Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Ranchers vs. Bison Huggers (Don't Try Hugging a Bison at Home!)

I quote from a column in The Economist:
THE most original political book of early 2015 is not formally about politics at all. Instead “The Battle for Yellowstone” by Justin Farrell, a young scholar at Yale University, ponders venomous rows that have shaken Yellowstone National Park in recent decades, and why they are so intractable. The rows turn on such questions as wolf re-introduction, bison roaming-rights and snowmobile access to that lovely corner of the Rocky Mountains....... 
(Sociologist Farell) spent two years asking folk in and around Yellowstone why they are so cross. Beneath debates about science and economics he found arguments about morality and the proper relations between humans and nature—though those involved often do not, or will not acknowledge this. In short, all sides purport to be weighing what is true and false, while really arguing about right and wrong. 
Pro-wolf biologists and officials call themselves dispassionate custodians of a unique place. But they give themselves away with quasi-spiritual talk of wolves restoring “wholeness” to a landscape damaged by man. Indeed, when the first Yellowstone wolves were released in 1995, the then-interior secretary, Bruce Babbit, called it “a day of redemption”. While living with pro-bison activists, a startled Mr Farrell heard them telling various furry specimens “We love you,” or “We are here to protect you, you big sacred boy,” and spouting bowdlerised Native-American teachings about the animals’ ancient souls (while simultaneously insisting, in many cases, that they distrusted religion and its works). 
As for anti-wolf types, when offered financial compensation for wolf-attacks on their livestock, some turn it down—suggesting that more than economics is at stake. Dig a bit, and a culture war is raging between the “old West” of rugged ranchers and hunters, who once earned respect and status by taming nature, but who now find themselves called environmental menaces by “new West” incomers with big-city ideas about animal rights and natural ecosystems. Behind that local clash—pitting folk with gun racks on their trucks against those with bike racks, as Mr Farrell puts it—there lurks a still larger suspicion of the federal government. Many “old West” types see a plot to drive ranchers from the land. They talk of “federal wolves” undermining their property rights, and challenging the God-ordained duty of humans to protect their own families, and exercise dominion over Creation.
Mr. Farell's book is not out yet, and I assume that the author of the article could not due it justice in a short space. I think there is a good point that the people most passionately arguing about Yellowstone are making their arguments based on ideological positions that are deeply held -- indeed, part of their view of themselves.

I see Yellowstone as a unique place, both for its beauty and the richness of its biodiversity. I want it preserved for that reason, while I am quite willing to see most of the country modified to meet human demands. I suspect that the ranchers who live near Yellowstone see it as part of their neighborhood. I am not happy when deer from the woods miles from my house get into my yard and eat my wife's tomatoes, and I suspect that the nearby ranchers have similar feelings related to Yellowstone.

Too bad! My view -- that the National Parks are a great American idea -- is widely shared by Americans and by the people all over the world, and in our democracy our will has prevailed for more than a century.

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