Just Because It’s Legal Doesn’t Mean That It’s Right

They had a hunting license so it was legal. Marijuana is legal in the state of Colorado now too but it doesn’t mean you get as high as a kite and drive a vehicle. I believe drinking is also legal and we know how many people are killed by drunk drivers each year. Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean that it’s right; how you chose to use that legal right is what makes it ethical or unethical.

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I’m going to put my noted disclaimers here now because I know where this is going to go:

I’m against hunting; guess again. I believe in proper wildlife management and ethical hunting. We owned one of the largest sporting goods stores and sporting gun ranges in Southern California. My family hunts and hunted. My parents were expert marksmen and I’d be willing to bet I can out shoot most of you.

I was recently told I am against ranchers; nice try. I raise and have raised cattle (and sheep during temporary insanity) and horses. It’s been my whole life however it’s not where I intend to die.

I’ve been blessed to have photographed several bull moose and a few cows and calves in a recreational area close to home. When I found this place last year I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I never thought I’d be able to see so much wildlife nearly right in my backyard, I figured I’d still be missing Yellowstone and the Tetons constantly and wondered how long I’d last here. So when I found these moose I decided I would spend as much time as I possibly could with them. This area is a heavily trafficked area; full of hikers, fisherman, campers, walkers, bikers, dogs and kids! After dropping by two weekends in a row and finding out that the moose were smarter than I was I was about to give up. There were so many people there that during the day the moose stayed hidden. Obviously the photographers who had shared the information with me had been photoshopping images…………..and they were awesome at it!

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I finally went up during the week after work one evening and was rewarded for being persistent. I photographed an older bull with his younger buddy for a couple of hours and each time I came back I was blessed to photograph them or other moose I found in the area. I’ve hiked around this area and can’t believe how gorgeous it is and now know why it’s not a secret to all the people who live here. One evening I met a man from Louisiana and when I asked him what brought him to Colorado he said he had come to hike the back country of the Rocky Mountain National Park for two weeks and to photograph these moose; he had heard a lot about them and we shared moose stories for over two hours. I later learned he was a lead biologist in New Hampshire studying moose a few years earlier, these moose here have made a reputation for themselves.

Moose season opened this past weekend. I had no idea; this recreational park and campground are still open and on the many bulletin boards throughout the park that tell you that moose and other wildlife are here and tell you what you can and can’t do around them never made mention that hunting season was open here. Not to mention it’s a public park, hundreds visit each day, who would want to hunt there thinking it would be a good idea. I hope you’re sitting down because they do exist and they are armed.

I’ve been up to this area now over 10 times and during those times I have encountered one park ranger (there are numerous park volunteers and hosts all the time to help and assist the people there). Every time I’ve been up there the parking lots are completely full and cars are placed in lower parking areas, it’s a busy place. On the morning I talked with the park ranger he was not in good spirits. People had crowded one of the larger bulls giving him no way to escape and rather than charge and trample people the bull opted to jump a car; he did so so gracefully no damage was done to the car or the moose. The park ranger was obviously upset for a good reason and explained to me he was seriously considering closing the park down for the rest of the season, this wasn’t the first time and he was afraid things might get worse.

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I went up on Wednesday morning; spent some time with one of my favorite older bulls and a new one I hadn’t seen before. The rut is about to start and one of the bulls was losing velvet and was itchy and agitated. One person was constantly getting within 20 feet of this bull and regardless of being given the stink eye continued this behavior until the moose left the area; there was no aggression and it wasn’t in a hurry, he knew who was bigger and who had control and he had nothing to fear. These moose have become so accustomed to people, cameras, walking sticks, dogs and all the gear that follows that they have basically become accustomed to it all and since they own this forest they have accepted it all.

Saturday morning the normal groups of photographers, hikers and campers had gathered and the moose showed up on time. The only difference this time was a handful of Department of Wildlife (DOW) agents. Photographers took their photos while the other people observed and then a “hunter” lures one of the bulls a very short distance away and shoots him with an arrow, this does not kill an animal instantly and this wounded and scared bull turned and ran right back to the photographers and onlookers who are now in the middle of this whole incident unwillingly. Three other bull moose confused and scared are now running to their companion wondering what has happened and also into the people in the area. I’m wondering what sort of hunter’s safety course this person took because obviously just by looking around, knowing he was within limited feet of the road as well as people in a public area who were there to enjoy their weekend anyone could tell this wasn’t going to go well. Photographers and other onlookers were charged by the confused bull moose and children got to watch as this person gutted this moose in front of them. And those DOW agents – well, the guy had a license so it was legal.

There are a few things that should be pretty alarming here: hunting in a heavily populated, public area that was not closed or posted for hunting season, shooting and injuring an animal so close to a road knowing that crowds of people were yards away and the list can go on. I wonder why the park wasn’t closed during this “event” and the only answer so far is that it is a “multi use area” so technically that means photographers, hikers, bikers and more have every right to be there as well – only they aren’t armed with a deadly weapon. It’s obvious from the park ranger I spoke with weeks prior that the park could have been closed fairly easily. If a national park can be sued by a hiker’s family because a family member was killed in Glacier by an “introduced” mountain goat which was a horrible accident how many of these people who witnessed and were traumatized by this event can sue the agencies for allowing this to happen with visitors being so close by for an honest reason? I’m sure there is an attorney out there close by who would love this opportunity.

The hunter? In my opinion a lazy, unethical, cowardly trophy hunter. Now, now!! Remember my disclaimer above! I’m friends with a lot of hunters, handfuls of them live within 20 miles of me. They see and comment on my images and we talk about these gorgeous animals all the time. Some of them have dared to tell me they would love the chance to hunt one of them. What makes them different from this coward? I have offered to take these guys to show them these animals and they have declined; these animals are in a public area where too many things can go wrong, these animals are habituated to people so it’s like shooting the neighbors horse and they respect me and what I do like I respect them and what they do. There is a huge difference, these hunters are ethical and respectful. We may joke from time to time but there has never been a time that they have not been welcomed into my house and we can sit and respectfully talk to one another about wildlife, hunting and each other’s views without causing hard feelings. To be honest I think they may be afraid to go with me to see these animals because I might show them something they have never seen before and they may not want to hunt one after all. I can hope, this is my blog.

The moose…………………I find it ironic and horribly painful to think that they have become so trusting of people that even when he was shot, suffering and dying he ran to the only place he knew to run, a place he knew he had found trust before…………..to people. Away from the coward that mortally wounded him and to people. If you have any heart and any compassion at all, that should give you something to think about.

RIP handsome. Thank you for sharing your life with me. I am honored and blessed. If not for you and other wildlife like you bringing me through some really dark times of my life I wouldn’t be here now. You won’t be forgotten and I wish we would have done better by you and never allowed you to find trust in our kind.

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Mother Nature and Balance

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Before leaving yesterday morning to take the horses out I quickly jumped online to see if there was any additional information concerning the death of 820F, the 2 year old, grey daughter of ’06 who we lost last year. I was stunned when I saw a post of a wolf that was murdered by a hunter in the Wyoming Bighorns. It wasn’t the post that stunned me; it was who was passing along the information that stunned me. Most of my friends are wolf advocates, wild horse advocates or both. If not then they are friends who love all animals, if they don’t agree with my passion for these animals they are respectful and have no desire to get into debates or arguments over them. We’re adults and can still be friends; out of respect we don’t bring up topics that rub each other the wrong way. A lot of my friends are also wildlife photographers who make money by photographing these animals.

So seeing this information being forwarded by a wildlife photographer I waited to see what the response would be to some of the responses that were coming in. He responded to one person who was obviously thinking the same thing I was; how could somebody who makes money photographing these animals share something like this? His response was that these animals do not belong in the Bighorns and if he saw one he would happily shoot it. That was all I needed to know to end the conversation however I was still included in it and just read in shock some of the ignorant comments made.

For people to “include” a well known ranch in supporting their hatred and opinions wasn’t a smart move. I actually have known the owners of this ranch they claim don’t want wolves there, for years. They have shared with me their sightings (or not) and how they have loved seeing wolves and wish them no harm. Whether or not the sightings on their ranch are true or not, they haven’t reported any problems, no loss of stock and absolutely no concern that they will have any losses. I’m happy to say they are not the only very well respected, very large ranch owners who feel the same way. I’ve actually been invited to two who would enjoy the opportunity to find some proof of wolves being there and both have said they are so allusive, rarely seen and have caused no harm and as long as there is no damage the wolves are welcome there. We’ve even sat and discussed ways to avoid issues and thinking ahead. So this is how hatred and ignorance is spread; like the group lied about PBR supporting them a few weeks ago these individuals are passing on false information to other’s and the fire spreads. Not all ranchers have the hated wolf mentality and for these people to lump these ranches into it isn’t right.

Although the false statements about the ranch noted above should have made me angry that wasn’t the statement that got to me. The winner for the most ignorant comment of the day went to “Get ‘em before they overrun the Bighorns……pretty soon there won’t be any moose or elk up there either…” I couldn’t figure out if I wanted to laugh or cry about this comment. Anti-wolf people (for the most part equal hunters) really need to think about what they say or write before they hurt themselves. The thought that most of them carry armed weapons should scare most of the human population. I can explain; hang on……………

First this comment leads me to believe these people have poor eyesight. I’ve read stories that ranchers have lost both cows and mules because hunters have “mistaken” them for moose! This also concerns me! If they are so excited to pull the trigger BEFORE figuring out it’s a moose or a cow, they shouldn’t be allowed to own a weapon. And if they can’t tell the difference between a moose and a cow or mule, I’m not sure those are the people I want doing “official” counts on the moose and elk population.

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Second this comment really leaves me concerned about hunting “ethics.” You see, you tend to change your story. When asked if there are enough moose or elk up there to issue hunting tags this year your eyes glaze over and the numbers reported are “plentiful” and “increased from years prior.” If you were told that due to the depredation on the herds and the increased number of success in the hunt last year you would happily tell us the numbers are inaccurate and the numbers are better than fine and it’s okay to allow a hunt. Based on the comment made above this would leave me to believe that the moose and elk numbers are very low and the elk and moose seasons should be called off. It sounds to me like we are at risk to make them extinct. It’s the wolves fault of course; they take down the sick or older animals maybe once or twice a week; worst case scenario that is 104 elk per year per pack. Keep in mind at this point we aren’t even sure yet if there are wolves in the Bighorns and I’m just basing this information on the statements you provided. I’m curious as to how many elk and moose hunting tags are issued each year?

I’ve sat with a group of people including hunters who have said there were so many moose in certain areas that they are considered pests and rats and they couldn’t wait till hunting season to get rid of some of them. Of course my hair stood up! I love moose as much as I love wolves and wild horses! I wanted to run off every moose I found in a 100 mile square radius. So in one conversation there are too many moose and in another, when wolves are involved, there are not enough and your worried?

So my question is, based on the information you provided, why when asked about moose and elk population are the numbers great when it comes to allowing hunting tags but when it comes to wolves possibly being in the area are the numbers suddenly declining at a drastic rate? It can’t be both, it can only be one or the other, it either is or it isn’t. This leads me to believe that your numbers are based on what you want for yourself and the numbers change based on what that want is. This concerns me because it’s not honest; if you want me to believe you, you must be consistent with your stories. I can’t support or trust you if you’re not honest. You have obviously seen the populations decline drastically due to the wolves so I’m relying on you for these numbers. I’m not there, I haven’t seen the decline – I only count cows and mules. They tend to be easier to identify and count as they don’t hide in trees and marshes for the most part.

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The runner up comment, “When mankind took over the responsibility of managing this planet from mother Mother Nature it had and still has no idea. Mother Nature did a fine job.” I’m not sure exactly what this meant (and forgive the quote, I only copied what was written)? If you’re trying to say that Mother Nature was doing a fine job until mankind interfered with her, I believe that this is very true. A perfect example was how when mankind eradicated the wolves they not only allowed other species of animals to become weak and sickly, it caused over population in grazing animals that has drastically changed the ecosystem and caused a lot of damage. We’re currently doing it again if you look at what is happening with the polar bears and what is happening to the environment they have lived in for years. If you’re excepting responsibility for mankind making one mess after another that we cannot fix, you’re so right.

If however you’re saying that we were given responsibility of managing this planet and given the right to repeat history by eradicating predators that were here and did just fine long before mankind interfered, I think you are horribly wrong. I personally didn’t ask people to take on this responsibility of Mother Nature Management and I feel we are far from perfecting it. Until we can get rational people with good eyesight from both sides who are not “paid” by one side or the other who have no personal gain on the matter then I don’t think we will ever have a good management system. The fact that biologists were recently “fired” off the board providing information about delisting wolves because they may have provided information that would have hurt the information that hunters and ranchers gave shows exactly how far from perfect mankind’s management is. Mother Nature finds balance and co-existence; as of yet I don’t see mankind doing this much at all.

I’m not one to put this wildlife photographer’s name on here to destroy him. I figure he will do that to himself. It makes me sad that he will sale wildlife and wild horse images to put food on his table and then in the next moment take the very way these animals survive away from them. Eventually we will all lose the ability to see these wonderful animals, there will no longer be a chance to photograph them and he will lose his ability to put food on his own table and he’ll have no one to blame but himself. Maybe at that point we can say Mother Nature found balance?

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The Missing 6

Image by Deby Dixon The remaining members of the Lamar Canyon Pack .

Image by Deby Dixon
The remaining members of the Lamar Canyon Pack.  I encourage you to visit her on Facebook and purchase images that you enjoy.  By doing so it helps her to be able to visit the park to continue bringing us her images and her stories.  

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Deby-Dixon-Photography/163901370329842

As of today 6 wolves of the Lamar Canyon Pack haven’t returned home to the park.  This is 06’s pack and family along with the beta male who was murdered in the hunt a couple of months ago.  Each passing day that they don’t return home makes us worry more; where are they?  Were they murdered too?  Are they coming back?  I didn’t sleep last night because I wish I were closer to the wolves, closer to the park, wish that I could do something, yet not sure what it is that I can do.  Was the last time that I saw wolves in the park really going to literally be the last time?  These wolves were part of our family, we watched them grow up and thrive.  I still wonder how one person has the right to steal something away from others that brought them so much joy.

Last year people wanting to see wolves generated over $35 million dollars to the areas near the park, I have to wonder if the proceeds from selling wolf hunting tags brings in that amount?  Montana reports that there were 11,000 less hunters in the state this year and I also wonder why that is?  And I really wonder why, if there are so many more wolf lovers and supporters than there are wolf haters and hunters, why we have lost so much ground?  The ground that is costing our wolves their lives.  I do believe that most of the ground that our wolves blood has been spilled on is public land, land for the people………………ALL people.  And if that is the case, why doesn’t our voice matter as well?

I understand the need for wildlife management which is probably why I didn’t shut off the conference I was listening to with Doug Smith yesterday after the first ten minutes.  Hearing how he believed that wolves should be hunted at first had me asking why then did he become involved in the wolf recovery program!?  However since I have worked in the veterinarian field all my life with both large and small animals I understand the need for population control, regulation, survival of the fittest, etc.  I’m not a PETA person and do not believe every animal, domestic and wild, should be running lose on the streets of every town either.  No, I don’t like seeing animals in captivity in zoos or sanctuaries but I do believe that for most of the people in the world this is the only place they will ever see wild animals and it’s important that they are educated about them.  I’d be willing to bet that 90% of wolf and grizzly bear lovers have never seen one in the wild?  On the other hand I have no intention of taking a wolf’s life either.

The Missing 6 haven’t returned and a judge yesterday also overturned the decision made a few weeks ago giving us a buffer zone around the Yellowstone boundaries for the wolf hunt.  This was a compromise in a way.  Would we like all the wolf hunting stopped?  Yes.  Will that happen?  No.  Can we figure out something that will give us some neutral ground?  The buffer zone seemed to be it.  Now I wonder just who it was that kept a roof over that judge’s head all these years or perhaps just bought him a new one?

Unless wolves are re-listed the hunts will go on and the people who despise them the most will be more than happy about it.  As much as I don’t want to agree with them, they have a right to their opinions and sometimes they may be right.  I also have a right to my opinion and I don’t want to see wolves hunted at all and I also know that will be met with resistance as it’s not practical.  In Doug Smith’s conference he stated very strongly that hunting will NEVER be allowed in Yellowstone.  That if you wanted to see an uprising even mentioning that would bring one on.  That implies to me that the wolves do belong to the people and we have a say in what happens to them.  When the wolves of Yellowstone do wander outside of the park boundaries and heaven forbid predate on livestock, we (the people) have a plan in effect to reimburse the owner’s of that livestock.  It’s interesting – isn’t this what is expected out of any good pet owning person?  If a domestic dog were to kill livestock a responsible pet owner would reimburse the owner of the livestock for the damages too.  However an irresponsible pet owner most often would never be found and the livestock owner would never be compensated – I would say this happens far more often than the responsible pet owner scenario.

I would also hope that if the pet owner’s dog were to get lose and wander (or in most cases in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming the pet owner’s dog is not confined and wanders when it needs to) onto a neighbor’s ranch that the neighbor wouldn’t just assume the dog was out to attack his stock and just because it went under his fence he would shoot it.  I would hope that he would watch the dog to find out where it lived and once he knew he would either take the dog home or call the neighbor to make sure everything was okay and let him know their dog was lose.  Where I come from my neighbor’s dogs come and go across the property boundaries all the time.  Most of the time they don’t come all the way over to my place, they stick to what I would consider a safety zone.  However at times they do come over to visit and laugh at my dogs that are confined in a large yard.  When I see them I watch them awhile, maybe pet them, look over to see if the neighbor is around and then let them be.  As long as they aren’t tearing my dogs or horses into pieces they really aren’t hurting anything.  As of right now I have yet to storm out the door with a shotgun to take care of them.  This seems to me to be how good neighbors and pet owner’s act.

I might be reaching a long way but I don’t see the wolves being that much different.  The Wolf Recovery Program and we (the wolf lovers) seem to be responsible pet owners with the park being the ranch.  On the other side of the park’s boundaries are more public lands and some private.  Sadly the wolves do not understand park boundaries and they wander.  As much as I wish I could stop the hunting of all wolves I know that it isn’t possible, but what I would hope for is that as decent neighbors we would be granted buffer zones around Yellowstone and the Tetons where sometimes our wolves wander too.  We have been responsible neighbors and if our wolves predate on livestock we have reimbursed the livestock owner, if our wolves have caused trouble they have been destroyed and if our wolves have become habituated to people because PEOPLE have fed them, they have also been destroyed.  A buffer zone doesn’t seem to me too much to ask as a compromise.

Lucky for this wolf she is safe within a zoo.  She will never be stalked by hunters or mutilated by a trap.

Lucky for this wolf she is safe within a zoo. She will never be stalked by hunters or mutilated by a trap.

In return we will continue bringing millions of dollars to your states so that we can continue spending time with something we own.  If your cattle or horses wander over onto our public lands I promise I won’t shoot them or run them off, I most likely won’t even call in law enforcement but if needed I will run water out to them and doctor any that need it.  And if your dog happens to wander over onto our place we’ll take it in for a couple days where the coyotes can’t get it, where it’s warm, until you can come and get it.  It’s what good neighbors do.