One Park Does Not a Recovered Species Make

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.

If 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 snow winters.

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 Sport 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.

The following 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.

Instead of 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

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2012. All Rights Reserved


28 thoughts on “One Park Does Not a Recovered Species Make

    • Thanks Justin. I tried to watch it earlier tonight but was unable to find it. I’m glad the situation received some exposure but wish it could have had been given a little more time…and maybe needed to be a bit more graphic (traps) to show how our wildlife is being commandeered by government agencies representing special interest ONLY.

  1. Jim, great post as always. Again I’ll use the word “commandeered” om regard to our wildlife.. That’s what they’ve done. I think we’re well on our way to stopping it and I think our numbers are growing but it will be a long, hard struggle. “They” won’t go down easy.

  2. “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.” Good for you, Jim!

    I only have one quibble with this otherwise spot-on article. You said, “If ranchers and hunters had their way, wolves and grizzlies would be restricted to the confines of the park.” Actually, if ranchers and hunters had their way, wolves and grizzlies would be extinct. If I had my way, ranchers and hunters would be extinct.

  3. Reblogged this on NikiVallwaysMyway and commented:
    when I saw this picture in my Facebook stream, I was so grateful for the “save” by the friend of my friend who first made me acknowledge his joke. friends of friends are some of the most amazing people in the world. thank you for having friends, it makes the world a better place.

  4. this picture made me cry this morning. last night in the hot tub, a couple from Arizona (what a MESSED up state that one is right now!) were justifying using an AK47 as a legitimate hunting weapon. I actually thought people like that were only on TV, that they could not be real human beings. I had never met such psychotics in real life. I am praying for our nation’s psychological health.

    • The BLM is considering slaughtering 50000 wild horses so that “welfare” cattle can have more of our Western Lands, and those that are left on the range are rounded-up 10000 each year and their natural predators (wolves, big cats,etc) are killed to make room more cows, more big game that make big bucks from the same Psychotics that Nikohl mentioned, and fracking gas wells that will eventually destroy the west with earth shaking quakes.

  5. Good article, it highlights still lingering problems with lack of understanding and attitude. In Europe all present day Wisent, European Buffalo, are the descendents of less than twenty survivors from the beginning of the twentieth century. The creation of different populations spread all over Europe is the first step to re-establish genetic diversity, but the second step is to allow genetic interchange in order to strengthen species survival.
    The West Scandinavian wolves suffer from spinal defects due to interbreeding, but notions to permit wolf migration through Lapland is met with resistance by reindeer farmers who, whilst keeping reindeer on an industrial scale, often herded by helicopter and snow mobile, fear that wolf predation would impact on their profits. In Germany there is hope that the remerging wolf population will eventually have recruits not only from Poland but also from the Balkans and Italy/France, thus allowing for a genetic diversity that would strengthen species resilience.
    Unless we, the people of wealthy industrialised western societies, understand that new concepts, including protection zones and green corridors for wildlife, become an integral part of out countries nature and biodiversity are doomed!

  6. Another spot-on article Jim- People need to quit gazing at wolves and other wildlife in Yellowstone, take their blinders off, and acknowledge that much of the rest of the West is in big trouble, thanks in part to the absence of wolves for 70 years or so.
    Thank you for your excellent and continuing to, literally, expose the “big game!”

  7. If you find fault in this article, please, open the back of your TV set and take out the unnecessary components. Be sure to designate a portion of the systems board as a “component refuge.” Otherwise, go trophy hunting for the larger components. Small components do not matter, they’re TV vermin, so feel free to remove any small components, they really don’t matter to the quality of your TV’s picture. You should also remove any capacitors as they are like predators, taking power away from the diodes. Of course, you should hunt for the big capacitors, they are the trophies of TV system board. I once took out a 2700 uF capacitor. Beat that! Also, you should know that capacitors are the only component that store electricity for fun. They are really the devil’s component. Happy hunting! Enjoy the Super Bowl.

  8. Pingback: “Hunter-Conservationists:” the Most Ridiculous Spin of the Century | Exposing the Big Game

  9. I live in south central PA just a few miles over the MD line. Several miles from me in Lineboro, MD there is a bison meat company. I only know because I had seen the billboard on my commute for several years and was/am disgusted each time I see it. It just doesn’t make sense to me how most people can say they love animals then turn around and eat animals 3x a day?!?! WTF are we doing!?!?!? Where is the logic?!?! We need to extend our circle of compassion to include all animals and the damn people who take pleasure in killing animals for whatever reason need not be a part of this world if I had it my way–they don’t deserve the precious air in their lungs. Live & Let Live Always ❤

  10. Pingback: One Park Does Not a Recovered Species Make – Making Waves 🌺 Outreach

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