Some things I have to say about the Yellowstone bison incident

I am posting this with a level of trepidation. Its long, I warn you, and full of my opinions and thoughts in a somewhat negative light in a slight departure from my usual posts.

In the wake of the bison incident at Yellowstone National Park and my recent experiences in the Canadian Rockies NPs, I feel like I must say something. I’m disgusted and distressed at the behaviour these two people displayed. Picking up a bison calf and putting it in your car is completely uncalled for. It is against the advice, rules, and laws of the National Parks to even approach wildlife.

The correct course of action in this instance, if they were that concerned about the bison, is to call the Park Rangers and notify them to take care of it. The same action you would take if sighting a bear is to report it to the professionals.

While some people are outraged the calf was euthanized, the Park Rangers really did not have much choice.  What people do not understand is that baby animals are very impressionable and easily imprint onto humans in their early days. Once imprinted, it is very hard to take back and make them wild again.

If the calf had been abandoned by its mother, it would have died slowly on its own and likely ended up as someone’s meal. That is the truth of it and that is the way the ecosystem works. Predators and scavengers have to eat, too.

But, to be totally honest, I am not all that surprised as much as I am outraged. Human actions led directly to the calf being euthanized, which they intended to “save.” Too many times do human actions (or lack of action in some cases) cause similar incidents. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve read about bears being euthanized for becoming habituated with humans, getting into garbage that wasn’t properly secured by people who should really know better.

It reminds me of the people who recently tried to rescue an abandoned bear cub only to have it euthanized by B.C. Conservation Officers. The correct protocol would have been phoning a wildlife rehab center, telling them about the situation and if the rehabbers decided to try to help the bear, they could have taken care of it professionally. Wildlife rehab is really better left to the professionals. I have volunteered with a wildlife rehab center and trust me, it takes a lot of expertise to do it right. Unfortunately, there is a high failure rate.

I am also not surprised after some behaviour I witnessed while visiting the National Parks in Canada’s Rocky Mountains recently. All of it was rooted in selfish and lazy human behaviour and make me lose a little bit more faith in humankind. Here they are…

1. Motorists failing to observe lower wildlife speed limits.
Because the Trans-Canada Highway cuts Banff National Park in half and some days sees 25,000 vehicles passing through, there are probably many people who are just passing through just trying to get to the other side. Fair enough. There are zones of the park wildlife frequents, and these areas have reduced speed limits, typically 70km/h.

However, most of the time as I drove along at the directed speed, almost every single vehicle passed me. And it was not only on the Trans-Canada, it also happened on Highway 93 in Jasper. Some cars passed me at speeds much higher than 70km/h and that is exactly how animals are killed. I find it depressing that people care so little for animals and are so selfish in wanting to save their own time, that they are willing to kill animals who get in their way.

I’d like to see increased speed monitoring and penalties for speeding in wildlife zones. While building wildlife overpasses and underpasses has certainly helped, it won’t keep them all off the highways.

I attribute this to humans being selfish.

2. Litter. 
I have never seen so much litter in a national park before in my life. After visiting lots of American National Parks, I was astounded at how much litter I saw in Jasper and Banff NPs in particular. To be honest, I think its really embarrassing for Canada.

The area near the Columbia Icefields Visitor Center and the Lake Louise area near the Fairmont Lodges were particularly bad. There was garbage strewn all over the parking lot for the Athabasca Glacier trailheads. I started picking some of it up and dispose of it only to realize it was an insurmountable amount I’d be cleaning up all day. At Lake Louise, the washrooms were closed and the wastebins outside were piled so high with mostly coffee cups and other garbage it overflowed onto the ground. I wish I’d taken a photo of the wreckage.

I attribute this to humans being lazy. I just honestly can’t understand people who still litter.

Litter in Jasper National Park. Yep, it is literally right next to a garbage bin.

3. Approaching wildlife too closely.
When we saw the grizzly bear at the Fairmont Golf Course (more on that in a later post), we saw a man on a bicycle ride past then turn around and go back to look at the bear. He got much closer than we, far closer than recommended, to take a photo on his smart phone.

Later, we saw him again photographing the bighorn sheep pretty close as well. Honestly, if he’d been mauled by the grizzly, I’d say he was asking for it. Why don’t people understand the wild animals are just that: wild. They need space. They don’t want to be close to humans.

4. Walking dogs off-leash.
Everywhere you read about being bear aware in bear country, you’ll read the advice to walk your dog on leash and keep them under control. Better yet, leave them at home.

Off-leash dogs are a HUGE no-no in bear country. Why? Off-leash dogs go off the trail and get into all kinds of trouble, attracting bears and annoying them until they decide to attack the dog. Instinctively, most dogs will run back to their owner when under attack, leading the bear to the human, sometimes leading to an attack. This often ends with the bear being euthanized even though a recent study shows killing grizzly bears does not reduce human-animal conflict, but that conflict is actually driven by food availability, particularly salmon in this case.

Yet, despite this advice, I saw a number of people in the parks walking their dogs off-leash on trails.

A man in Prince George, BC was just recently attacked by a black bear, but saved by his dog according to his account. The bear was a sow with cubs. My guess is his dog was probably off-leash, which may have initiated the attack. I am not saying he deserved to be attacked, but by understanding the bear’s behavior and being properly bear aware (making noise, having his dog on a leash, carrying bear spray, etc.), he might have prevented the attack altogether.

There’s a dark side to the National Parks many people don’t think of. Should people like the bison rescuers be forever banned from the parks? Are people spoiling the opportunity to experience wildlife by incidents like this? Is it due to complete ignorance, selfishness, laziness or all of the above? Why do animals have to be the ones to suffer because of our mistakes? And most of all why can’t people have some respect for wildlife and follow advised precautions?


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