By on November 25, 2014

PROPSFistbumpCallous elk carnage?

Granted, the elk smackdown in Grand Teton National Park is hardly hunting. It’s shooting. The sport of hunting — the challenge of matching wits and energy with the quarry — is all but negated in a Wild West shootout.

But, and that’s a but with a capital “B” as in “Butt Out,” the coastal transplants who arrive in the valley with more brains than bullets really need to stop their whining about the so-called slaughter. Drawing an elk tag and, more importantly, paying for the right to cull our elk herds, is far more desirable than some alternatives.

Rocky Mountain National Park, for instance, resorted to using volunteer professional sharpshooters to gun down their ballooning herds beginning in 2007 — a decision that survived at least one lawsuit brought by WildEarth Guardians. The National Park Service has used similar hired guns to thin deer and elk herds in Pennsylvania, Maryland and North Dakota.

Overbrowsing is a serious concern. Aspen groves, in particular, suffer from winter bark-eating by large ungulates. That in turn reduces Mountain Bluebird numbers, as that species loves to nest in those trees. Other competing ungulates, such as mule deer and white tails, also suffer from overgrazed habitats.

Sure, there are plenty of fools with Weatherbys and out-of-state tags who have no business sighting in so much as a Uinta ground squirrel. Poaching and wanton waste are also reaching epidemic levels in the state. But the elk reduction hunt is a necessary evil and those letter-to-the-editor kvetchers who don’t have the stomach for it are the same crybabies who bristle at seeing a truckful of hooves and antlers drive through town. Starving wapiti are no easier to watch die than elk getting knocked down by a barrage of flying lead.

PROPSFistbumpSchool shines in blast

If any agency has a reason to be secretive, it’s the school district. They handle hundreds of our residents’ precious children every weekday. When something goes down, they know panic and blame are right around the corner.

But kudos to Colter Elementary and the district office. Their reaction to last Thursday’s nearby propane explosion and fire was reassuring. As a reporter, I caught wind of the blast earlier than most. My initial questions were no different than most people’s. Is anyone hurt? Can it be contained? After learning Bell Fitness was suffering tremendous collateral damage and Smith’s was being evacuated, my first priority was making sure a child dear to me was safe in Colter.

Before I could place the phone call that I anticipated would fruitlessly lead to “no comments” and guarded answers, I received an email providing me with a few concrete details about what had happened and the steps being taken by the school district to secure students. Kids from Sweet Peas day care center and pupils from the Jackson Hole Community School were being evacuated to Colter for safekeeping. That gave me relief that at least Colter was safe. Then a text came explaining that our children were quite safe and to please refrain from hampering fire-fighting efforts by attempting to pick up kids early. Then the phone rang. A detailed recording provided pick-up procedures, times and preferred routes. All this came before I as a reporter could even post the news.

This is exactly how you handle a disaster from an information release standpoint: quickly, definitively and openly. It displays organization and efficiency. It instills confidence. It squelches panic and rumormongering. Reporters appreciate that kind of proactive approach. I know many parents did as well on that terrible day.

Soup kitchen open PROPSFistbump

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials estimate that 4,000 head of wapiti have already drifted into the National Elk Refuge in near-record numbers. It’s to be expected.

Early season cold and snow have driven elk to the valley floor. Instinct and learned behavior push the ungulates to the preserve, which at least promises forage until the feeding program begins. The number of elk showing up early is nearly half of what the refuge carried last winter. The elk know — this might be a doozy of a winter.

Managers have done a superb job of irrigating and cultivating refuge lands to put up hay and have a ready meal for hungry animals under the soft snow pack. Supplemental feeding of pellets will also likely have to start earlier than usual. If not for these measures taken by concerned parties, elk in our valley would starve to death while raiding local farms and ranches for food.

It would be 1909 all over again — the dreadful winter that prompted photographer Stephen Leek to spearhead a movement to protect dwindling elk herds. Elk can survive weather. They have for centuries. But they cannot cope with loss of habitat. We’ve swallowed up too much valley floor with development and choked off corridors with real estate. It’s no longer a matter of not wanting to see dead elk pile up like cordwood outside of fenced-off haystacks. We have given them little chance to fend for themselves at this point.

Unnatural feeding causes its own set of problems. But the spread of disease can be checked with more dispersed feeding practices. Naysayers have a valid argument. It is unnatural to care for wild animals in this fashion. But like it or not, we’ve made ourselves their custodians.

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