Not all endangered species live in the forest

Struggling individuals in the rural West deserve as much support as, say, grizzlies.

 

“You're reading a book about a grizzly bear with blood all over the cover?” That was the comment from one of my regular, and favorite, restaurant servers. I explained that I was reading Old Mose by James Perkins, a story about a huge and destructive grizzly that lived in the Old West. She perked up because, like most Westerners, she loves these old bear myths.

This particular bear story supposedly ended in 1904, when Wharton Pigg, a man who dedicated his life to killing Old Mose, went hunting with James Anthony, and Anthony shot the bear. But the book I was reading says it happened otherwise. The bear Pigg was forever pursuing was actually a grizzly sow. Anthony shot a different bear, though a darn big one.

The truth about Old Mose is different in a lot of ways from the legends that sprang up around him. He was blamed for going on rampages and killing thousands of cattle. The little colony of grizzles around Black Mountain was then doomed to be hunted to extinction. It was physically impossible for one grizzly to commit the many crimes Westerners blamed on the bear. No bear ever killed a thousand cattle. That's contrary to grizzly behavior anyway. Mostly the big bears eat roots, berries and dead animals. It's rare for them to take down a living animal.

Mose was also said to have killed a man, Jacob Ratliff, in 1883.  Ratliff was killed by a bear, but he said it was a cinnamon bear, and Old Mose was a darker color.

In any case, my restaurant server won't have time to read the book. She says she tries to eke out time to read with her young child, but that's about it. Then she said something that stuck with me: “So, this bear was endangered -- kind of like us restaurant workers.”

She's dead right about being endangered. She barely gets along on the tough side of economic life, though she seems happy and is darn funny. Hers is a typical, small-town Western story. She did well in high school and then went to work in the ski and restaurant industry, putting off college. But she never got around to going to college, and then her child came along. Now she has “two and a half jobs.”

The small towns of the West depend on service workers just like her. And if you work at most restaurants, even chains like Olive Garden, Red Lobster and others, you're likely getting around $4 or $6 an hour and hoping for tips. The minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 an hour, believe it or not. Most of my buddies and I help out if we can by tipping 20 percent, but that's no solution.

My server acquaintance agrees that we all need to “get political” to help out endangered workers. But where would she find the time for that? She is well aware that she depends on government programs for survival. The federal Women, Infants and Children program, or WIC, helped out after her child was born. These days, she relies on the hot lunch program at school, where her kid actually likes the food, thank heavens. Food stamps are a huge help, too, she says. But as she well knows, all of those programs are on the chopping block in Washington. Blame that on the Tea Party Republicans, along with the odd reactionary Democrats and the scaredy-cats of both parties. The bottom line: This young worker’s survival is as much at risk as the old bears were, and she may be as endangered as today’s remnant bruins are.

What happened to the grizzlies is no mystery: Their food source disappeared. That occurred when ranchers started grazing cattle in the high meadows. Bears, wolves -- all kinds of predators -- were shot or poisoned. What's happening to our Western servers is no mystery, either. They are being squeezed hard right now by increasing rents and food costs. Legislative help is unlikely. Attempts to raise the wage for tipped workers run up against powerful restaurateur interests. The programs my friend depends on shrink each year.

But any help here in the small-town West is going to have to come from my side of the lunch counter. We need to get busy and elect politicians who understand what it's like to be endangered, both for critters and for people like my server and her kid.

Forrest Whitman is a contributor to Writers on the Range, an op ed service of High Country News. He lives in a retired caboose in the Rocky Mountains not far from Denver.

Hank
Hank
Oct 24, 2013 11:34 AM
Hello Forrest,
I really enjoyed reading your article ... until paragraph eight. Lets see how this paragraph would read if we left out the unnecessary, seemingly unrelated political statements. "These days, she relies on the hot lunch program at school, where her kid actually likes the food, thank heavens. Food stamps are a huge help, too, she says. But as she well knows, all of those programs are on the chopping block in Washington. This young worker’s survival is as much at risk as the old bears were, and she may be as endangered as today’s remnant bruins are."

Sounds good huh. Much improved. Those other two sentences detracted from the enjoyment of the story. It was a disservice to the story to throw them in. It was a disservice to your readers, let us make our own determinations on who to "blame".

Anyway I digress, the story was enjoyable, and I agree that these jobs, these people are in jeopardy of extinction. Not so sure that electing any politicians would make a difference though. Not so sure government involvement in any way is the best alternative.
Michael Dax
Michael Dax
Oct 25, 2013 08:34 AM
I understand what you're going for here, but I'm not entirely sure if you understand what 'endangered' means. The federal government considers something endangered when a species population drops in numbers. I'm fairly certain there is little chance that food servers will go extinct. They may be at financial risk, but I'm fairly certain we will have food servers for a long time to come. I understand you have a larger point here, but you lost me when the metaphor that the entire piece hinged on was off the mark from the get go.
Robb Cadwell
Robb Cadwell Subscriber
Oct 25, 2013 09:06 AM
Michael I understand what you're going for here, but I'm not entirely sure if you understand what 'endangered' means. The federal government considers something endangered when a species has a major advocacy group litigating on it's behalf. I'm fairly certain there is little chance that large North American charismatic carnivores will go extinct.(they are biologically listed at the lowest "least concern" listing) They may be at individual risk, but I'm fairly certain we will have so called endangered large North American charismatic carnivores for a long time to come. I understand you have a larger point here, but you lost me when you defined endangered in current use by our federal government. I long for a day we care as much for our single moms working in the service industries as we do unendangered charismatic species.
Michael Dax
Michael Dax
Oct 25, 2013 01:30 PM
Robb, I defined 'endangered' in very narrow terms for purposes of brevity. I understand the political baggage that accompanies that term, but that was not the point I was trying to raise, and I said nothing of charismatic megafauna, so I think you are placing undue assumptions on me. But yes, I will concede that 'endangered' has a meaning beyond the confines of the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
Deb Dedon
Deb Dedon Subscriber
Oct 29, 2013 03:38 PM
While the political will to raise minimum wages for servers is in perpetual question, what about the public will to pay more for a served meal?
Bob McCoy
Bob McCoy Subscriber
Oct 29, 2013 05:34 PM
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."

The author's intended meaning seems clear enough that any with an eighth-grade mastery of English might follow.

Some readers with less political acumen than current company might ask, "How did those programs get on the chopping block?" That would support placing responsibility--passive voice constructions deflect responsibility. Surely, if cutting the programs is good for America in general, the surgeons should receive the credit. In terms of "our regular server," 'blame' and 'scaredy-cats' are the correct terms for an opinion piece. Were we meant to identify with the restaurant owner, 'credit' and 'brave' could substitute, along with a few adjustments to correct grammar.

I agree with the piece, as written.
Toby Thaler
Toby Thaler
Oct 29, 2013 08:09 PM
Deb Dedon--Truly, if there is not enough money in the pockets of the customers, raising the waitpersons' wages and thus of the meals' prices will not help. The fundamental problem is the increasing maldistribution of wealth and income—ever upwards into the pockets of the 1%. Any solution other than economic justice is unsustainable.

I concur with Bob McCoy; the reference to "Tea Party Republicans, along with the odd reactionary Democrats and the scaredy-cats of both parties" is exactly on point. These are the people who advocate for (or acquiesce in) policies that further the redistribution of money upwards.
Toby Thaler
Toby Thaler
Oct 29, 2013 08:10 PM
Deb Dedon--Truly, if there is not enough money in the pockets of the customers, raising the waitpersons' wages and thus of the meals' prices will not help. The fundamental problem is the increasing maldistribution of wealth and income—ever upwards into the pockets of the 1%. Any solution other than economic justice is unsustainable.

I concur with Bob McCoy; the reference to "Tea Party Republicans, along with the odd reactionary Democrats and the scaredy-cats of both parties" is exactly on point. These are the people who advocate for (or acquiesce in) policies that further the redistribution of money upwards.
Michael Kirkpatrick
Michael Kirkpatrick Subscriber
Oct 29, 2013 08:34 PM
I like a good analogy, but this one is ludicrous on so many levels, not to mention insulting to just about all non-humans. Don't blame the reader if you can't make your argument a little tighter. The federal government doesn't define what endangered is, that's what scientists do, and please don't conflate the two. Most endangered species don't have large advocacy groups, and they'd benefit from the equivalent of WIC. I'm not anti-minimum wage earner, having been there plenty of times myself, but to suggest that the least affluent of humans in our society has it worse than endangered species, charismatic or otherwise, is just poetic drivel.
David Newell
David Newell
Nov 01, 2013 02:10 PM
I thought the intent of the writer was well communicated, whether or not the reader agrees with the conclusions. I thought some of the commenters were looking for argument, instead of for understanding of the point.
My comment is this:
A market devalues that which is overabundant,
which in this case, is people. (As compared to "jobs needing to be filled")

just the way it is, and it's going to get a ton worse.