Outrage is a risky emotion. It tends to carry people over the cliff of acceptable behavior, sometimes into acts of destructive extremism. Yet some of our best conservation writers, like John Muir and Rachel Carson, have tapped their heartfelt outrage over the abuse of nature and created literature that inspires the rest of us to take constructive action.
Herring, the author of our cover story on the new hunting season
for Yellowstone National Park’s bison, fits into that
tradition. Hal’s powerfully written observations from the
front lines describe a policy-driven hunt that, in his eyes, has
become an insane circus.
Hal’s anger is all the
more legitimate because he’s been a hunter for 32 years,
since he took up a single-barrel shotgun as a 9-year-old boy and
went looking for rabbits. His barn holds elk antlers and hides, and
his game meat helps feed his wife and kids. It’s Hal’s
respect for hunting — and for his prey — that causes
him to question this bison hunt.
Hal also fits into
another tradition: that of hunters as conservation leaders. In the
late 1800s and early 1900s, responsible hunters organized to stop
the over-hunting and market hunting that threatened the survival of
many species. They supported the preservation of habitat, including
the creation of Yellowstone National Park, where the nation’s
once-vast bison herds were saved from extinction.
days, hunters seem to rarely assert their political power toward
conservation ends. But they did it magnificently two months ago,
when a few Republicans tried to sneak a proposal through Congress
that would have sold public lands to mining companies and other
developers. The National Wildlife Federation led a campaign that
quickly enlisted more than 700 sporting and conservation groups,
including thousands of hunters. This broad-based, nonpartisan
uprising halted the proposed selloff (HCN, 12/26/05: Bipartisan
uprising sinks public-lands selloff).
Hunters know that
without wild lands, there can be no real hunting. They also
understand that we need places where animals can survive on their
own terms, free from the intensive, hands-on micromanagement that
increasingly prevails in the settled and developed West. And that
is why more hunters should be simmering over what is happening
today to Yellowstone’s bison. As Hal shows, the shortcomings
of the bison hunt are caused by artificial limits on where the
bison can roam. No one likes to shoot caged animals, but
that’s essentially what’s happening.
are no villains in Hal’s eyes, only a failure of policy and
politics. If hunters called for opening the cage and expanding
bison territory, if they demanded solutions from the region’s
governors, legislators and members of Congress, it would be good
for them and for the animals. The 18 million-acre Yellowstone
ecosystem, which includes portions of seven national forests and
three national wildlife refuges, is one place where we can do this.
But it will only happen if more of us stand up and express our