No way to run Wyoming

  Imagine, for a moment, that some kooky politicians in Washington, D.C.. decided they wanted to invade Iraq with feather dusters .

Now, imagine a colonel in the Army warned them that this was a bad idea, and they need would need real tools of war, helicopters and tanks and such, to execute such a plan.

Next, imagine the feather duster war went ahead, anyway. Whose fault would it be when the plan failed? The politicians’ or the colonel’s?

It seems obvious. Politicians hire experts to tell them the facts, even if they don’t like those facts. But let’s just be thankful the sorry politicians in Wyoming aren’t in charge of the United State military.

What the heck is going on in Wyoming? Let me tell you about it.

First, let’s talk about wolves -- those controversial wild dogs that eat elk, deer and the occasional cow. Wyoming legislators are partial to cowboys, so they wrote a wolf-management plan that basically lets cowboys plug wolves at will, anywhere outside a few cold, high and remote wilderness areas.

From a biologist’s perspective, the plan is a nonstarter. Wolves simply spend very little time in the rugged wilderness. If Wyoming is serious about getting wolves off the endangered species list, it must face that fact.

Wyoming’s lead wolf biologist -- Dave Moody -- made that observation out loud at a recent meeting of wolf experts. Like our imaginary colonel, Moody stated the obvious. The politicians had a conniption fit. Moody’s boss at Wyoming Fish and Game suspended the award-winning, 25-year agency veteran. Outside observers caught the familiar scent of political retribution.

After the suspension was publicized by the Billings Gazette and other papers, Moody was reinstated. Retribution is a familiar odor. There’s plenty of it wafting in and around Yellowstone National Park. On the southern end of Yellowstone National Park is place called the Thoroughfare. It’s about the most remote spot in the lower 48 states. It’s a favorite of hunters and the guides who pack in on horseback to hunt elk.

Elk, being no dummies, tend to spend hunting season in Yellowstone Park, where they won’t get shot. Hunters, being no dummies, put out salt blocks just outside the national park border, luring their prey out of the park and onto national forest, where the elk can be legally slain.

Now, I like elk hunting and understand the frustration of those hunters south of Yellowstone. But there are a few problems with using salt blocks for bait. One, it’s unethical and generally considered poor sport. Two, it’s illegal on national forest land. Third, the unnatural concentration of elk guts left by the shooting attracts an unnatural concentration of grizzly bears in the direct vicinity of highly armed dudes. This has lead to deadly trouble for the grizzly bears, which are, after all, an official, threatened species.

Riding high in the saddle, literally, comes Bob Jackson, a veteran park ranger from Yellowstone. For 30 years, his job was to protect the rugged, beautiful land and wildlife of the Thoroughfare country. Jackson was alarmed by the whole mess surrounding the elk hunters, the salt blocks, the gut piles and the grizzly bears. Being a conscientious public servant, Jackson spoke up about it.

The outfitters and their political toadies didn’t like that much. They did their best to make Jackson’s life miserable.

The result? Well, the short version is that Jackson’s 30-year National Park Service career ran into a bureaucratic brick wall. No one knows the Thoroughfare better than Jackson, but agency bureaucrats have refused to rehire him. He says it’s retaliation, and I imagine he is correct.

Whether you’re managing wildlife or warfare, this is no way to run a government. A military needs honest field assessments. If the "recon" scouts sneaking around the front lines see an obvious problem that is going to spell trouble for the folks that follow, it’s their job to report it. Ignoring the truth because higher-ups won’t like it is a recipe for disaster. It’s the same concept for wildlife biologists and rangers. They aren’t hired to simply follow political orders. They are professionals, hired to call it as they see it and protect and defend our public resources. To forget or ignore this is a recipe for trouble.

Evidently, the folks running Wyoming and Yellowstone have forgotten this. They act as if the bureaucrats and politicians surgically attached to their desks know more than the guys out on the ground. Get out the feather dusters, they shout: Charge!

Ben Long is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (hcn.org). He is a writer and conservationist in Kalispell, Montana.

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 [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • WATER POLICY ANALYST WITH WRA (BOULDER)
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • ARIZONA PUBLIC LANDS ORGANIZER
    Title: Public Lands Organizer About the Arizona Wildlife Federation (AWF) The AWF is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring, and assisting individuals and organizations...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.
  • ROADS END CABIN NEAR YELLOWSTONE
    Vaulted ceilings, two fireplaces, two bedrooms, loft, jetted tub, wifi. Forest, mountain views. Wildlife. [email protected]
  • ACCOUNTING CLERK
    Our director is seeking to employ the services of an Accounting Clerk to assist with various accounting and administrative tasks. This is a great opportunity...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMUNITY RADIO PROJECT
    Community Radio Project, Cortez, CO (KSJD & the Sunflower Theatre). Visit ksjd.org and click on the Executive Director search link. CRP is an EOE.