A Rant, Of Bison Selfies and Other Choices

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Bison cow with spring calf, Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

As a little kid on my first trip to Yellowstone, my mom denied my sister and me the chance to feed the bears, which made my parents the worst parents in the world. After all, everyone else was doing it. Yep, people were reaching out of their car windows to feed full grown grizzly and black bears comically standing on hind legs for a treat. This stupid human behavior that habituated apex predators was sanctioned by the Park Service, cheap entertainment for those of us who drove all of those hot miles. Wild animals for our amusement. Of course, I’m pretty happy now to have both hands and thankful to my mom for making that choice not to feed the bears for us. Later, realizing bear dumps and hand feeding were getting bears in trouble and causing all sorts of problems, the activity was stopped and it took awhile for bears to learn how to find their own food again. Flash forward 50 years and record mobs are descending on Yellowstone, taking bison selfies, walking on fragile, sacred hot springs, putting a bison calf in a car because “it was cold” or some such nonsense. I’ve witnessed plenty and would need a very good reason to visit Yellowstone in peak season, unless it was to head straight into the backcountry. See a bear, shout BEAR! and the chase is on, a horde inching closer and closer for THE shot with a phone or tablet. The thing that is supposed to differentiate humans from primates is the ability to reason; we can make choices rather than simply react without regard for the animal or others. Last year, more people were killed by bison than bears. Why? Stupidity. The literature tells us they’re dangerous, and certainly one ton animals are large, and they can run 40 miles per hour, with horns. So how fast could they close on you from 10 yards? We only have two jobs while in Yellowstone – witness and be aware – then let the joy wash over us. The bison selfie comes with a choice. Study the animal, then choose to make the best image you can from a distance. Shoot a short video and share it when you get home. Those guys that stuck a bison calf in their minivan, however well-intentioned, are stupid people. Had mom been nearby, she would have rammed and likely totaled their van, and it wouldn’t be her fault… Learn about the animal ahead of time, observe that beautiful red calf and marvel at how different they look from adults. Look around to see where the mom is – give them some time and space. Bison have been on this landscape, birthing red calves for thousands of years. Animals do die of course, then something eats them, nothing goes to waste, and the biomass is nourished. I wish I could offer advice for the guys who walked out on Grand Prismatic hot spring, but I can’t because they knew better. Ban those bastards from the park, from all parks; we don’t want to see your permanent footprints or you myopic sons of bitches in the spring. Was this sacred natural place not amazing enough for you? While hiking, I roughly estimate that 25% of hikers carry bear spray. A typical family of four that will spend $150.00 on dinner won’t pony up $50.00 for bear spray. So, who leads the hike? Or rather, who can you do without if you run into a grizzly sow with cubs? Buy the bear spray and give it to a ranger when you leave, they’ll find a use for it. Hell, you may even save a grizzly from an untimely death. The Yellowstone experience is so much more grand when we bear witness and soak it all in, find a rhythm and leave our baggage behind. If you’re going, read the new National Geographic dedicated to Yellowstone cover to cover. It’s that good, and informative. All Americans are stakeholders, we own a deed to these lands and we’re a part of this ongoing experiment. That rectangle way up in northwest Wyoming is actually the center of an ecosystem that looks more like an ink blot on a map, a complex web of life that includes us, where every living thing is connected and all of the animals that belong here, are here. Natural processes play out for eons and each of our impacts are multiplied by the millions of others who come here to be inspired. Leave things as they are, and tell folks back home about this amazing ecosystem, pay it forward. End of rant. “Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”
― Theodore Roosevelt

10 thoughts on “A Rant, Of Bison Selfies and Other Choices

  1. The stupid people are not just in Yellowstone. I have witnessed a group of photographers on an excursion in Smoky Mountain National Park approach deer in a field. I have seen people get way too close to elk. All for that perfect shot with the cell phone. Buy the right equipment to get a close up shot without being that close. We are the invaders in their habitat.

  2. Years ago while traveling through Yellowstone my wife and I came across a small herd of bison next to a pull out that held about a dozen vehicles. Most of the animals were standing about 200 yards away except for one bull that was laying down about 75 yards from the vehicles. Several people were standing next to their vehicles taking photos. I also got out and took several shots. Just as I was about to get back in my truck a tour bus pulled up across the road from the pull out and about 2 dozen Oriental tourists came rushing out and across to the parking area. The animals remained where they were, not really paying attention to all the noise that these folks were making.

    One young lady walked out towards the bull covering about half the distance to it still laying there. She turned her back to it so that someone else could take her photo. As she started to walk away an older man (guessing about 65) walked out to the same place to get his picture taken. At that point the bull stood up and was facing these two noisy morons that were intruding on the peace and tranquility everyone else had been enjoying watching these animals. As the old man turned his back to the bull it started walking slowly towards him. NO ONE in his group told him what was happening and I don’t think he understood what the rest of us English speaking people were telling him. Fortunately for him the bull stopped about 30 feet away from him.

    I thought we were going to see this old man get stomped but that day was his lucky day.

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