By Adena Cook
By BlueRibbon Coalition Public Lands Director - Adena Cook
Most outdoor recreation surveys count wildlife and bird watching as
a popular activity. Outdoor
Recreation in America 2001 reports that not only is outdoor
recreation increasing, but that the sharpest climbs in reported
participation were in wildlife viewing, hiking, running/jogging and motor
Wildlife viewing is generally considered
to be a non-consumptive type of recreation, categorized together with
hiking and other non-motorized activities.
Conversely, motorized recreation such as four wheel driving, ATV
riding, and snowmobiling are generally categorized as consumptive (I have
not yet researched why this is so).
Wildlife viewing generally promoted as a
part of eco-friendly tourism. Recreation
Roundtable reports that among people who consider themselves to be active
and sympathetic environmentalists, 83% enjoy watching wildlife.
Green groups and green leaning park and
public land managers tout wildlife viewing as an “appreciative”
activity. Apparently, they
don’t think that motorized recreationists can appreciate viewing
wildlife. You and I know
that’s wrong. I, and
everyone I know who enjoys the outdoors, enjoys and appreciates watching
wildlife regardless of our mode of transportation.
Having hiked more than a few miles over
the years as well as ridden, I’ve observed that if I see a critter, it
is interrupted from its activity whether I’m walking or riding.
It’s disturbed. Its
habitat effectiveness is diminished.
That’s consumptive, and the mode of transportation is not
relevant. In fact, if I can
move through it’s habitat more quickly by riding, it more quickly
resumes its activity than if I were walking.
The point is not which mode of transport disturbs wildlife more,
but that all does to some degree – and that wildlife viewing is
Several years ago, I was walking adjacent
to a fishing stream in the sagebrush working my way from hole to hole.
I was accompanied by my faithful Aussie, Tessie.
Is walking with your dog considered consumptive?
It sure should be. She poked her nose under a big clump of sage and out popped
this tiny creature with a bleat. It
was no bigger than a rabbit. Before
I even knew what it was, I called her back (thankfully she was very
obedient) and beat the hell out of there.
I realized it was a nearly newborn fawn, and I didn’t feel very
good about disturbing it.
Last winter, while snowmobiling down a
groomed trail next to a creek, I spotted about six deer across the creek
half hidden in the willows. I
challenged myself to sneak by without disturbing them.
I maintained an even speed and motored on by without pausing.
A couple raised their heads, but they did not move.
Which wildlife-viewing encounter was more
consumptive? How can green groups and eco-tourist promoters in good
conscience encourage this activity – wildlife viewing - without
acknowledging its impact to wildlife habitat effectiveness?
Wildlife viewing and wildlife
appreciation has a dark side.
Ever since wolves were re-introduced into Yellowstone Park, green groups and Park officials have been promoting the wolves as a tourist attraction. Come to Yellowstone Park! Come see the wolves! Tourists who have seen a wolf cross the road are reportedly enthralled.
Their rapture would turn to horror if
they had encountered a scene reported by Jerry Wilson from Jackson,
Wyoming. He and his wife were
snowmobiling on the trail up the Gros Ventre River to Goosewing Ranch
where the Wyoming Game and Fish maintains an elk feed ground.
Jerry reports, “My wife and I went snow
machining up the Gros Ventre last Friday March 15. Saw 4 wolves run across
the road in front of us just east of the Red Rock ranch. Stopped and
talked to two volunteers from federal fish and wildlife service, one from
Maine and one from North Dakota. Noticed elk tracks everywhere. (very
unusual) Asked how many wolves were here? “About 13” How many elk are
they killing? “Three or more a night” (not counting pregnant cows
aborting because of being run and stressed.)
Continued up the road, appalled by the amount of running elk tracks
everywhere. (They have been conditioned for years to stay on the feed
grounds) Stopped at the Goose Wing feed grounds. Pile of about 20 to 30
dead elk (cows and calves) by the road pulled there by elk feeders. Some
had small amounts of flesh eaten (10 to 15) pounds from hindquarters, left
to die….Others caught by nose. Nose, lips and tongue eaten off and left
to die…Wounded and stressed elk laying away from herd, unable to get up.
(4 or more) Threw up---went home---haven’t slept since.”
Green groups need to take responsibility
for this. They’re
responsible for transplanting wolves to Yellowstone where the critters
have flourished and expanded. They
have to acknowledge their hypocrisy when they blame motorized
recreationists for impacts on wildlife while they encourage wildlife
viewing among their ranks. They
have to face up to the fact that the outdoors is not a zoo and wildlife is
not there for eco-tourists to gawk at.
And they must face the fact that when they introduce voracious
predators into an ecosystem, the results are not eco-pretty.
Adena Cook was Public Lands Director for the BlueRibbon Coalition, she is now retired and Bill Dart is now in that position. The Coalition represents a broad range of recreational interests and can be reached at (800) BLUERIB or on the web at www.sharetrails.org.