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.
Hal 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.
These 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.
There 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 outrage.
Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at firstname.lastname@example.org.