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Know the West

'Humane is what's best for humans'


Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

This winter has been especially busy for Yellowstone National Park photographer Jim Peaco:

Jim Peaco: "I photographed a Park Service roundup where rangers on horseback were trying to move bison back into Yellowstone Park. It can be a little scary to watch. These are bison, not cattle. One day, I saw a ranger and his horse fall among all these running bison. Fortunately, the bison passed and he got back on his horse unhurt.

"The bison try to get away, and because they're forced into narrower and narrower fences, they're scrambling. It's a miniature stampede. The animals get stressed out and butt each other.

"The testing process for brucellosis isn't painful, but just by holding the animals, they're handled longer and their stress levels go up. They use a nose swab and an eye swab, and then they put a number on their back.

"They sort the animals by size for safety's sake. They load them into medium-to-large horse trailers, and pack them pretty tight so they can't kick each other. This corralling operation is supposed to be humane and they've made it as safe as possible. But to me, humane has taken on a whole new meaning. I wrote this to my sister. 'Humane is what's best for humans.'

"It's pretty complicated. All too often it's us vs. them, but we need the ranchers. They preserve open space. This thing just keeps branching out with every situation or problem leading to three or four other ones.

"Still, some of the bison are doing just fine. It's amazing to go to some places in the park and to see these big bulls with snow up to bellies. They're making a go of it. As they walk, their legs sink in the snow and their bellies drag on the ground. It looks like a giant slug left a track."