September 23, 2020

Do As I Say Not As I Do

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In 1912, guilt was the motivating factor in the establishment of the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I say guilt because humans moved into elk wintering grounds and built a town, established ranches and forced the elk to look for a place to survive the long harsh western winters. In essence, we stole their feed grounds from them.

Feeling bad that elk were starving to death, man decided to help feed them through the winters. And so was born the National Elk Refuge, which today continues to feed the wintering elk – as many as 7,500 each season. The question is, do two wrongs make a right? Stealing the elks winter grounds sounds shocking but similar occurrences go on today all across America. Feeding wild animals to compensate for that also goes on.

With the ever present threat of disease, wildlife biologists are scrambling to find ways to prevent the spread of such diseases as chronic wasting disease and brucellosis, both found in elk. Studies show that one of the fastest ways to spread the disease is when animals are in close proximity and when they feed. The disease is spread from one animal to another through the saliva. In the wild it is theorized that if an infected deer, moose or elk where to browse on vegetation leaving behind an amount of saliva on the plant, a following animal that ate the same plant containing the saliva, could contract the disease. It should be pointed out as well that recent studies are now indicating that chronic wasting disease can also be spread through the blood.

Elk are different than deer and moose. Elk herd more than the other. Moose almost never herd together but chronic wasting disease has been found in the big animal. Deer yard up in the winter months. States that are battling overpopulations of deer are often fighting CWD.

So if we know that disease is more easily spread this way, why do we promote it by sponsoring and operating feed grounds? Thousands of elk congregate in the Jackson Hole area in winter and feed on natural vegetation as well as supplemental feeding by the refuge. Efforts have been undertaken to increase the natural growth of vegetation necessary to feed the elk but supplemental feeding still goes on. This creates a situation where the elk are feeding closely together and eating from the same feeding bins, a sure fire way to spread the diseases.

Science proves to be a secondary means of determining the best way to manage wildlife. Politics rule now. Pressure from hunting groups and wildlife seekers, which translates into income for local and state economies, dictates that elk feeding will continue. But there is a bit of true hypocrisy when it comes to the management of elk.

Back in September, I wrote a story about Wyoming Game and Fish’s dispute over a report written by the Ecological Society of America. The report claimed that the techniques being used by Game and Fish in managing the elk at the refuge weren’t working and said things needed to change. The Game and Fish countered that the report was more of an opinion piece than fact.

Here are some of the highlights of that story.

Terry Kreeger, supervisor of the veterinary services branch of Wyoming Game and Fish, called the article “strictly an opinion piece” and said that most of the document consists of well-known facts interspersed with speculation.

“There’s an agenda here,” Kreeger said. “It should not be considered a scientific document.”

This is what I wrote and quoted Kreeger as saying about the management of the elk refuge.

Kreeger said that he agrees with the report that feed grounds do aid in the spread of disease but points out that the political ramifications are such that the state is left with few options. He says by keeping the elk gathered at feed grounds this prevents the elk from mingling with cattle in nearby ranches further threatening the spread of brucellosis. He also points out that pressure from hunting groups to provide more and better elk hunting plays a big role in management.

“Yes, feed grounds do maintain higher levels of brucellosis,” said Kreeger. “The long term solution is to phase out the feed grounds. That’s not being argued.”

Kreeger said that the article doesn’t take into account the political necessities of brucellosis management such as protecting livestock and hunting interests.

The real kicker is the statement Kreeger makes about the lack of options available to the wildlife department.

“People would like to make disease the only issue that drives this discussion,” he said. “Where are these animals going to live? It’s relatively naive to think that this will be a natural world where these animals will find enough habitat.”

Kreeger said that, with increased development, the elk’s survival might eventually depend on humans. “The whole Greater Yellowstone Area might end up being one big zoo,” he said. “Feed grounds might not be the devil that these people would like to make them out to be.”

In my commentary following the statements made by Kreeger in response to the published report, this is what I had to say.

My point is this. Are any of these scientists actually looking at the long term results of their management beyond 5, 7, 10 or 12 years? Are we to continue to allow politics to force our tactics of wildlife management? Certainly we need to protect our livestock industries as they are vital to our economy but are we attempting to management a much too large population of elk because of political pressure from hunting groups and wildlife lookers? It appears to be the case. And what is going to be the real effects several years down the road?

What is ironic is hunters often condemn the practice of using game ranches as legitimate hunting opportunities and at the same time condone the practice of feed stations and the management plans in place to provide better hunting opportunities through zoo-like landscapes. The only difference are the fences. It is only a matter of time before the pressures will result in the erection of fences to keep the elk in one place and the livestock in another.

We have created this situation and it becomes clear, escpecially from the comments of Terry Kreeger, that politics rule game management decisions. As long as this practice remains the norm, our problems will only grow and hunting will continue to erode to the point that only the affluent who can afford the exotic game ranches will be able to hunt.

There is little that I would change from that commentary of September 13th but I would add a few things as the result of events that have occurred since then.

Wyoming is one state that has banned farming of elk and the dreaded so-called “high-fence” hunting. The National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole is a giant elk farm and also doubles as a “high-fence” hunting ground for those lucky enough to draw a permit to hunt one. The farming is obvious in that it feeds and maintains a herd of elk by means other than natural. The elk systematically retreat to the high country in the spring and summer months where the grass is greener and return in the fall. Many people view this as a natural event.

The town of Jackson Hole has erected fences to keep the elk out of farmlands and away from the town itself. I have read countless stories of hunters using natural “fences” to corral the elk and make their hunt more resemble shooting than hunting, which is what many hunters refer to shooting game behind fenced-in ranches.

During the time of year when the elk are congregating in the wintering areas, is when permits are issued to hunters seeking to bag an elk. This generally occurs from late October into early December. The Game and Fish Department manages its herd by issuing permits for the purpose of herd reduction. Money is collected through fees charged to hunters who buy licenses to participate. Certainly there aren’t a lot of differences between what the state says they have a right to do and what the state says private citizens DON’T have a right to do.

Over in Idaho, groups are banding together to outlaw elk farming and “high-fence” hunting. The state is being pressured by Wyoming to do this as they say the threat of disease is such that if diseased elk were to escape, it would devastate the elk herds. I’ll remind you once again what an official with the Wyoming Game and Fish had to say about the state sponsored elk farming.

“People would like to make disease the only issue that drives this discussion,” he said. “Where are these animals going to live? It’s relatively naive to think that this will be a natural world where these animals will find enough habitat.”

Kreeger said that, with increased development, the elk’s survival might eventually depend on humans. “The whole Greater Yellowstone Area might end up being one big zoo,” he said. “Feed grounds might not be the devil that these people would like to make them out to be.”

If his statements are true and reflect the philosophy of the Game and Fish, there is no justification to outlaw elk farming by private citizens. Kreeger also emphasized in his rebuttal that keeping the elk gathered up at the feed grounds, kept them away from the cattle and would be less likely to spread disease. Fences, real or imagined seem to be a good resource for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and for hunters but not for private citizens wishing to farm elk.

Hunters and hunting groups might want to consider the words of Jesus in the Bible when citizens wanted to stone a person because they thought the person had sinned a great sin. He responded with, “He who is without sin, let them cast the first stone.”

I am opposed to the banning of hunting ranches across the board. I think it is irresponsible to punish the masses in order to solve a few problems concerning “high-fence” hunting grounds. We as hunters often talk of ethics as though it were a well defined thing. It’s not. Ethics is the perception of the individual in what they believe is right and wrong. Of course we have laws that take care of the obvious but individual choices are just that, individual.

Unless you hunt in a wide open parairie with no trees, roads, rivers or obstacles, you hunt in a “fenced-in” area. We all use natural obstacles to increase our chances of bagging game – all legal. We use roads, ravines, ridges, rivers, lakes, fences, etc. to lessen the escape routes of the game we are pursuing. Is this now non-ethical hunting?

All across America today, towns and cities are hiring or soliciting hunters to come into small areas of town-owned land and cull the deer herds. Is this unethical hunting? States allow deer hunting with dogs and/or “driving” deer. Is this unethical hunting? There is a very large and growing organization in America that educates and promotes the use of food plots in maintaining healthier deer. Is the utilization of such techniques (very much an unnatural thing to do) unethical hunting?

Is chaining an animal up to a stake in the ground and shooting it, unethical hunting? Is having 6 deer enclosed in an area of 50 acres and allowing the hunting of those deer unethical? Is 500 acres too small? How about 5,000, 50,000 or 500,000? Ethics is a sticky situation and banning all ranch or fenced-in hunting is ridiculous. Better management would be the sensible way to go. Does a state have more of a right to farm elk (they call it management) than you or I? Is what the state of Wyoming is doing in putting the agricultural industry at risk of disease somehow acceptible yet rancher Jones poses a bigger threat?

The hunting industry is a powerful lobby. As an advocate for the protection of hunting as a right and a heritage, I want to do what is best for hunting but I prefer to look at the long term results of actions being taken now. Many of these decisions being made are done so because of politics and money. If we are to truly preserve our sport, it needs to be done with the idea that it will be here in 10, 20, 30 or 300 years.

Allowing the government to control your rights as an individual to conduct business is flat out dangerous, especially when the government is doing itself what it is claiming you can’t. Why should the states monopolize an industry, such as agriculture, and reap the benefits of the economics of such a venture and you or I can’t?

Some of the states looking to ban elk farming and ‘high-fence” hunting have seen the likes of hunting groups and the Humane Society of the United States, teaming up for the same cause. If you are a hunter or a farmer, you have to use this as a wake-up call. For hunters to band together with an organization that has spent countless resources in efforts to ban all forms of hunting, I am amazed that they are giving credence to an extremely far left organization.

There is no rational reason to ban elk farming and no sane excuse to rid the states of game ranches. Controls to ensure the protection of the agricultural industry are necessary and a clearer understanding of the ethics of game ranches is a far better solution than the radical nature of banning these practices.

“He who is without sin, let them cast the first stone”.

*Previous Posts*

Fanning The Flames
Idaho’s Escaped Elk Test Negative – Elk Ranchers Face Banning Advocates
Idaho Governor Calls Off Elk Depredation Hunt…..Sort Of
In Response To Malnourished Elk
Rex Rammell’s Letter To The Editor
Has Government Gone Too Far? More Escaped Elk Shot
What Do Malnurished Elk Look Like?
Idaho Elk Breeders Association Opens New Website
Bull Elk Shot Inside Rex Rammell’s Ranch
Wyoming Governor Asks Idaho Governor To Ban Game Farms
Escaped Idaho Elk Shot In Wyoming
Rex Rammell Arrested
Governor Jim Risch Defends His Decision To Shoot Escaped Elk
Idaho Gubernatorial Candidates Have A Say About Elk Farming
Rammell For Governor, Ranch Sold, Elk Still Being Hunted
Wyoming Governor Freudenthal Says Interior Department Not Doing Enough About Escaped ElkIdaho’s Escaped Elk Now Getting National Attention
Idaho Elk Farmer Says All His Elk Accounted For
Idaho Governor Expands Hunt For Escaped Elk
More Elk Killed In Idaho – Some By Hunters
Idaho Elk Farmer Plans To Sue The State
Scientists Will Test Killed Idaho Elk For Disease And Genetic Make-up
A Helicopter, A Plane And 25 Agents Can’t Find 160 Domestic Elk
Escaped Idaho Elk Being Slaughtered. Wyoming Ordered To Kill Elk Also
Domestic Elk Crash The Gate – Escape!

Tom Remington

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