, my wife’s a physician and she prescribes this drug, now called Ozempic. It’s a weight loss drug, it’s a miracle drug. It is so effective at helping weight loss. And I was thinking about it. So first, all of a sudden, back in the day, populations, not too long ago, maybe a few hundred years ago, industrial revolution comes along, resources get abundant all over the world. Lots of people start being born, populations surge. Then all of a sudden, we don’t have enough food to feed all these people. And all of these people who work in economics, who work in agriculture start worrying, oh my God, we’re not going to be able to feed the world. So they invest a bunch of energy. Boom. Green Revolution. We figure out not just how to use fertilizers, but we figure out the exact chemicals that plants need in order to thrive. So we start making lots and lots of plants all over the globe, and we can feed everybody all of a sudden. And we do it in such a way that we’re making so much of certain kinds of crops that we don’t know what to do with it. And so, we put it in sodas, we put it in our candy and then we sell it to everybody. And now, instead of everybody dying of starvation or starving, now we have problems with obesity. And instead of fixing that problem by eating more healthy, we come up with a drug so that people don’t have to change their behavior, so that people can just take a drug and solve that problem. And that’s the cycle of humanity. Instead of looking forward into the future and saying, that’s the future I want, that’s the future that’s good for me. We look at it and we say, this is a problem. I know I can fix it. And they fix it by tinkering with it, not by doing the hard work of changing their behavior. And so, if you look at the world, I mean, I think that that’s kind of the basis for the vast majority of what we see today. It’s just us fixing problems all over the place and not always for the worse. I mean, that’s a story where I think it just shows some negative things. But I think we’re just an amazing, very intelligent, very resourceful, very imaginative species that doesn’t think too far into the future.

Ramsey Russell: That’s interesting. If you think about humanity, how we started is survival. And somewhere along the way, capitalism more than just survival. We can hit a lick, we can survive. It’s almost like when you start talking pharmaceuticals solutions maybe capitalism plays a part of that more than just surviving. It makes you wonder why we’re capitalists. Are we singularly the only capitalist on earth as a species?

Nate Dappen: Well, I just read a book. I read a book if your listeners are interested. It’s called The Dawn of Everything. And it asks that very question and it asks the question sort of, how do we arrive in this capitalist system? And I think that the answer to that is pretty modern. The reality is that human societies have not been, capitalism has not been the predominant system since the dawn of existence. It’s a relatively modern form. And the way it’s taken shape in the last several hundred years is definitely unique in human history, but it is, nevertheless, the way we live nowadays. And it’s got some good things and it’s got some bad things.

When Did Humans Begin Changing the Earth?

And to answer your second question, humans have been transforming their environment since humans were humans, since before humans were humans. 

Ramsey Russell: Where all in the world did this project take you all and what are some of the topics covered?

Nate Dappen: So, yeah, this project, it was such a privilege to get to work on this project. We traveled all over the world. We went to Singapore, we went to South Africa. We went to Mozambique, Mexico, traveled all over the United States. I got to go on a seal hunt up in the Arctic with this Inuit hunter and his sled dogs. Was pretty amazing. I think we visited 44 different cities and towns and I slept in somewhere between 80 and 100 different rooms. And, yeah, it was a huge adventure. Got to meet over 100 people that we interviewed for the show. You were one of the more memorable ones, Ramsey. And, yeah, it was such an adventure.

Ramsey Russell: Tell me when on the timeline. It’s almost two questions. I’m thinking out loud here. When on the human timeline does your series start? And when on the human timeline do the real changes, us changing our environment? When do you think it really started on modern earth, humanity? Did it start in the Garden of Eden? When did it start?

Nate Dappen: Yeah. The stories that we tell in this series are almost all stories that unfold in the last 200 years. So, it’s all contemporary. So, the way I always think about the history of humanity. So, everything that science tells us about how long humans have been around is that we haven’t been around very long. So, if you could take a roll of toilet paper and unroll the entire roll of toilet paper flat on the ground and that long roll of toilet paper is the entire history of the earth. The time that humans have been around would be equivalent to the width of the toilet paper. We haven’t been around for that long, but we have had an oversized impact during that time that we had. And to answer your second question, humans have been transforming their environment since humans were humans, since before humans were humans. We’re one of those species that biologists call an ecosystem engineer. We arrive in a place and we transform it in ways that increase our survival. And we’ve always done that it’s just that we haven’t had the resources until relatively recently to do it at the scale that we see it today. And most of that started really during the industrial revolution. And so, the massive changes on the planet have happened relatively recently in our history. But it’s naive to think we haven’t always done it. Every time humans arrived in a new place, we transformed the environments. I mean, we’ve been spreading different species around the globe since humans were humans. We brought dogs along with us, the Polynesians brought pigs and chickens to the islands. Throughout the Polynesians, when humans arrived in Australia and the Americas, most of the megafauna disappeared relatively rapidly. There’s some debate about the role of climate change during that period, but there’s no doubt among any scientists that humans didn’t have a very large role in the disappearance of megafauna all over the planet. So that’s what we do, right. But it’s not necessarily a bad thing. I mean, it’s just what we do.

Ramsey Russell: Well, it’s part of the human experience, isn’t it?

Nate Dappen: It is. It’s what we are.

Ramsey Russell: Walk me through. Go ahead. No, go ahead.

Nate Dappen: No, go for it. Go for it. No.

Ramsey Russell: I was going to ask you to walk me through some of your episode and some of the topics. Sitting in a duck blind, of all places, with you all and talking about these topics was just fascinating. That’s why I wanted to have you come on today.

Nate Dappen: Yeah. So we’ve got 6 episodes. One of them is about invasive species. So, it’s about species of plants and animals that we transport around the world and why we’ve done it and what it’s done to the planet and what it says about us. And we have an episode on humans as predators. So that’s the one that you’re featured in. And it explores our instinct to hunt and what that has done to the planet, what it says about us. And it’s got some good and bad messages in it about our instincts as hunters. And then we have an episode all about dogs, so about how we transformed wolves into dogs and how that shaped the world and how that shaped human society. Then we have an episode that’s all about species. A lot of the stories that we tell nowadays are about species disappearing on the planet and many of them have or have become smaller in number. But some species have become incredibly abundant, much more abundant than they would be without us. So, the chicken, for example, we make 2000 chickens a second. Now, they’re the most successful bird in the world.

Ramsey Russell: 2000 chickens a second.

Nate Dappen: 2000 a second. Because we love chickens. They taste good and we can’t get enough of it. But also cats. Cats are now the most abundant predator on the planet. Terrestrial predator on the planet. We tell a really interesting story in that episode about this frog, this rare frog in South Africa that as soon as we found it, was the first pregnancy test. If you put pregnant woman’s urine into the frog, inject it into the frog, the frog would immediately lay eggs. So it was the first reliable pregnancy test. And basically, the science behind why that works is how we made all of our modern pregnancy tests. And so that frog went from being pretty rare to being the most abundant amphibian on the planet.

Ramsey Russell: Where is that? Is that frog here in America?

Nate Dappen: It is now. It’s from South Africa, actually. Sorry I said South America. It’s from South Africa originally, but it’s in every state in the United States, in laboratories and it has become an invasive species, an escaped invasive species in various parts of the United States and all over the globe. And then we have an episode about cities, about how we build cities, what cities do to landscape, how it affects wildlife, how it affects us. And then we have an episode that’s all about cotton and kind of the connection between how and why cotton became so dominant in the American south and what that did to us as a species. And the stories in there are fascinating.

Ramsey Russell: Well, cotton is- Cotton is important to a lot of economies and to a lot of humans worldwide, isn’t it?

Nate Dappen: Yeah, absolutely is, absolutely is super important.

Interesting People, Places, and Cuisine

Ramsey Russell: What are some of the most interesting people you met along the way?

Nate Dappen: Oh, man, that’s a hard question.

Ramsey Russell: Well, seal hunting with an Inuit, that’s got to be an interesting story.

Nate Dappen: That was one of my favorite experiences. So, I’ve always wanted to go to the Arctic. I’d never been and I really didn’t want to go. I got invited a few years back on a scientific expedition and that would have been cool, but getting to go up there, so we went to a place called Resolute Bay. I think it’s the second furthest north settlement with humans, permanent settlement with humans in the world. So, you’re real far north. We went in the summer, so no nighttime, just daylight 24 hours a day. And we had been in touch with this young guy, must have been like 22, a guy named Devin Malik. And we went up there to tell a story about sled dogs. So, what he does up there, you can’t do without dogs. Even if you’ve got a snowmobile, your snowmobile breaks down and you’re out there on the sea ice, you’re going to say. He’s got a saying that. He says, when you go out there, you say, fast way out, long walk home if you’re out on a snowmobile. But with dogs, you can feed them what you hunt and they’re very reliable and they self reproduce. So, we went out there, and we spent a few days out with him hunting seals and out sleeping, you know, camping on the sea ice. And just the way this guy lives his life is amazing. So he hunts seals, but the way he makes most of his living is actually hunting polar bears. And it has the highest density of polar bears anywhere on the planet. And so, we saw a bunch of polar bears when we were out there. And the way he hunts these polar bears is actually with the dogs. And this has been a part of his culture since a long, long time ago. So, they’ll actually let the dogs loose. The dogs will chase down the polar bear, wear it out until it kind of can’t fight back anymore and then the hunters will come and kill it, shoot it. We weren’t there, of course, to hunt polar bears with them, but we did go hunt some seals and it was just an unbelievable experience. I got to eat all sorts of interesting animals. I got to eat some Beluga, Muskox. I got to eat seal. Anyway, it was wild.

Ramsey Russell: I was going to ask you about the foods. As much as you traveled, a lot of the people and places you sat and experienced, would you say 100 bedrooms you slept in? What were some of the interest? Was that some of the most interesting foods up in the Arctic?

Nate Dappen: Well, I can tell you I ate a lot of flaming hot cheetos this last year. I was just being on the road. I ate a lot of flaming hot cheetos. But, yeah, that trip, I ate some of the most unique things. Up in the Arctic, meat constitutes about 90% of the diet. Just because there’s nowhere to grow, all the vegetables have to be shipped in because they can’t grow anything up there. So, a lot of meat. So that was interesting, but I got to eat. We had an episode about invasive species, so we got to go film the redneck fishing tournament out in Bath, Illinois, which I don’t know if you’ve heard about these invasive carp that got released in the 70s into the Mississippi and Illinois that are now the most abundant fish in the waterways. And you can’t water ski or boat recreationally on a lot of these rivers because when they hear the motors, hundreds of these fish will leap out in the air. And these are like 30 pound fish going 50 mph. They’ll break your jaw.

Ramsey Russell: Why do you think they’re jumping out of the water at the sound of the motor? I’ve always wondered that.

Nate Dappen: Yeah, they’ve got this thing inside their ear, and when they hear the motor, it’s a sort of defense mechanism. They think a predator is coming or something. They all just jump out of the water. So when they hear a motor, they really freak out. Yeah, it’s a sound thing inside their inner ear that really makes them uncomfortable. But, yeah, that was a crazy experience, too. Have we told you about this? The redneck fishing tournament? So this is another example of how we change the environment and then the environment changes us. So, a lot of these waterways they used to just have fishermen. That was the way of life, right? They fished the river, they sold the fish. That was the way they lived. Then in the 70s were trying to figure out how to deal with human waste. And so, the Nixon administration funded all of this research on bringing in these four different carp species from Asia into the Americas to see whether these carp could eat human waste and they could use it to clean human waste up in all these towns across the Americas. Then when the administration shifted, that funding evaporated. And so, we had all these fish that we didn’t know what to do with. And so, a lot of people just released them into the waterways. Those fish ended up completely taking over the ecosystem, eliminating almost completely many of the fish species that were there. Now all these fishermen don’t have fish to catch and sell. All there is, there are these fish that are jumping out of the water, knocking water skiers off their feet, sending people to the hospital, causing millions and millions of dollars of damage. And these fish are hard to eat because they’re really bony. So, it takes a lot of work. And so now fishermen go and catch these in an abundance that they never caught any other fish and they sell them as manure. And so, it’s still a big problem. People haven’t figured out the economics of it yet. But these small towns, instead of sort of just bending over and sort of feeling like defeated, they have this big tournament called the redneck fishing tournament, where all these self proclaimed rednecks go out, drink beer and put football equipment on, turn on their boats, and try to catch as many of these fish as possible. And it is out of control. We’re out there filming. I was covered head to toe in fish slime. The motors are going. You’re getting hit by fish left and right. Slime’s covering all your equipment. Just all day out in the sun, catching fish. It was totally out of control. It was super fun.

Ramsey Russell: How many fish do they catch?

Nate Dappen: Hundreds.

Ramsey Russell: Each boat catches hundreds of fish.

Nate Dappen: Hundreds. Yeah, hundreds.

Ramsey Russell: And what do they do with them? So, I come into the weighing station, it’s a contest, so I’m a weigh them or count them or something. Now, what happens to all these fish?

Nate Dappen: Most of them get turned into manure. A lot of people are trying to. Basically, they’re called Asian carp and they’re trying to rebrand them. Now, there’s four different species that constitute Asian carp, but they actually taste really good. And so, the state of Illinois is trying to rebrand them. They’re calling them Copi now. So, if you have a Copi sandwich, it’s actually one of these invasive carp because they actually are very good to eat. And if you figure out how to process them in mass, you can actually make quite a bit of money and they taste delicious. But I think the idea, Americans just really didn’t like the idea of eating these fish, even though they’re a delicacy. I mean, they’re very common food and people love them. In various countries in Asia, Americans just kind of haven’t gotten on board. And so, Illinois knows that they’ve got this big problem and they got this saying, if you can’t beat them, eat them. And so, they’re trying to rebrand it to get folks to eat them now.

Ramsey Russell: If you can’t beat them, eat them. I’ll be damned.

Nate Dappen: Can’t beat them, eat them.

Ramsey Russell: I have not heard that story. I have not heard that story. Would that be one of the most interesting invasive species? I guess that would be one of your invasive species stories.

Nate Dappen: Yeah, that’s one of the invasive species stories. Well, the other invasive species story that we told a bunch, but the other one that was fascinating and also super exciting was the Burmese pythons that have been released into the everglades. So, we went out snake hunting for folks listening who don’t know the story. Basically, in the 80s and particularly the 90s got really into keeping these Burmese pythons as pets. And so, the pet trade had very loose restrictions on selling these snakes that got to be 16, 17, 18ft long, big enough to kill a small person. And what would happen is people would get these snakes thinking they were all cool and then once they got to be 14ft, 15ft and became dangerous, they would say, heck, I don’t want this in my house. And they’d release it into the everglades and within 15 years of being released into the everglades 90% of the biomass has disappeared of other species, raccoons, rabbits, other reptiles and amphibians, deers, alligators, 90% has disappeared because these snakes are eating everything and there are hundreds of thousands of them. And even though they’re like 15, 16ft, can be bigger than that, they’re so hard to find. So, we went out with this woman named Donna Kalil, who used to be a real estate agent and she quit her job as a real estate agent to become a python hunter. And we went out with her catching snakes and then also went out with some folks from the USGS to catch some snakes. And we got one. And, yeah, these things are crazy. It’s a crazy environment and there’s a crazy big animal that’s not going anywhere. We’re not going to get rid of it, it’s going to be there. And so, we’re kind of just figuring out what the fallout is like. What do we do from here? How do we manage it? I don’t think we know yet, what are the real interesting. So basically, we did that and then we also had a story on wild horses. So horses, the Americas had horses but around 10,000 years ago, they went extinct here, right around the time humans arrived. And then about 500 years ago Europeans reintroduced them. And very quickly, horses became woven into native American culture and obviously became the engines that powered the European expansion west and became a symbol of the United States. And I found out, working on this story that horses have more protection than any other species in the United States, other than bald eagles.

Ramsey Russell: That’s crazy.

Nate Dappen: And there’s hundreds of thousands of wild horses on the landscape and they do a lot of damage. And then in the 70s the people, basically, the government was trying to round up these horses to try to limit the damage on the landscape. And horse advocates didn’t like this. And so, most folks don’t know the details of the story, so they said, yeah, of course we want to protect these horses. Horses are iconic. Horses are a symbol of America. And so, they came up with this law that protected wild horses and Burros on the landscape. And now you’re not allowed to treat them like other wildlife. You can’t hunt them, you can’t manage them the way you’d manage deer. But they have a big impact, just the same way that elk and deer have a big impact. And so here again, we’ve got this story. There weren’t horses here, we brought horses in. Horses are affecting the landscape. But because of our value that we put on the animal, we don’t treat it the same way we treat other things. And so, in a lot of places where you have horses, other wildlife suffer. So, again, it’s just about where you put your value. So we went to this horse gather where they brought in these helicopters and basically, the BLM, they use helicopters to gather up horses. They round them up and corral them into these corrals and then they bring them into adoption and they spend about a billion dollars a year or something like that. And of the horses that they gather, only 1% get adopted and then most of the rest end up getting managed using taxpayer dollars or get released back out on the landscape. So, it’s not a very efficient system anyway. And then we went on a pig hunt in Hawaii. Pigs were the last species we explored in that, so we went hunting pigs in Hawaii. It was pretty cool.

Ramsey Russell: Have you ever eaten horse?

Nate Dappen: I have, yep.

Ramsey Russell: They’re delicious and it’s a big, black market item over in Europe. But I’ve eaten them in Mongolia, where they weren’t. I’ve eaten them carpaccio. I’ve eaten them cooked. It’s surprisingly. Now, I know I’m probably get a lot of hate messages from Yellowstone fans, but they really are pretty damn good to eat.

Craziest and Best Thing You’ve Ever Eaten?

Nate Dappen: What’s the best thing you’ve ever eaten? What’s your favorite, Ramsey?

Ramsey Russell: Oh, man, I like beef. I like beef and I like waterfowl. A lot of people don’t like waterfowl and I really like Peking waterfowl. You know, the domestic ducks that are lighter and heavier and fat. I’m a fat guy. I love fat, so I like fatty meats, wild game wise, I like bear meat. It’s a little strong, a little gamey for some people, but again, it’s like a fat laden venison that I think is very good. But I’ve eaten some crazy stuff along the way. I asked a guy that in the big game world one time, the craziest thing he’d ever eaten and he taught me by a mile when he said monkey brain and I said, well, whoa, what the heck does monkey brain taste like? And he laughed and said, it tastes like the vodka I chased it with. There’s a lot of protein out in the animal kingdom and somewhere somebody’s eating all of it. You know what I’m saying?

Nate Dappen: It’s true. That’s another interesting thing for me. I travel to a place like Cambodia and I go to a market in Cambodia and I look, and the market is filled with thousands and thousands of different kinds of foods. There’s 400 vegetables that I’ve never seen or heard of that are being sold there. And there’s 50 different kinds of meats and insects that are there that I’ve never heard of in the United States. You go to a supermarket, beef, chicken, pork and then, like, seven vegetables, and that’s what we’ve decided we’re going to eat. I find it fascinating.

Ramsey Russell: I think I read one time there’s some astounding, I mean, like, mind blowing number of potato varieties worldwide. I think there’s a dozen on the supermarket shelves in America, but there are thousands upon thousands of potatoes worldwide that people are eating. And it just blows my mind.

Nate Dappen: Well, we have a whole act on that in our episode about the replacements. I told you, we have that episode about how certain species have become super abundant because of us. So, we have an episode, an act on corn. So there’s 28,000 varieties of corn and we just eat a couple of them.

Ramsey Russell: You said you’ve got an episode on cities, the urban jungles. And it brings up an interesting topic, because obviously, humanity evolved with nature. We ate it, we lived in it. We use natural fiber for, I mean, just forever. We use furs, we use plants just to live in and clothe us and go about. And now we’ve evolved, even beyond cotton into synthetic fibers. Like, for example, all these synthetic fleece coats and stuff. Every time you wash them, they lose just little minute particles. And I’ve heard of them finding plastic fiber in 6ft deep cores on the Arctic Ocean. So, we’re just proliferating, awash with all this plastic fiber. Is that human mind evolving? And when I think of cities, one of the interesting things, I don’t live in a city but I like to go to them. Sometimes I think I’m thinking of Buenos Aires, New York City, some of these big cities. It’s funny how we displace nature. Manhattan was built on a vast, beautiful wetland. It used to be duck hunted back in the days and now it’s freaking Manhattan. We displaced nature to build these concrete shelters and then we began to propagate it a little bit with trees and parks and a little bit of green space as a surrogate replacement for what we displaced. And my question to you is, pursuant to your project, to your research, what do you think modern man’s overall? Not me, not you, not the listener, but the overall, the average human or to say, the average American or the average European, what do you think their relationship is with nature now?

Nate Dappen: Well, I think it’s dangerous to generalize because you can shoot to the left of the bear or shoot to the right of the bear and not hit the bear.

Ramsey Russell: That’s why I use a shotgun, but go ahead.

Detached from Nature

I think the big difference is that most people are detached from the resources that they need to survive and to thrive. 

Nate Dappen: Yeah, exactly. It’s dangerous to generalize but I think we have for a long time been very detached from wild nature. And I say wild nature because I actually think cities are nature. I think that there’s no distinction. This is my perspective and I know it’s difficult to debate and a lot of folks do, but I think cities are just like big ant hills, really complicated ant hills. We just have transformed one space into another space and those spaces are still functioning in the same world. It’s like we have created this theory that there is a wild place and a non-wild place, but there’s always just been one place and it’s where we live and so, we interact with it. I think us walking around a city is still us walking around nature. It’s just a nature that we have built. Just like an ant hill is still nature. It’s just not the soil that was once there. And we’ve taken it to the umpteenth degree. We’ve taken it pretty far. But I think most people are so detached from. I think the big difference is that most people are detached from the resources that they need to survive and to thrive. Most people don’t mind eating a steak, but don’t want to kill the animal.

Ramsey Russell: Why is that? Do you have a thought on why that is?

Nate Dappen: It’s cultural. I think it’s what you get used to. I think most people don’t. Well, I think we’re taught that killing things in cities, at least if you’re not part of a hunting culture, we’re taught that killing things is bad. All the narratives about killing is bad. We’re watching Bambi. Bambi’s parents get shot and that’s a bad thing. And I think we don’t think about. We take everything for granted nowadays. Everything’s so easy. It’s so easy. And all of our efforts in this world we live in are about making our lives easier and easier. You can live anywhere you want, no matter how hot or how cold it is, because we can create heaters or air conditioners to allow us to live in those places. And so, we’re detached from the elements. We don’t have to deal with them anymore. We don’t have to worry about them anymore because we can make life easier.

Ramsey Russell: That industrial revolution.

Nate Dappen: It’s the industrial revolution. I think that the big difference is that people don’t have to go through the blood sweat and tears of surviving anymore. And I don’t think that most folks realize that that process of doing that is very good for our mental well being. And its very core to who we are as a species. Then again, we’re also a very adaptable species. And so maybe I am wrong. Maybe that’s not the right perspective. Maybe it’s just that we’re living in a new world and we’re doing just fine. But if I had to put my money on it, I would say our detachment from the resources that we need to sustain us is not a good thing overall.

Ramsey Russell: I want to delve a little bit into the predator’s episode. Some of the topics we talked about in the duck blind, Nate and what was your disposition? How did you feel or think you thought about recreational hunting, sport hunting, before you started this series? And how did going through this series change or did it change the way you thought you may have felt towards hunting?

Nate Dappen: Well, as somebody who’s studied conservation for a long time and both as a biologist studying ecology, I think I recognized for a long time that hunters play a critical role in the United States for conservation. I’d done a lot of work for the World Wildlife Fund. I’d worked with Ducks Unlimited before, so I recognized the role that hunters played. But I always thought it was kind of like this necessary evil. I hadn’t really thought deeply about-

Ramsey Russell: Necessary evil.

Nate Dappen: Yeah, I had sort of thought about it as, okay, I get it. In order for nature to nature, we need people out there who care about this stuff and who are willing to fund it. But I think I’ve always liked the idea of hunting personally, like, as a personal experience, I think that’s always been appealing to me. But I certainly don’t think that I thought of the hunting community as critical advocates for maintaining ecosystems, functioning in a way that was some semblance of what they used to be. And I think having met a lot of hunters since then and having become friends with a lot of them and keeping close relationships with a lot of them, I think I feel pretty differently about it now. I mean, I would say that of the people who I know, there’s two groups people who care a lot about non-human nature. It’s hunters and then it’s active conservationists, people who are out there in the field trying to make legislation change or trying to make behavior change in folks. And I think those are the two groups that care. And everyone else is kind of just sitting around making judgments.

Ways to Keep Wild Places Wild

Hunting is one sort of arrow in the quiver that we have for that and I think if it went away, the consequences would be enormous.

Ramsey Russell: Well, relative to the world as you know it, eight and a half billion people on earth. What percent of those people of humanity? It’s just a guesstimate. What would you guess? The active conservationist that birders or somebody out there doing it, plus the consumptive user. What percent of humanity, civilized humanity, does that represent? Those positives in conservation represent the consumptive and non consumptive users? I think it’s a very small minority.

Nate Dappen: Well, Ramsey, if we weren’t recording this conversation, I would have no problem in debate making up some percentage. But I don’t know what the percentage is.

Ramsey Russell: Well, we can agree it’s pretty small relative to the world.

Nate Dappen: Absolutely. I think so, too. So, I think hunters play a very large role in keeping wild spaces wild. But the thing that I’ll say is that I think there’s lots of ways of keeping wild places wild and I think hunting plays are really critical. Hunting is one sort of arrow in the quiver that we have for that and I think if it went away, the consequences would be enormous.

Ramsey Russell: What are some of the other errors in the quiver, so to speak? I like that, yeah. What are some of the errors in the quiver?

Nate Dappen: Well, there’s plenty of places that we’ve just decided that we’re going to preserve and maintain and not develop and we’re going to value them as natural spaces, and different countries have very different policies on these things. And in a capitalistic world, where places have to have some monetary value or at least we have to figure out a way to quantify how good they are for human society. We talk about ecosystem value. I think that there’s ways in which you can convince individuals that the economic value of preserving a place is higher than the economic value of developing it. And so, there’s lots of those things, too, like national parks, preserves, et cetera. I think those are also very, very good uses of space and are doing a good job. And those places are also managed. Right. In a variety of different, you know, it’s not nearly as much space as a lot of the areas that people are allowed to hunt on but it is also very important. Then I think that there’s lots of places around the world that don’t take this approach, like the United States. It’s hard to talk about Singapore. I want to talk about Singapore because Singapore has taken a very different approach than the United States has. And I’m not saying it’s a better approach. It’s just a very different approach. So, Singapore is this small island, right? It’s a small island. It’s the third most densely populated city in the world and it’s also centrally regulated by the government. The government decides everything. It’s authoritative in a lot of different ways. But right when they developed the country, they decided from the very beginning, you know what? Nature is important. It’s critical. And when they decided to do that, the entire city was a city of slums and squalor. It was a terrible place to live. And the city decided, we’re going to make the city incredible. So they put in legislation. They said, if you put a building in and it takes up 100sqft of ground, you have to replace 100sqft ground with vegetation on top of the building. And now the entire city is this artificial city that is teeming with life. And if you look at the reserves, the reserves have less biodiversity than the city in a lot of places.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I like.

Nate Dappen: And so, I think that there’s lots of different ways to do this. I think that in the United States, one of the ways that we have done this is through hunting. And hunting is also a core part of people’s identity. It’s really important culturally to folks. And so, I would see it as an enormous loss if that went away. But I don’t think that it’s the only way to do it. And there’s lots of ways to do it.

Ramsey Russell: I asked this question, Nate, because spending a morning in the duck blind with you all really did challenge some long held beliefs I had as a human being, as a hunter, as a wildlife manager. Why? Why, I asked myself, why do I so love nature that I go out and shoot it? Okay? And I always come back to hunters as conservationist. And North America being a very exemplary example of how our recreational interest translates into dollars, translates into dollars spent towards wildlife and towards their habitats. And I’m going to use duck hunters an example. That’s who me and my listeners primarily represent. We duck hunters. I ask myself, I think there’s about a million duck stamps sold in the United States of America and estimated 1 million of 350,000,000 Americans duck hunt and yet, from their mouths do I hear advocacy for wetland conservation. And I asked myself, if we weren’t here to holler and yell through our NGOs and to our state representatives and federal government representatives who would be champion wetlands lost or waterfowl. I read something the other day, Nate, that in Europe, Europe has lost half, approximately half of its migratory bird populations. Birds worldwide aren’t doing great. And yet two species that stand out as having stable populations in North America are ducks and geese. And I believe that’s proof of hunters. As conservationists, we’re putting our time and our money where our mouths are. And I’m asking you this question. I’m building up to a question. Right now, Australia, for example, is fighting tooth and nail to keep their duck season. They’ve got a lot of greenies down there that want to shut them down. And it seems to me, I’m sitting there thinking, okay, they’ve got a- Hunters have to have a hunting license. The hunting license used to go into something. Now it just goes into a general budget for politicians to squander. They don’t have the scientific basis of wildlife management. They’re not doing extensive surveys. They’re not surveying their wetlands. Like, to the extent that we are here in North America, they’re not surveying their waterfowl population estimates or their harvest estimates the way we are here in North America. And it seems to me and I believe this to be true, that if duck hunting in Australia ends today and it’s very near the end, that they’re just going to go on back to their cities content that a segment of society is not shooting ducks, therefore the ducks will be fine.

Nate Dappen: Right.

Ramsey Russell: But I come back to myself and I’m kind of sort of asking you just your opinion. With eight and a half billion people on earth, 30% of which can’t walk into a kitchen and light a stove and eat, they’re still living hand to mouth out in the bush. That’s a fact. Is it reasonable to think that, okay, if a segment of society is not out there consuming for recreational interest in food, some of this natural resource, do you think, based on your research and doing your stuff and seeing that this human footprint on earth, is it reasonable to think that we can just put it on a shelf in a small segment, not go shoot it and expect it to prosper in perpetuity? Do you think that’s even possible or reasonable in this day and age?

Nate Dappen: Yeah, I mean, that’s tough question.

Engaging with Wildlife

Whether we’re building nest boxes or shooting ducks, whatever, we’re actively changing this thing. That’s our footprint.

Ramsey Russell: A lot of what you’re thinking about is how we, as humans, actively go out and do something, we change the world. Whether we’re building nest boxes or shooting ducks, whatever, we’re actively changing this thing. That’s our footprint.

Nate Dappen: That’s right.

Ramsey Russell: A growing belief in myself as a person just doesn’t believe that. The world is not going to remain static whether I’m shooting ducks or not. It’s not going to just stay the same. It’s not a bubble. I can’t put this duck population on a jar and put it on a shelf and say, well, there it is. My grandkids will get to come see it. I don’t believe that. I just can’t believe that.

Nate Dappen: No, I think you’re right. Look, I think you’re 100% right. There isn’t a place on the planet that we don’t impact through our actions. We have to be very thoughtful about what we do and we have to decide the future we want, and we have to take actions to protect it if we care about it. And I think when it comes to undeveloped areas and the species that live in them, I think some form of management is absolutely required. I don’t think we can. Ecosystems don’t operate the way they used to operate. Big wild migrations can’t happen anymore because, except in a few very rare places nowadays, because we’ve absolutely transformed the landscape to stop those things. Migrating ducks now only have a few places to go because we’ve dried up, transformed so much of their habitat along their sort of historic routes. I think if I was a betting person, I would bet that getting rid of hunting in Australia is probably going to be bad for the ducks long term. But what I’ll also say is, I don’t think it’s the only way right. I think, just like market hunting was bad for ducks and then recreational hunting became good for ducks. I think that hunting itself isn’t the thing that makes us protect something or not. It’s however we decide we want to value something. And what I would say about what’s happening in Australia as somebody who does not follow it closely is if they got rid of hunting and replaced it with another form of interaction that got people as engaged with what was there, I could be swayed. I just don’t think that’s what’s going to happen.

Ramsey Russell: I’m selfish. I want to go out and shoot ducks like I always have. Hunting is a hand me down tradition, but if I can’t do that, I still want to know that there’s abundant populations of wildlife out there. I can’t accept the stark contrast and I’ve always argued that take the most vocal anti hunter Australia or elsewhere and a hunter, there’s common ground. We both want wildlife. We both want wildlife. But I don’t think we can just put something on the shelf and not actively managing. That’s just my thoughts.

Nate Dappen: Well, I think that you’re right. I think that’s what’s going to happen. I think that the problem is that most people who don’t engage deeply with wildlife, who don’t have an intimate identity shaped relationship with it, the way hunters have with the things that they hunt and the environments that they do it in, I think it’s very difficult to imagine a world that we protect in that kind of way. So, I do worry very much about, I grew up fishing. Everybody I knew fished. Now I work with folks who say they love the outdoors, but they don’t engage with it in that way. And their idea of what nature is, is a path in the wild, right?

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Nate Dappen: I do think that it’s a different relationship. I don’t want to put a value statement on it because I think that it’s just all the values are values that humans put on things. But it’s hard for me not to agree with you that I think if hunting disappears or fades away or changes dramatically, that it’s not going to be to the detriment because I can’t think of very many other ways that people engage with and care about wild spaces and wild species in the same way that hunters do. So, yeah, it worries me a lot. I was actually talking with. Maybe it was. Maybe I was talking with you, but I was talking with somebody about this the other day about how even in wildlife, maybe this was you. I was talking with somebody about when they grew up going through wildlife management or forestry or something like that. Every single person that they were working with, that was you. And that really stuck with me. The fact that folks going into wildlife management nowadays, they don’t hunt, they don’t fish, that scares me. I think that many people, I think, learn about nature through nature documentaries or through school. And I think that it’s a very different relationship than a relationship in which I think you romanticize nature, you turn it into an idea rather than what it actually is if you’re not actually out there. And so that worries me quite a bit about losing hunting. And talking with you made me worry about it even more because it sounds like you kind of have your finger on the pulse of where hunting stands in society and it seems like it’s on its way out.

Ramsey Russell: Well, I try to. And I worry about that, too. I really do. There are times and moments traveling around the world and seeing through my filter, the human footprint and humanity’s interaction with my filter of waterfowl. I wonder sometimes that maybe we’re going through the end of an era that’s be a Debbie downer. Ducks and geese are doing great, but at the same time, somebody sent me a video. Last week, one of the largest landowners in North America had a video going out advertising a landownership in Canada prairie, Canada, Saskatchewan. A quarter million acres that they’ve gone out. In agricultural Canada, you’ve got low lying areas that in wet years with heavy snowfall, get these little ponds and wetlands. Well, they’ve gone in now during the dry period and put dirt pans into them to fill in all those wetlands. They’ve gotten rid of all the fence rows, all of the brush clumps, all of everything that represents parklands Canada. And now it’s a quarter million acres of just sterile agricultural land ready for you to lease and start farming with zero wildlife benefit whatsoever, except for the fall geese coming down and eating into dry fields. But other than that, there’s no future value other than agriculture.

Nate Dappen: It’ll be good for the agricultural pests.

Ramsey Russell: And when I look at. Exactly for the agricultural pests but as I look at all the state and federal DNRs, let’s say all the state departments of Natural Resource that I’m aware of, generate a good portion of their income from licensed sales or provisional taxes from sporting goods sales. And there are people that disagree with hunting, that there’s a big movement afoot right now in America. They want to legislatively disassociate wildlife management from ammo, firearms, sporting goods, hunting and fishing, because it biases it could bias how and why and what these people are managing. Well, in the state of Mississippi, a tremendous portion of their budget is coming from license sales. And it’s not just deer and turkey and ducks that that department is managing for. It’s also the pollinators and everything, public access, fishings, everything is coming from the hunters and fishermen’s pocket, primarily. So, if I remove that, okay, I’ve removed the bias of managing for game animals. But now my question is, Nate, who the f bomb is going to pay for it? That’s where I sit and that’s what I struggle with. Who’s going to pay for it?

Nate Dappen: I think it’s really scary. Yeah, I think it’s really scary. I mean, if they had an alternative funding model. But here’s the thing. I think even if they had an alternative funding model, I think the longevity of those funding models rely on an identity, a culture that is connected and committed to these things. And I think if you get rid of hunting and fishing, I think you get rid of those things. Like, there’s a lot of hikers out there. There’s a lot of birders out there and that’s all great. I think birders really do care.

Ramsey Russell: Oh, birders care. Sure, they do.

Nate Dappen: Yeah, birders care.

Ramsey Russell: They care. And they are some of the most astute observers and participants of wildlife I’ve ever met. Now, I know some and I only know this because I know some very avid birders that are also hunters. And it’s unbelievable how they see the world. But at the same time, the difference in a true non-consumptive birder versus a consumptive use hunter. Again, with the generalizations, but I like to shoot with a shotgun is this, a duck hunter wants to see lots and a birder? Just as long as he can go out there and see a few and check them off his list, he’s happy. Yeah, I don’t want to see that. I want to see so many freaking ducks that they obliterate the sunshine hitting the ground and I want to shoot a few of them.

Nate Dappen: Yeah, I think there’s probably a general truth to that. I think as a hunter, you’re worried about next season, you’re worried about making sure that resource is available for you to use. And I think that’s important out there. One of the things about this episode of humans as a hunter, I can tell you a little bit about the episode, kind of how we get into it, the first part of the episode, we go out deer hunting with this guy named Ryan Long. He’s a biologist. He studies big mammals and he’s an evolutionary biologist. And he talks about how ornaments, like antlers and stuff, antlers and horns have changed on a lot of wild animals because humans try to hunt. The Animals are the biggest antlers, the biggest horns. We like these prize animals. And then we sort of go from this perspective about how we can transform an ecosystem. And I think a lot of people, they’re like, how much can one person do? And so, we go and tell the story about the market hunting and the Chesapeake, but then also talk about how the Chesapeake was and waterfowl was saved by hunters who love that place and the shift in attitude as market hunting sort of went out and recreational hunting sort of came in. We talk about that and then we talk about whaling. We have a whole whaling segment. We talk about how basically all of New England was once powered off of whale oil. And it wasn’t until literally, that’s how we powered everything. We burned whales. And 99% of all the blue whales and fin whales that were in the southern oceans, 99% of them were hunted and killed within about a 10 year period. And that changed the chemistry of the oceans. These animals are so critical for ocean health that there’s this thing that’s called the krill paradox. So, when all the whales got killed, I’m just talking about the blue whales and sperm whales, the blue whales and fin whales, but they killed humpbacks and sperm. And everything out there, they killed, and they turn them into oil. When that happened, biologists could not figure out why there was actually. You’d expect the things that they eat, those whales to eat, to actually increase in number because they weren’t being eaten. So, you’d expect krill, which is what whales eat, to increase, but that’s not what happened. Krill disappeared across the oceans. And the reason why is because these blue whales, they eat the krill deep and then they come up and they poop at the surface. And that poop, basically, is what the krill feed off of.  And so, you can’t have a lot of krill without these whales. And as you probably know, krill are like the center of this food chain system that happens in the ocean that causes everything else to thrive. And so just to give you a sense of how many whales we killed, if you could add up every mammal, every wild species on the planet right now and put them on a scale, the biomass of whales that we took out in those ten years weighs ten times as much. So that’s how much we took out of the ocean. And we just didn’t even think about it. And we did it in ten years. Ten years. And so, the oceans, a lot of the whales are improving now because we’ve got these protections in place, but we just don’t think about the future. We just want to do this thing. And then the last act of the episode, we go into wolves, we talk about the Yellowstone wolves. And the whole act is kind of about as the top predator on this planet. The only way to become the top predator is to sort of get rid of the competition. And that’s what we’ve done everywhere we’ve gone. We don’t want other predators on the landscape because they make life hard for us legitimately. And that also has pretty massive consequences on the landscape and gives us a lot of responsibility. So nowadays, we don’t have predators in North America, not a lot of them. We’ve got mountain lions and we’ve got some wolves in some places, some bears. But for the most part, we’re the ones who have to take care of. We have to manage deer and elk populations other get out of control. And so, we have this big responsibility now that we didn’t used to have. Because if we’re not out there hunting, that’s another reason why I think we need hunters out there is because we legitimately need to manage these populations. Folks who think that you can just get rid of hunters, it’s more than just like a conservation thing for rare species. It’s actually critical for the abundant ones. You know, we need to know how many deer and elk folks are taken out of the out of the wilderness, and we need to do it because there’s too many of them in some places.

Ramsey Russell: It’s a balancing act, isn’t it? It’s a balancing act.

Nate Dappen: Yeah, it totally is. I think people on all sides of the arguments, the thing that I think is hard to wrap your head around and that I struggle with is this idea that whatever nature is now in this world we live in, whatever it is, is a nature that we decide it to be. Do we want more deer on the landscape? Do we want more ducks? We get to decide, do we want less? We get to decide what does the Habitat look like that they live in. We get to decide. We decide it all. We decide through our management practices. We decide through our conservation legislation. We decide how our dollars are spent. We decide through the things we purchase. We decide by the way we eat. We decide it. We decide. The problem is, as I discussed at the beginning of this talk, we don’t think much about the future. Yeah, we just do. We just act. And it’s hard for me, just seeing what I’ve seen, to believe that. With few exceptions, I think there are a lot of people out there who do think about the future and they do take action to try to create the future they want. But I don’t think that that’s part of most people’s day to day life and I don’t want to blame them. That’s kind of a human experience. That’s just what it’s like being human. We’re wrapped up with the people we love and with our problems and with our jobs and making ends of meet and having fun and avoiding suffering.

Ramsey Russell: We got our nose to the grindstone, so that’s all we see. Yeah.

Nate Dappen: That’s all we see. And it’s hard for me to take a step back and look at the global picture and not be pretty pessimistic about wild spaces.

A Hope for the Future of Hunting

Ramsey Russell: Nate, how will- Last question. How do you think or how do you hope? Answer it any way you want to. How will hunters feel having watched that segment and this series and how might non hunters feel, what do you expect the reaction to be to this complex topic you all presented?

Nate Dappen: Well, we worked really hard to make the show uncomfortable for people on both sides because I think that the conservationists who are anti hunters do not have a very nuanced idea about hunting and hunters. And I think that there’s plenty of hunters out there who might not have a nuanced opinion about the impacts that our activities have had. And I think it’s all nuanced and there’s no right answers. And our show doesn’t pretend to have any answers. Our show explores it and tries to do as good of a job as it can with grappling with the facts. And so, my feeling is that if you are a super active hunter, there’s probably some things in there that might upset you but then there’s also some things in there that might make you feel proud. And I think the same is true on the other side. Our goal is not to tell people what’s right and wrong. It’s to start a conversation. And I think that people will watch it and they’ll want to talk about it and they’ll want to say, I disagree with this idea, I disagree with this character but I think the facts are pretty solid in there. And I think we make an argument for hunting in the episode. I think we make an argument for it, but I think we also make an argument for being thoughtful about what we do.

Ramsey Russell: It’s been my observation that usually if something makes me uncomfortable it’s because it’s hitting real close to home.

Nate Dappen: I think that’s probably true and that’s kind of the goal for the whole series. I think this whole series we explore very serious topics, in many cases in a really fun way, like the Waterfowl festival and the duck calling competition and all that stuff.

Ramsey Russell: What did you think about that? What did you think? I know you’d never been to a live calling contest, but what did you think to see those people get up there and make that kind of-

Nate Dappen: I loved it. I loved every minute of it. I loved it so much. I thought it was fantastic. Yeah, I thought it was an incredible display of talent. I thought it was hilarious. I also have so much respect for those folks. I mean, it’s just. God, they were talented. They sound. They sounded exactly like a flock of ducks.

Ramsey Russell: Or better. Yeah, they sure did.

Nate Dappen: I just couldn’t believe it. If I closed my eyes, I was just blown away. And then I’d open my eyes and seeing them up there dancing and moving around like a duck and I couldn’t laugh. Like, it was funny and impressive all at the same time. I loved it. I loved it.

Ramsey Russell: Nate, real quick, tell everybody again when and where Human Footprint will air and how they can connect with you.

Nate Dappen: Yeah. So if people want to connect with us, the company that I run, it’s called Days Edge Production. So. D-A-Y-S-E-D-G-E productions. If you go to daysedge.com, that’ll be our website. Days Edge is also our Instagram and Twitter handle, so you guys can check out what we’re doing. We’ll be doing a lot of promotion as this show comes out. The show itself is going to air on July 5 on national PBS, so it’ll be on Wednesday nights at 8:00 p.m. eastern on PBS. And it’ll air for 6 weeks consecutively. So, the hunting episode will be the second week. So, I think that that’s on July 12th. Wednesday, July 12th will be the hunting episode. But I think that if you’re interested in this kind of discussion, I think watching all the episodes is great. And actually, a lot of our episodes have hunting in it, so the hunting episode has hunting in it. But we hunted pigs in the invasive species episode, which will be the first one that airs. I went python hunting in that episode. They actually hunt and kill and eat some of these pythons as well. We went seal hunting in the dog episode, so there’s lots of- went rat hunting in the cities episode, so lots of hunting throughout the series. I hope folks check it out. And I do think that in each episode, there’s something for everybody. We try to make them entertaining, educational and thought provoking.

Ramsey Russell: And what social media platforms are you all on again?

Nate Dappen: So, we are on Instagram. We are on Twitter and Facebook.

Ramsey Russell: Okay. All of them.

Nate Dappen: Yeah. Not all of them. We don’t do TikTok. I just can’t get my head wrapped around either.

Ramsey Russell: I can’t either. That’s why I said all of. Anyway, yeah. Nate, I appreciate you, man. I’m so looking forward to this series again. I really enjoyed sitting down and meeting with you. I’ve enjoyed, I should say, spending time in a blind with you. And I really enjoyed our conversations and I’m glad we’ve been able to stay in touch. I really have. It’s a very thought provoking, very complex topic matter that I personally think everybody listening would greatly enjoy. And I appreciate it. As soon as we hang up, I’m going to plug into you on Instagram and Facebook. Thank you for coming on today.

Nate Dappen: Thank you so much, Ramsey. And ditto to all the thoughts. I loved meeting you, loved hearing your perspective and so respect what you’re doing.

Ramsey Russell: Folks, thank you all for listening this episode of Duck Season Somewhere. PBS July 5th every Wednesday at 8:00 PM. go check out Human Footprint. See you next time.



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