Animal Writes
From 2 May 2004 Issue

ParkStRanger Meets the Director of the National Park Service
by Greg Lawson - [email protected]

And no, this isn't like 'Jason Meets Freddy,' or 'Godzilla meets the Beach Boys.'

It's not everyday that you get to meet your boss's boss's boss's boss. Perhaps such a thing as a boss's boss's boss's boss exists mainly in the hierarchy of the federal government. Two Sundays ago I got to spend a little time with Fran Mainella, Director of the National Park Service. She was on a tour of parks of the West during National Parks Week.

Since I was working that Sunday night, the time of her arrival, and since I have been at my park for twenty years, I was asked by our park's superintendent to prepare a briefing for Fran. I was told specifically not to talk to Fran about the bison of Yellowstone. Both the superintendent, Isabel, and my immediate supervisor, Paul, know that I am a vegan and an animal rights advocate, and that one of my main concerns is the annual slaughter of the Yellowstone Park bison.

So far this year, the National Park Service has captured and sent to slaughter close to 300 bison because the cattle ranchers of Montana don't want the bison wandering out of the park onto "their" grazing allotments in the Gallatin National Forest which surrounds Yellowstone Park. These bison were captured inside the park because they were too close to the North gate and might have crossed that imaginary boundary that defines the Park's borders.

My boss and the superintendent didn't want me to upset Fran Mainella with my opinion that it's a bad thing that we are killing the animal which is our own symbol, to appease a special interest group, a handful of ranchers in Montana. Being an animal rights kinda ranger, I knew I couldn't keep quiet, I just had to figure the best way to express myself.

At first I thought that I would contact all my activist friends and set up a demonstration just outside the gates of my park with signs that read "Please Stop Killing the Bison" and send press releases to the media. I even told my boss I was considering this. I knew this would get me in hot water (not that I don't enjoy stirring up trouble for my beliefs, and doing this would have been within my rights), but I really wondered how much good such a protest would do. So I decided against that and figured I would just have to find a way to talk to Fran about the bison situation, in spite of the fact that I was ordered not to do that.

As Fran, Isabel, Paul and I walked around our park, and as I briefed her, I happened to mention that I was sorry I wouldn't be able to attend the all employees meeting Monday morning, that it was my day off, and that I would have come in, but I had already set up the studio time to do my radio show." (Animal Concerns of Texas)

"Oh you do a radio show? Of course you do, you have the voice for it." Fran said, immediately endearing herself to me. As a matter of fact, I had been expecting an airhead, but Fran was an intelligent person. Then Isabel, the superintendent, offered me a great opportunity by saying, "Oh, is that your Vegetarian radio show?'

And I said "Yes." Fran asked "Vegetarian radio show?" I said "Yes, I am president of the vegetarian society of El Paso and we have a radio show."

Fran said "I am not on a vegetarian diet." Isabel said, "Yeah, we are about to go out to a Mexican restaurant." I said "I love Mexican food, I just make substitutions with soy products for beef and chicken."

Isabel said "Greg seems to do pretty well finding something to eat when we go out to lunch."

I said "True, but I prefer my own cooking. I have gotten to be a pretty good cook. You have to learn to cook when you've been a vegetarian for twenty-five years."

Fran said "Twenty-five years? Wow. What made you such a committed vegetarian?" I said "Environmental reasons. The destruction of our natural resources from so much animal agriculture. The way grazing on public lands has turned our prairie grasslands into wastelands." The conversation moved on to other topics at that point, which was a shame because it would have been a good time to mention the bison. I could already see my supervisor and the superintendent gritting their teeth.

After we had finished our tour of the park, we all walked Fran out back to the van, as Isabel was taking Fran to dinner. On the way we were all saying our good-byes. I said it was very nice to meet you. Fran said "Maybe we will see each other again at another park." I said, "Maybe Yellowstone." She said "Yellowstone?" I said "As an advocate for animal rights and vegetarianism, the bison situation has long been one of my major concerns. I went to Yellowstone in 1998 to learn as much as I could about the situation. You know, I wish we could abandon the Interagency Bison Management Plan, it really hasn't done us any good."

Fran said, "Yes, it's been a public relations nightmare. You know we are starting to shoot the bison with a vaccine to prevent brucellosis. Maybe we can stop shooting them with bullets." I wish I could have talked with her more about this topic, but the superintendent was hurrying Fran off to dinner. Public relations nightmare, I bet it is.

As the van pulled away, my boss Paul said, "You just had to talk about the bison." I replied, "It just came up naturally in the conversation and I think I was rather mild about it, sure beats a protest by activists with signs now doesn't it?"

Now that I have met Fran, I am sure she will remember me when I write her a letter soon about the bison. I am also preparing a video about the bison to send her, with footage shot by the Buffalo Field Campaign, an activist group working to stop the slaughter.

To learn more about the Yellowstone bison and the BFC, please visit them at 

Go on to Interfaith Service in Celebration of Animals
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