by Stephen Capra
Over the past week I have been subjected to the photos of dead wolves at the hands of some of the most vicious humans who call themselves man. Hanging from a truck, being held high by yet another smiling ablation, or perhaps straddled by a shotgun, the result is the same-a heinous act, one that has no place in the West or for that matter anywhere on earth.
At the same time that this was occurring, Yellowstone began its now annual slaughter of bison. What we at Bold Visions continue to try to grasp is, why?
Why given the science, the continued growth of the rights of animals and our far more sophisticated understanding of predator-prey relationships is this still even being considered? The answer too many of us is that the system has it all wrong.
For the past one hundred or more year’s man, has seen fit to “manage” wildlife and our natural resources. The idea was that we could do a far better job of protecting land, water and wildlife if we developed a system to regulate it. Government agencies were created, state agencies such as Game and Fish were developed and soon game species such as deer and elk were brought back from the brink of extinction.
The problem was, species like grizzlies, sage grouse, wolves and cougars were allowed to be decimated. Lands such as those that would be managed by the Bureau of Land Management would be turned into stock pens by ranchers who from the start of this process made sure that they, not any federal or state agency were firmly in charge.
As Western states were created, the livestock industry was a power broker as were the mines and any interest that was designed to exploit the land or waters. Soon came the dams, and the destruction of our fisheries and the life of the West began a transformation from wild to structured.
It is in this mindset that the future of the West was carved out and molded into what we bear witness to today. Politicians in many western states do the bidding for the livestock industry; Game and Fish departments have become the posse for ranchers and continue this tradition today. In that sense, the slaughter of wolves and bison fits a historical context. That is why changing it will require a new thrust, one that does not rely on the same tired voices.
First, long ago we got managing wildlife all wrong. We do not need to manage wildlife, we need to manage people! Wildlife can manage itself, but all our so-called efforts to manage, generally have damaged wildlife. Sure, there are some great examples of success; some would point to the bison. Yet, it’s forcing people to change their ways that continues to improve wildlife. Wilderness by itself has done tremendous good in that it keeps slobs and their guns by and large away, because they must walk or ride a horse. The return of wolves has dramatically improved habitat in Yellowstone and elsewhere. But when agencies come into play, ranchers complain, then politicians begin to squawk and wolves and bison lose.
The answer is to regulate people not wildlife and do so for wildlife, not people. If we are going to force change then it must come from serious thought and strategic moves. Boycotts are one measure; they must be coordinated by many groups, not one or two. The creation of a new wolf coalition would consolidate and empower efforts for change and improvement. First elected officials, especially Governors in states surrounding Yellowstone should feel heat in ways they cannot predict- economic being first, the proactive demands for expanding the park, creation of pro-wolf PAC’s that are used to generate candidates to challenge their jobs. We must create our own “wolf packs” groups of citizens and business owners, which regularly visit with our representatives and show up at public events to pressure and demand change of their 19th century mentalities.
The superintendent of Yellowstone must be held accountable for allowing bison to be killed, for that matter so should Interior Secretary Jewell. Dan Wenks (the park Superintendent) name should be everywhere in the public domain and the slaughter of bison should accompany his photo, thus the killing of bison will become a non-starter for future superintendents.
The park itself should be expanded. This must occur by the creation of a National Monument, since Congress would never allow it. The Park should be doubled in size to ensure wolves and other predators have more room to roam without the fear of hunting. Would the delegations in the surrounding states go crazy, yes! For them wildlife is profit to be exploited. An expanded Yellowstone represents a change of culture, one that puts wildlife first.
By causing the park serious financial impact, the same goes for surrounding communities, we can make our mark. People must begin to see that the trail of blood is on their hands. A symbol can be a bloody hand print, not a paw.
We will continue our efforts to tear down the livestock industry that has done so much to destroy the wildness of our beloved West. Politicians that do their dirty work should become part of a database that is shared and presented to the public on a regular basis. Bills must be introduced to chip away at their power and make the economics of public lands grazing work for wildlife, not beef.
Finally, the reform of Game and Fish Departments, in New Mexico, Montana, Idaho and many other states such as North Carolina will do far more to protect and enhance wildlife by allowing life, rather than managing death!
The bell is tolling on the past, on those who live to kill and thrive on the suffering of wildness. Our job is to ring it loud and hard in the coming years with guts and passion, and the will to see change in our lifetime. America has fought many battles; this one requires all of us to move beyond our comfort zone to create a new culture in the West, one that is wild at heart and full of spirit.
For wolves and bison, may you live free and make the West your home again!
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The Russian House-La Carte
Game&Fish - Part 1
from Aldo Leopold to Walmart Wildlife Management in the Wild, Wild West
It is important to acknowledge the very important historical perspective that was written by John Crenshaw (former public affairs chief, New Mexico Wildlife editor, and game warden, who retired in 1997). Much of this history was published in earlier editions of New Mexico Wildlife. Crenshaw’s historical work, which I used in large quantities with modification, speaks for itself, but in no way was he part of this story, nor should he be viewed as endorsing it.
How we got here…..
The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF), and especially its game commissioners, have a long and at times groundbreaking experience in managing lands across our state. Perhaps it’s important to make clear from the start my personal distaste for management of land and especially wildlife. My distaste could be viewed as classic ignorance; if so, I am guilty as charged. I simply believe that wildlife species can when allowed to self-manage and when the natural predator-prey system is solidly in place flourish on their own. In return, lands will be in far better shape. Looking at the long history of the NMDGF is important, because it helps to give one a sense of how we have come to this place and the situation we are in today; wolves are being forced to the brink of extinction and elk populations are thriving. Perhaps equally important is understanding the differences between those working in the field people who have devoted their lives to improving our state’s environment — and the political appointees that have made the decisions that guide this agency. This is important to understand in the context of what it means for wolves and for all predators, and how it affects our chances at a truly balanced ecosystem in our state. While this snippet of history shows the early battles, it only gives a foundation. What you will see in the more modern Game Commission is a story of power and secrecy, and a mission make this state a large game farm, not a functioning ecosystem.
While some may feel that history shows that wildlife needs management, some could argue that it’s not management wildlife needs — it’s people who need a better understanding of biology. But in earlier times the call for management was there, and gave birth to NMDGF. One needs to look back to the 1860s and the sense of Manifest Destiny that caused people to head West.
In those times people were beholders to a slaughter of wildlife on a universal scale. By 1860 the enormous southern plains bison herd was being plundered, with an estimated two million bison killed that year.
Germany had developed a process to tan bison hides into fine leather. Homesteaders collected bones from carcasses left by hunters. Bison bones were used in refining sugar, and in making fertilizer and fine bone china. These bones brought from $2.50 to $15 a ton. Based on an average price of $8 per ton they brought $2.5 million into Kansas alone between 1868 and 1881. Assuming that about 100 skeletons were required to make one ton of bones, this represented the remains of more than 31 million bison.
By 1880, New Mexico, then a territory, passed its first protection law for wildlife, but the bison were gone. (Ironically, today a herd of some 25 still roam wild at the base of the bootheel, migrating between Mexico and the New Mexico border.) Many species were on the brink. The law set no big game limits and left many species unprotected. One of the natural exemptions of the time was that people traveling across the state could kill to feed their family. By 1895, there was a three-month fall hunting season in place for deer, elk and antelope, as well as a six month season for quail and turkey. By 1897 laws were getting tougher. But it would be 1903 before the Territorial legislature would create what would become the game department. They placed a man by the name of Page Otero in charge, but the legislature importantly reserved authority to designate what species would be protected and which predators to target with bounties — a decision that was not based on science. By 1909, big game license fees cost $1.
With the birth of statehood in 1912, the legislature created the Department of Game and Fish and decided that the governor would pick the “warden” to run the agency. Our first state game warden was Trinidad C de Baca. In those days, the funds for running the agency came from licenses and allowed the agency to be self-sustaining. That is until the legislature would raid the till, as it did in 1914, leading the agency and sportsmen to revolt.
Aldo Leopold joins the fray…
In 1915, severe illness forced a young U.S. Forest Service employee out of the field and into the office. His name was Aldo Leopold and he found himself in the Albuquerque headquarters as head of recreation, game, fish, information and education. The timing was fortuitous; Leopold wanted to see sportsmen empowered and he understood well the challenges that lay before them. Many legislators and governors across the West carefully guarded their powers and remained stubbornly resistant to change. Political payoffs and partisanship were the norm. Just prior to being moved into his new position, Leopold was witness to the raiding of the Game Protection Fund by the state treasurer, which while legal, was a painful blow to sportsmen who had carefully watched the fund grow and hoped its first order of business would be the construction of a trout hatchery. In his new role, Leopold was able to travel the state to share his quixotic vision for wildlife in the state. He would establish the Albuquerque Game Protective Association (AGPA) and was its first secretary. As he traveled the state, Leopold worked to create more groups in Santa Fe, Taos, Socorro, Hot Springs, Deming and Las Cruces; the list was growing and Leopold was showing a gift for organizing.
By 1916, after refusing a transfer to Washington, Leopold was about to launch a sportsmen’s statewide organization. It would be the creation of the New Mexico Protective Game Association (NMPGA), which was the forerunner to today’s New Mexico Wildlife Federation. Ironically, many of the concerns of that time could easily be echoed today because the needs remain. The organization supported better law enforcement, game refuges and most importantly, a well-qualified, politically ambiguous game warden. The most striking difference was their call for predator control. The main fight for Leopold was to get real game control in the hands of the Game Commission and out of the hands of the governor and chief game warden.
In an editorial in the sportsman publication The Pine Cone, Leopold stated, “The stockmen are never saddled with a sanitary board unsatisfactory to them. Likewise, the organized sportsmen should not be settled with a Game Warden whom they do not approve.” Leopold’s editorial came on the heels of some unexpected developments. The Democratic Gov. Ezequiel C de Baca died in 1917, soon after taking office or naming a new game warden. The result was that Republican Lt. Gov. Washington E. Lindsey, who made no promises to sportsmen, picked Theodore Rouault Jr. of Las Cruces. With a new election came Gov. Octavio Larrazolo, and despite Leopold’s initial feelings about Rouault Jr., he was quick to support him in the position. Larrazolo seemed puzzled by the strong level of outcry from sportsmen. Organized as they were, more than 40 men arrived to meet the governor, and with Leopold as their leader, they spent an hour making the case for New Mexico sportsmen; all the while the governor acted bored. Then in a magisterial voice the governor said, “Gentleman, when I was elected governor, I asked for no additional prerogatives. By the same token, I shall surrender none! Good day.” Leopold’s response was to let the governor know that he would never enjoy a second term! Larrazolo used his power as governor to appoint Thomas Gable, who was politically connected and very close with big ranching interests, not sportsmen. Leopold asked legislators to sign a pledge not to vote for Larrazolo’s re-nomination and urged sportsmen to make the same pledge, but to no avail.
The first commission was created in 1921, and was known as the Game Protective Association. It wanted a citizen’s body — a state game commission — to set hunting and fishing regulations, hire the state game warden, and set priorities. The legislature created a three-person commission, but still maintained the right to set seasons and bag limits, and the governor (now Merritt Mechem) still appointed the agency’s chief. The language creating the commission stated, “they were authorized to make rules and regulations and establish such services that they deemed necessary.” However, a late amendment prohibited the commission from changing any season or bag limit set by the legislature, except in case of fire or emergencies. The good news was that money in the Game Protection fund could no longer be looted by the legislature. While sportsmen and governors continued to fight, Gov. James Hinkles’ appointment of a woman — Grace Melaven — as head warden would allow this divide to reach its zenith in 1923. Once again this reflected politics and reward, a theme that remains today, as Melaven was the wife of a Santa Rosa banker. She had, at the time, no experience in wildlife conservation. The fights would go on, and New Mexico like all Western states would jump at the chance to dam its rivers, in the process destroying wild fish stocks, cross-breeding species, and adapting to a new concept — fishing at the reservoir. The damage remains today, and like many artificial creations, people, not wildlife, seemingly adapt and forget about a past that included wild rivers, beaver, and riparian areas designed to flourish, with flooding that replenished.
PART 2 NEXT WEEK
Bold Visions Conservation