Reflections from the Great Bison Roadtrip

My cousin Jessica kindly sent me this post reflecting on her recent road trip to South Dakota and Wyoming.  Thanks Jessica!

You will find something more in woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from the masters  – Saint Bernard de Clairvaux.

Bison in Wyoming

Recently I read Douglas Brinkley’s book “The Wilderness Warrior – Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America”.  This read motivated me to take a trip I have been longing to do my whole life –  visit the great plains of the US – the “American Serengeti.”  I wanted to see first-hand the wildlife that inspired Teddy Roosevelt and other conservationists such as Stephen Mather, and Joseph Grinnell to establish the system of modern land and wildlife conservation in our country.

The one animal I really yearned to see in person was the bison, often incorrectly referred to as buffalo. Bison are the largest terrestrial animal in North America and Europe, can run up to 35mph, and weigh up to 2000 pounds.  In 1800 this majestic creature numbered around 30 to 60 million, but by the late 19th century had dwindled to just a few hundred animals.

The US Army sought to deplete the main food source of the American Indians, starving them or forcing them to submit to life on

19th Century carnage

reservations, and so slaughtered the bison.  Also unfortunately for the bison,  they reportedly enjoyed scratching their massive backs on telegraph poles, knocking them over with their great strength. Delays caused by buffalo herds numbering in the of tens of thousands that lumbered across the tracks annoyed railway passengers.  These natural behaviors of the bison didn’t exactly endear them to telegraph and railroad executives. Tragically, their systematic execution at the hands of the U.S. Army and the hired guns of the telegraph and railway companies nearly eradicated the bison from the face of the earth forever.

Paradoxically, if not for the efforts of Roosevelt and other avid hunters in the late 19th century, the bison would have faced certain extinction. These men helped set aside large tracts of land for the protection of these and other mega fauna. They also fostered the development of modern wildlife management – of which regulated sport hunting is an essential element.  I am encouraged that although we were once only a few years away from losing plains animals such as the bison, and later the black-tailed prairie dog, pronghorn antelope, and the black-footed ferret, thanks to the foresight of hunters like Roosevelt, their populations are rebounding. I wish that I could have seen a herd of a 100,000 bison, instead of the paltry 500 or so I did see, but I feel fortunate to have seen any at all. I was moved to see small caramel-colored bison calves with their herd crossing the roadway in Grand Teton National Park – not inconvenienced like the railway passengers of old.

Prairie critters

Teddy Roosevelt said that there can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country.  Many people believe that Roosevelt was a hypocrite, citing his love of hunting while he championed the issue of wildlife conservancy.  Not so, hunters are no mere conservationists, as the editor of Petersen’s Hunting recently wrote, “we hunt for food, we hunt for the experience, and we hunt for the tradition”.

By virtue of the way I was raised, and seeing my father and brother hunt, I believe that modern hunters, like the early outdoorsmen-conservationists, express their values by respecting nature and her creatures – and by actively participating in the cycle of life and death.  The billions of dollars that American hunters have contributed to habitat restoration and wildlife research through fees and excise taxes such as those levied by the Pittman Robertson Act of 1937 are a testimony and monument to their ethos.

Hopefully in coming years more Americans will opt out of  resort vacations in expensive artificial playgrounds, and instead decide

The symbol of the American West saved by hunters for all

to bring their children to our nation’s parks and forests. There children can learn the valuable lessons of respect for nature, conservation, and stewardship.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jessica on August 18, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    Thanks for letting me share…



  2. You got it Jessica!



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