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The C.A.S.H. Courier Newsletter

Fall-Winter 2013 Issue
Is Hunting Really Worth it?

By E.M. Fay

Hunter Devastates Yosemite and its Wild Inhabitants

abolish sport hunting Yosemite

abolish sport hunting Yosemite

abolish sport hunting Yosemite

abolish sport hunting Yosemite

The magnificent natural treasure we now know as Yosemite National Park has been in existence in much the same form for tens of thousands of years.   Currently consisting of nearly 1200 square miles, it is a jewel set in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Northern California, due east of San Francisco.  This historic wilderness, known for its ancient sequoias, granite rock formations, breathtaking waterfalls, and abundant wildlife, was first protected in 1864, signed into being by President Lincoln as the country’s first state park. Famed naturalist John Muir became enthralled by this region when he visited in 1868. Partly because of his interest, it was converted to our first national park in 1890.

The name Yosemite is taken from a tribe that lived in the area before being massacred by U.S. soldiers.

Native American peoples lived here well before the arrival of Europeans in the mid-nineteenth century.  The ruggedness of the landscape dissuaded all but the most intrepid travelers for decades, but in 1907, the Yosemite Valley Railroad was established between Merced and El Portal, which increased the number of visitors.  Now, over 3 million tourists come annually to experience the beauty of this special place.  Although most visitors respect the land and its natural inhabitants, the presence of so many humans has inevitably altered the landscape and affected wildlife.  One of the most destructive consequences of human trespass is the starting of forest fires.

Natural fires occur in Yosemite as in other forests, caused by lightning strikes and other phenomena.  They may involve nothing more than a single burning dead tree, or they may spread farther.  In some cases, naturally caused fires are considered helpful, as they clear out underbrush from the forest floor, which can prevent a larger fire in the future by removing potential fuel.  However, human-caused fires are incredibly destructive.  These are usually caused by either carelessness, “controlled” burns becoming uncontrolled, or an unconscionable malevolence.

The recent massive fire that burned in Yosemite National Park and the Stanislaus National Forest for over a month has been determined to have been started by a hunter.  The Rim Fire, as it was called, began on August 17th in the Stanislaus National Forest, burned over a quarter of a million acres, killed unknown numbers of wild animals, destroyed scores of buildings, required  the services of over 5,000 firefighters, and cost $127 million to fight so far.

Ever-changing winds and low humidity added to the difficulty of containing the blaze, which was approximately 80% contained by September 11th.   Spot fires continued to erupt at or past the lines of containment, keeping fire crews on their toes.  It was still smoldering in isolated locations as of October 1st.

Concerned with the fact that a single hunter could cause such devastation, C.A.S.H. asked the US Forest Service spokesperson for the Rim Fire Information Office, Mark Healey, what the official USFS position is on hunters being allowed in national forests.

“National forests allow hunting in season, and the seasons are set by the game and fisheries agencies in each state,” Healey explained.  “Although hunting is allowed in national forests, it is not allowed in national parks.”

As legal campfires could be just as dangerous as illegal ones, we also asked if it would not be more sensible to ban campfires altogether.  Healey protected their policy by saying that the experts who monitor the risk of wildfires are confident of their ability to accurately determine the prevalent conditions. “When there is a ban on campfires there is good reason,” Healey noted.  “They are not prohibited if conditions are deemed safe.”

Considering the vast area affected by this, the third-largest fire in California history, we wondered how investigators had been able to find the source.  Healey said that a great deal of scientific research has gone into tracking fire sources, and US Forest Service agents and other investigators are well trained.

Three major federal agencies were involved in the recent battle: the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and US Parks Service, as well as CalFire (California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection), and crews from Mexico.  They all had their work cut out for them.

The hunter’s identity is being kept from the public for now, but C.A.S.H. knows that Aug. 17, the day the fire began, was the start of the archery deer hunting season. The fire began in a remote area of Stanislaus National Forest, and an official with the Groveland Ranger Station said campfires were not permitted in that part of the forest on that date.

The U.S. Forest Service website notes that someone starting a forest fire can be charged for the cost of fighting the fire, as well as being charged with a misdemeanor, fined as much as $5,000 and imprisoned for up to six months.  This punishment hardly seems commensurate with the horrific extent of damage done by the Rim Fire.  As harmful as hunting itself is, far more wild animals were killed and left homeless by this hunter’s fire.

When we called the District Attorney’s office, we were given the official response for media: “Still under investigation, so no comment,” said the Tuolomne County DA’s representative, who did not wish to be named. 

Mainstream media virtually always focus on the loss of man-made property and occasional loss of human life in these large-scale fires.  The plight of wild animals – their loss of life and loss of habitat – goes largely unreported.  All species in the region were at risk, owing to the speed of the fire.  Older or infirm animals, youngsters, slow-movers, and even healthy adults with families to shepherd, were caught up in the inferno.  We will never know the number of wild animals who died, but the fact of their suffering is undeniable.  And all unnecessary.
Given the apparent lack of media interest in our wild neighbors, we appreciated the tone of an update put out by Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center (CSERC), www.cserc.org,  a citizen-participation project based in Calaveras County, California. One passage on their site was especially moving:

“CSERC staff is grieving for the incomprehensible number of animals that had no ability to escape or to move mile after mile ahead of the fast-moving flames. For those that somehow found refuge in pockets of lower-intensity burn areas, the fire’s consumption of almost all food and habitat across broad areas makes survival far more difficult.

“For the last two decades CSERC staff has cooperated with the Forest Service and supported efforts to reforest and rehabilitate tens of thousands of acres of the Stanislaus Forest that burned in three major previous fires. Millions and millions of dollars of restoration and reforestation efforts have now been devoured by the Rim Fire, and years of work have been tragically lost.”

In the aftermath of any great tragedy, humans tend to ask questions.  Apart from the obvious Who is to blame? there are more useful questions to pose.  Could this have been avoided through a change in policy?  What can we do to prevent such a thing from happening again?  C.A.S.H. asks if anyone would consider what to us seems a sensible next step: a ban on hunting and campfires in national forests.

Even persons who are not anti-hunting per sé might see the logic in this, especially as hunting already endangers other citizens who wish to enjoy wilderness and wildlife peacefully.

Then, too, since hunters do not, on the face of it, respect life, and often drink while hunting, how can we expect them to be careful with campfires?  Might this horrible instance not cause a rethinking of allowing hunting in our national forests?   For the sake of our ever-more-threatened wildlife, let us hope it does. 

What We Can Do

The US Forest Service is the manager of our national public forests and grasslands. Unfortunately, they are an agency of the US Department of Agriculture, the government entity that arguably does more damage to American wildlife than any other department, via their numerous programs of wild bird eradication, killing of predator species, etc. This does not mean that we who champion the cause of wildlife should give up on the idea of banishing hunting from national land. We know that hunters are only a small minority of the population. Why should they have the loudest voice?

CASH recommends that all who love peaceful wildlife-related activities write and call their elected representatives, as well as the Chief of the USFS and the Secretary of Agriculture, and demand a complete ban on hunting on all national land, both forests and prairies. Make the point that nature manages to properly balance the ecosystems, whereas hunting sometimes results in enormous tragedies like the Rim Fire, and takes a terrible toll on wildlife every day.  Ending hunting on national land would be a relatively simple (albeit contentious) major step towards a more humane future.
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Contact info: Chief of the US Forest Service Thomas Tidwell at 202-205-8439; and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack at agsec@usda.gov.
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E.M. Fay is Associate Editor of the C.A.S.H. Courier.

Go on to Additional Losses Ascribed to the Yosemite Fire
Back to Fall-Winter 2013 Table of Contents
Back to C.A.S.H. Courier Archive

 
 

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