The C.A.S.H. Courier Newsletter
One Park Does Not A Recovered Species Make
Reprinted with permission of Jim Robertson
Posted on January 26,
Exposing the Big Game
Ignorance must be such sweet bliss for anyone who visits Yellowstone
National Park and thinks the wildlife they see there represents fully
recovered populations of some of North America’s most endangered species.
Sorry to say, one park does not a recovered species make. For all its size,
spectacularity and relative biodiversity, Yellowstone is little more than an
island in an anthropogenic wasteland to much of its megafauna.
ranchers and hunters had their way, wolves and grizzlies would be restricted
to the confines of the park. Ranchers already have such a death-grip on
Montana’s wildlife that bison are essentially marooned and forced to stay
within park borders, battling snow drifts no matter how harsh the winter,
despite an instinctual urge to migrate out of the high country during heavy
Though Yellowstone is synonymous with the shaggy
bovines, bison would prefer to spend their winters much further downriver,
on lands now usurped and fenced-in by cowboys to fatten-up their cattle
before shipping them off to slaughter.
Yellowstone’s high plateaus
are on average well over 5,000 feet in elevation and can hardly be
considered prime habitat for the wild grazers. Much of the park actually
sits within the caldera of one the world’s largest active volcanoes. Any
sizable eruption could release enough toxic gasses to kill off all of
Yellowstone’s bison—the last genetically pure strain of the species now left
on the continent.
People driving through cattle country on their way
to Yellowstone often have no idea just how sterile the open plains they’re
seeing really are. Gone are the vast bison herds that once blackened them
for miles on end—killed off by hide-hunters, market meat-hunters or by
“sportsmen” shooting them from trains just for a bit of fun. Gone are the
wolves and plains grizzlies adapted to that arid habitat. And nearly gone
are the prairie dogs as well as the ferrets, kit fox, plovers, burrowing
owls and a host of others who depended on them for food or shelter.
Part of the reason I wrote Exposing the Big Game: Living Targets of a Dying
http://www.earth-books.net/books/exposing-the-big-game was to remind
people about the wild species who once called so much of this continent
home. No one’s going be able to claim ignorance on my watch; if I can’t go
through life blissfully then neither can anyone else.
is an excerpt from one of the book’s two chapters on bison:
Selfless and protective, bison develop lasting bonds
in and outside the family, not only between cows, calves and siblings but
also between unrelated individuals who grew up, traveled and learned about
life together. Juveniles help mothers look after the youngsters and will
gladly lend a horn to keep potential predators away from the calves. I have
witnessed cooperation among bison families often in the years I’ve spent
observing and photographing them. I’ve also seen them put themselves in
harm’s way to defend elk from hungry wolves, and even mourn over the bones
of their dead.
But in a ruthless act of rabid backstabbing, 1600
bison—who had never known confinement or any reason to fear people—were
slain to appease Montana ranchers during the winter of 2008. More than half
of Yellowstone’s bison were killed in what was the highest body count since
the nineteenth century. 1438 were needlessly and heartlessly shipped in
cattle trucks to slaughterhouses (those nightmarish death camps where so
many forcibly domesticated cattle meet their ends), while 166 were blasted,
as they stood grazing, by sport and tribal hunters. Two winters prior, 947
bison were sent to slaughter and 50 were shot by hunters.
making amends for the historic mistreatment of these sociable, benevolent
souls, twenty-first-century Montanans are still laying waste to them.
Spurred on by industry-driven greed for grazing land (veiled under the guise
of concern about brucellosis, a disease with a negligible risk of
transmission that has never actually been passed from wild bison to cattle),
the state of Montana sued to seize control of bison ranging outside
Yellowstone. Now their department of livestock has implemented a lethal
policy and the US National Park Service is facilitating it. Since the dawn
of the new millennium, nearly 4000 Yellowstone bison have been put to death.
Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2012. All Rights Reserved.
You can contact Jim at
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