Being aggressively into kick-boxing and martial arts, of course I couldn't resist responding to letter writer C.S. Heller's taunt about my youth and his convenient implication that I am naive when I insist that the American bison be again allowed their inherent, native and ancient right to be a free-roaming, wild species (HCN, 10/27/97).
Age has nothing to do
with wisdom. Over the last half of my life I have bicycled, walked
and crawled tens of thousands of miles across the heartbroken
short-grass West. I've been beaten up by the cops, hit-and-run off
my bike by ranchers, had my arm broken and my shoulder ripped open,
had my life threatened countless times, gone to jail for locking
down in the line of fire at a varmint militia-held prairie-dog
killing contest, and through it all come to understand first hand
the extreme suffering and sadness that remaining Plains wildlife
endures every day under the present empire of bristling wires and
Experientially, this is just the
tip of the iceberg. A lot of my friends from the street are not
living anymore. In my three decades I've lived more than some
people 60 or 70 years old.
I have made more than
my share of mistakes, but I have accepted the lessons learned and
tried to do better. This is in contrast to the people who rule and
ruin our lives out West.
Like it or not, the
American West today is defined by hatred, ugliness and greed. We
have no elders; we have no leaders. The politicians and the
ranchers act like overgrown, mutant children. It is hard enough to
comprehend that the people who "settled" this country actually
believed that race war against all native wildlife and people was a
good thing divined by God.
will speak of that war in hushed, horrified tones for thousands of
years to come. It blows the mind that on the cusp of the new
millennium, the land and her native inhabitants still suffer under
this 19th-century dominion, as witnessed by last winter's slaughter
of Yellowstone's bison, as witnessed by continued government
poisoning of the last colonies of wild, black-tailed prairie dogs.
Biologists predict the extinction of these fast-diminishing prairie
dogs - within 12 to 20 years.
Freedom for the
bison and all native wildlife cultures is a social justice issue.
It is they who were here before any people, it is they who have
suffered the most, it is they who did nothing to deserve any of
If people would learn the word
"share" instead of "take," if people would allow native wildlife
room and connectivity enough to be able to raise their families and
live out their respective biological and social destinies in peace,
wildlife could give a crap whether their human neighbor was a
Republican or a Green.
America is a
multicultural nation now. There is room for all of us, including
native wildlife. If we can send a gift box of plutonium to Saturn,
we certainly can be evolved enough to learn to live with and
alongside the others and make sure that everybody is spoken for.
The emancipation of the American bison and the great flowing
grasslands thus becomes metaphor for our entire civilization as we
all learn to take our place on this beautiful
One hundred forty-nine thousand square
miles of the dry Western Plains have reverted back to "frontier"
conditions of less than two persons per square mile. The remaining
people are leaving "America's Empty Quarter" of their own will.
Millions of additional acres lie under federal and state
jurisdiction. Reform would prioritize the most sensitive of these
public lands for native wildlife and clean recreation. Some of the
abandoned, blown-out land under private control can be bought
outright from willing sellers and restored by private interests
such as our new Southern Plains Land Trust.
Thoughtful landowners could connect all or portions of their
property to the emerging greater ecosystem through conservation
easements, while retaining "ownership" of the land. There are
outstanding Indian claims that in the interest of human decency
could finally be settled through land buyouts and transfers, and,
in some cases, cordial joint management between the United States
and sovereign tribes.
Taxpayers are forced to
spend nearly $1 billion per year in corporate welfare for the
public-lands ranching industry. Some of this money should be used
for grassland restoration, which would benefit all Americans.
Through a Wildlands Project-type system of wilderness cores, buffer
zones and biological corridors, native wildlife could again have
the habitat necessary for prosperity. And a Buffalo Commons economy
would not only bring diverse groups of citizens together, but would
greatly stabilize and enrich remaining local human
It takes a strong and open-hearted
person to quit being so damn selfish and petty. The realization of
the Buffalo Commons will demand cooperation between the whole
cacophonic lot of us. As Albuquerque mayor-elect Jim Baca said
recently, "We have to remember that we are just borrowing this land
from future generations." The commons is striving for a simple
value called community. It is way past time we all grow up and
learn respect, responsibility and maturity. We don't even have to
like each other, but we can respect each other and agree on the big
I'm in this because I know the sorrow,
suffering and intense impoverishment that pervades the American
West and our civilization. I wouldn't bother breathing another day
without the promise of a time 30 or 40 years from now when great
cities and tiny hamlets alike are entirely run with energy from the
sun, "minority" is a meaningless word, people can again kneel and
drink directly from the lakes and streams, and there is equal
opportunity, wellness, community and beauty for everyone, including
the mighty-hearted bison survivors, whose brethren and
grandchildren will again blacken the yellow grass/prairie dog
plains like an epiphany.
Jarid Manos is executive director of the Great Plains Restoration
Council, Box 717, Albuquerque, NM 87103.