Yesterday, it was reportedthat the Oregon man who harassed bison in Yellowstone was convicted of the crime. Earlier in the week, it was reported that the Governor of New Jersey, through executive order and not legislative action, ended bear hunting on public land in spite of New Jersey having the highest bear population density in the United States. These are just the two latest examples of people ignorant of the wild making stupid decisions in or about the wild.
Forgive me if I sound like I’m preaching, but I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t endlessly irritating to me.
In the case of the man from Oregon, most of us have seen this play out in person, especially if you’ve been to Yellowstone. I’ve been to Yellowstone three times in the last year and if I’m being honest, I don’t need to go back no matter how beautiful it is. I’ve had multiple bad experiences with people; everything from interfering with wildlife on the roads to incredible rudeness at Old Faithful. However, this happens at every park and most recently I saw people lose their minds at the sight of a black bear in the Great Smoky Mountains, completely shutting down a road and wandering of within a few feet of a sow and her cubs just so they could get a closer picture.
I’m mindful of the fact that for a lot of these people, it may be the first time they’ve seen a bear or a bison in the wild. I understand and share their excitement. It’s still incredibly cool to me after all these years and numerous bison and black bears I’ve seen – it never gets old. However, people need to be aware that this is not the city, nor the suburbs. These are very large and very powerful wild animals, they are not pets or domesticated farm animals. More so than that, we’re on their turf, not the other way around.
While this problem is multi-cultural, as a few scenes from the first season of Yellowstone shows, I expect more of Americans than I do our foreign visitors. Most folks around the world have little to no wild places or animals and no way to know how to respect such places and things. Americans, on the other hand, should be taught about the North American Wildlife Model in either history or science class. I know that this is probably never done, but it should be. While it is impossible for one to know everything about every place and everything in a country as large as ours, if you’re touring national parks for the summer, shouldn’t you know at least a little something about what you’re getting yourself into? Shouldn’t you research how to be safe and show respect wherever you go?
Furthermore, these are the same people susceptible to slick public relations campaigns funded by organizations like the Humane Society of the United States and PETA that cherry pick data and play on people’s emotions rather than presenting a scientific argument. Then these people vote, either directly in some states, or at least for candidates who support radical anti-wildlife regulations. This is how the people of New Jersey got Governor Phil Murphy.
New Jersey and California are great examples of what is to come, especially here in Colorado as the liberal Front Range continues to grow with California refugees (most of whom are not like the Climers). These states have incredibly wild areas but are politically controlled by densely populated urban areas. Many of these urban people hike, climb, etc., they should understand how our wild places and wild animals are managed, but they don’t for the most part. Most of us, myself often included, only care about and learn about things that directly affect ourselves. All these people know is they want to go for a hike during the rut and not see hunters, they don’t understand the consequences of letting things “return to the wild” without human management.
Predator-Human interactions are increasing all the time. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Obviously, these areas have healthy populations, but once that population grows to a certain size it will pass its carrying capacity, or the ability for the land to support the population of animals. This is when bears, mountain lions and other predators will start migrating to new areas to look for food and once an animal, like a bear or mountain lion, learns that houses and cars are a great place to find food, they’ll keep coming back to those places. This costs a lot of money to citizens, government agencies and insurance companies, not to mention the risk of direct human interaction with these creatures, especially small children. Once an animal learns this, the only option is for the local government is to catch it, and in most cases, put it down.
As I always say, these are nuanced issues with many causes, correlations and factors, but it is important that for the safety of citizens and visitors that we understand these issues and contribute to the management of our wonderful resources. For those that wish us to leave things be and let “nature take care of its own”, beware of becoming a victim to the Law of Unintended Consequences.