Merriott column: The last griz in the Colorado Rocky Mountains
In the fall of 1979, I made an elk hunting trip to Colorado near Alamosa with a group of north Louisiana rednecks all on our first big-game hunt.
At that time of my life I still thought I was Jeremiah Johnson and carried a genuine Hawken 50 Caliber (well, it is actually a Thompson Center Fire). I thought I was pretty good with it, as I could drill a beer can consistently at 50 yards.
I had not mastered reloading on the run while dodging an arrow or running from a wounded grizzly, but I digress.
When we arrived in southwest Colorado for the hunt, the big news was that an outfitter somewhere near Pagosa Springs had encountered what was the last grizzly bear in Colorado and killed it by hand with an arrow. Whether he shot it with his bow and arrow illegally, or killed it by hand, it was apparently the last griz in the Colorado Rockies.
Makes me wonder if some of us will see in our lifetimes the last mountain lion, black bear, moose or maybe even elk? There are no wolves, buffalo or wolverines and not many lynx.
On the face, this hypothesis seems far-fetched. However, just last year in a major paper produced by the World Wildlife Foundation, it was reported that we (humanity) have wiped out 60 percent of the mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970. This is a result of the vast and growing consumption of food and resources by the global population (now estimated at 7.7 billion from 3.7 billion in 1970).
For those of you who may be math challenged, that’s more than double in only 50 years — about the time since our big elk hunt (we killed nothing — big snowstorm and another story).
This leads me to the conclusion that we need a real sea change in our way of thinking about our relationship with all God’s critters. As most of you know, a few weeks ago a mother lion and her three mature cubs were killed in West Glenwood — for being too close to people? Isn’t the inverse of that also true if there are now 7.7 billion of us?
A male moose was shot recently by CPW for acting too aggressively toward people. So, wait, let me get this clear, we reintroduce them to Colorado in 1978 and now we are killing them for getting too close to people?
I’m just saying, isn’t the inverse also true and should there be consequences?
Another option would be that we accept the responsibility of caring for the animals we brought back to Colorado, as well as the ones we have inherited. Dart the moose and have a vet check it out to see if it’s in pain or has some kind of disease. After all, we did reintroduce them here; we are responsible for them.
Maybe we need “no people zones,” kind of like no-fly zones where wild animals get to be wild animals without having to interact with people. It would appear it is becoming more and more hazardous to their health anyhow.
As a side note, the elk population in North America once numbered 10 million, and now it is one-tenth of that. And here in the Roaring Fork Valley we are killing their natural predators, lions and bears, systematically in an experiment to increase their number while letting vehicles drive 75 mph at night in wildlife crossing zones where the animals come down low to seek food.
What are we thinking? Or maybe we are not? At least not outside the proverbial box.
I saw four elk slaughtered a couple weeks ago near the Habitat Restore. Again, I think it is time to rethink our responsibilities. It’s not just to people, it’s also to the animals.
The two-strike policy for bears may no longer be a best practice. It is our obligation to make sure we humans are held accountable and take care of our trash. If we don’t, the fines should be high enough to pay to transport the bear to Yellowstone, or wherever there is room for this bear.
If we have allowed so many people to live in Colorado that there is not room for the lion, the bear and the moose, then we need to do some serious soul-searching. After all, not only are they sentient creatures that feel pain, but they are huge drivers of our Western Slope economies.
So the apex predator grizzly is long gone — the last one slain in a fight with an outfitter. It lost its place in the Colorado Rockies it once called home. Make no mistake, it once ruled like no other in God’s creation.
Which one will go next? It’s up to us. If you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem.
Frosty Merriott spent seven nights camping with “griz” in a tent in Katmai. He is a CPA in Carbondale, former Carbondale Town Council member and a current member of the Carbondale Environmental Board and the Chamber of Commerce Executive Board. He is a registered independent and considers himself a fiscal conservative but an original tree hugger from Louisiana. His column appears monthly in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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