Opinion: Arrest of local activist helped wildlife
Free Press Opinion Columnist
My first visit to Colorado National Monument wasn’t about scenic hikes or magical rock formations. Really, it was just about the dirt. It was everywhere, but I never would have noticed it if not for my 2-year-old son.
The distance we hiked that day required no special hiking boots or even any shoes at all. Every few feet, we stopped and studied a new kind of dirt. I was just as amazed as my toddler to realize how much the colors and textures could change within a short distance.
A recent Palisade High School graduate, Comfrey Jacobs, took his adventures with nature to another level last winter when he joined Buffalo Field Campaign in West Yellowstone, Mont. There, he worked with volunteers from all over the world to end the systematic round-up and slaughter of the last genetically pure wild bison.
The current herd descended from 23 bison hidden within Yellowstone National Park when 60,000,000 others were slaughtered across the American Plains in the 1800s. There are currently 4,200 animals in the Yellowstone herd.
Because of an incorrect belief that bison spread the deadly disease brucellosis to cattle, the Montana Department of Livestock exterminates bison that migrate out of the park onto other public lands. Ironically, elk are known carriers of brucellosis, yet no one seems to mind that every year 100,000 of them migrate across land leased for cattle grazing.
In the last three decades, government officials have slaughtered twice the number of animals as in the current bison herd. Some years, one-quarter to nearly half of the herd has been killed.
Activists like Jacobs and Buffalo Field Campaign’s 3,000 volunteers have witnessed some of this firsthand. It begins with “hazing,” in which wandering bison are chased by men in helicopters or on horseback.
In the spring when hazing occurs, most of the wanderers are pregnant or mothers of newborn calves. In the chaos of hazing, mothers miscarry and calves get lost, fall through ice, or drown during forced water crossings. Dead calves are scattered along the landscape.
Bulls are often shot right away because they’re too big and dangerous for hazing operations. The surviving bison are crammed into pens where they wait to be loaded on trucks and driven to slaughter.
This year’s hazing operations were cut short on March 6 when Jacobs was arrested for his efforts to disrupt the bison slaughter. In the early morning hours before the trucks arrived to take the penned bison to slaughterhouses, Jacobs handcuffed himself to a barrier blocking the road. No bison were trucked away that day.
With 652 bison slaughtered, the 2013-14 winter had the fourth highest kill rate since 1985. That number may have been much higher, but for the courage of Comfrey Jacobs. With the international publicity his action brought to Yellowstone National Park, officials called off hazing and slaughtering for the rest of the season.
Jacobs’ story is not an isolated one about a single species. We’ve thrown ecosystems entirely out of balance by eliminating predators or their prey. Sometimes we do it by covering habitats with lawns and shopping centers. Other times we pay the government to do it.
Congress created Wildlife Services in the early 1900s to exterminate wolves. From there, the agency’s responsibilities expanded to the extermination of prairie dogs, beavers, and all sorts of predators. At this point, millions of our tax dollars are used to kill more than 100,000 wild animals every year.
Studies have shown that people who spend more time outside in natural settings tend to be happier, learn more, and have better relationships. New York City’s Central Park was created to make workers more productive by giving them a peaceful place to enjoy on their days off.
Even the simplest things, when done in nature, can be the most important. We need space for our homes and energy sources, but we also need to preserve something wild and natural. It really does matter.
A federal judge just sentenced Comfrey Jacobs to three years probation, a three-year banishment from Yellowstone, and a hefty fine. It was a big price to pay, but his efforts will make a difference.
A fourth generation Coloradan, GJ Free Press columnist Robyn Parker is the former host of the progressive community radio show, Grand Valley Live. She is a stay-at-home mom, active community volunteer and board member for local environmental and social justice organizations. Robyn may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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