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On management: One thing the feds do best

Pat Wiesner //September 1, 2010//

On management: One thing the feds do best

Pat Wiesner //September 1, 2010//

We have just completed three weeks of driving, camping and even renting a house for a week at Flathead Lake in Montana. In the process we traipsed all over three national parks: Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier.

The overwhelming, No. 1 impression is how well they are run, from the roads you drive, to the management of the wildlife to the friendliness and patience of the rangers.
I saw my first bear in the Teton park. Even though we have lived in Colorado for 40 years and have camped and hiked all over the mountains, I had never seen one where both of us – me and the bear – were out in the open. And there are lots of bears in Colorado. In the Teton park, it’s the same. I would expect the No. 1 topic of conversation where visitors gathered was, “Have you seen a bear yet?”

Here’s how I finally got out in the open with a bear. My wife had just told me, “Now if we see one, stay in the car!” to which I had just agreed. That’s when we drove upon a line of about 30 cars parked at the side of the road, and all the occupants were lined up along the edge of the road with cameras, from the little pocket types to ones with lenses 3 feet long, causing the would-be photographer to struggle with the weight.

I parked and jumped out of the car with my camera while my wife was still in mid word, 
”Don’t …” She, too, then got out. There was a bear! It was 20 to 30 feet away, noisily, furiously eating a grove of huckleberries as though it was the last meal before hibernation. It was being watched and photographed by a crowd standing nervously on the road. A number of people said to me something like, “I know I shouldn’t be here, but isn’t this exciting?”

The bear never looked at any of the people or cars, but I’m sure it was quite aware, and I think the dynamic might have changed if anyone had stepped off the road in the direction of the bear. We eventually decided that we had pushed our luck far enough, although we never got closer to the bear than to our car.

A few days later we were the first car in a line that was delayed for a while by a meandering offshoot of a heard of bison. I stopped as did the guy coming the other way, and we had an incredible seat while a couple of these huge, magnificent animals slowly strolled across the highway. We were later told that at times a whole herd of thousands can block a road for an hour or more.

On a quiet part of a float trip on the Snake River, the guide told us the about the Boy Scout who had solved the problem of big male elk knocking down the fence of the great National Elk Reserve at Jackson, Wyo. It seems that in the ’50s after the elk migrated to the reserve and the rangers closed the entrance gates, late-arriving male elk would try to knock down the fence to be on the same side as the females.

It was a problem for a long time until a Boy Scout suggested that he had read that an elk would jump down 12 feet but could jump up only 8 feet. That was the solution. Now you can see places all around the elk reserve at Jackson where the ground is raised some 12 feet and the fence is removed so that the elk can jump into the compound. But those already inside will not even try to get out the opening because of the required12-foot jump up. As compensation for their contribution to the elk, the Boy Scouts each year collect the antlers they shed and sell them, keeping 20 percent of the proceeds.

It’s a great show. Instead of expecting performance from the feds on the financial pages, look for it in the national parks!
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