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Danziger: Big Game

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel.

We Should Rethink Naming Wild Animals

Animals do not name themselves. The lion illegally hunted down in Zimbabwe last year did not know he was “Cecil.” The western lowland gorilla shot at the Cincinnati Zoo after a 3-year-old fell into his enclosure did not answer to the name “Harambe.”

We can understand why zoos, nature preserves and animal rescue groups give their headliner animals a name. It helps humans imagine a bond with the creatures, leading to donations, visits and other support for their institutions.

But naming wild animals is not all good. “It trivializes wildlife and makes it less wild,” complains Don Thomas, a well-known hunting writer and environmentalist based in Montana.

Thomas told me that while writing an article about the zoo controversy, he had used “Harambe” as the original title but then caught himself. There’s a long tradition of hunters giving names to “special” game animals, he added. That, too, should be discouraged.

Naming wild animals makes them seem human and also less dangerous. That can work to the detriment of both the animals and humans. The “beloved Cecil” had become a virtual pet in a game reserve and thus may have lost a natural wariness toward humans.

The outcry over the killing of “Harambe” included a good deal of fantasy about the gorilla’s relationship with the toddler. Many insisted that “Harambe” was actually protecting the boy.

Protective? Aggressive? No one could possibly know, Thomas insists. “The video clearly does show a powerful, agitated animal dragging a small child rapidly through water deep enough to drown the kid and roughly enough to kill it in an instant, intentionally or not.”

Expecting wild animals to act with human benevolence is especially risky in the case of primates closest to us on the evolutionary charts. Recall the terrible story of “Travis,” the chimpanzee that virtually tore off a Connecticut woman’s face and hands.

If any animal deserved the title of honorary human, it was “Travis.” He appeared in a Coca-Cola commercial and on TV shows. “Travis” wore a baseball shirt and could operate a TV remote control. But in 2009, he suddenly tore at one of his owner’s friends. Police shot him dead.

Facebook is heavy with videos that seem to unite natural enemies, feeding the human dream that all creatures can get along. A cat plays with a parakeet. A chicken cares for a kitten.

A problematic example that has gone viral shows a 1,500-pound Kodiak bear cuddling with its keeper. The bear has a name, of course — “Jimbo.”

The video promotes a wildlife rehabilitation center in upstate New York. The center may do good work nursing injured animals, but is it doing the public a service in portraying bears as potential playmates?

The gruesome demise of Timothy Treadwell should have put an end to the idea of bears as trusted companions. Heavily into self-promotion, Treadwell claimed to have forged loving relationships with grizzly bears in Alaska’s Katmai National Park. He recorded himself living among these fearsome mammals — and playing roughhouse with them.

In a documentary about him, “Grizzly Man,” Treadwell is seen talking baby talk with a giant bear he named “Mr. Chocolate.”

National Park Service rangers accused him of harassing wildlife.

On Oct. 6, 2003, the rangers found the chewed-up remains of Treadwell and his girlfriend. They killed a large male grizzly near their campsite and found human body parts in his stomach.

Could he have been “Mr. Chocolate”?

We grow up with teddy bears and stuffed lion toys. Ideally, children — and adults — will learn to distinguish between make-believe and biology. Holding back on giving wild animals names might be a good start.

 

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

Photo: Max Goldberg

States Find Their Voice On Federal Land Use

By Rebecca Beitsch, Stateline.org (TNS)

WASHINGTON — It’s a battle long fought, but seldom won: States want to gain control of federal land within their borders.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Forest Service, and other federal agencies control vast swaths of the land in some Western states, as much as 80 percent in Nevada. But local residents are often frustrated with federal policies governing preservation, recreation or natural resource development. In particular, many question the federal government’s commitment to preventing natural disasters like forest fires.

When states do manage to recapture federal land, it tends to be smaller parcels the federal government cuts loose for a specific purpose, such as building a road or an airport. Occasionally Washington will sell a parcel that is surrounded by private property or serves no public purpose.

In 2015, all 11 Western states considered measures calling for the transfer of federal land to state control. But only a handful of bills passed, and none resulted in a transfer of land.

Those long odds, and a reluctance to spend state money on land management, have spurred some states to try a different approach. Instead of taking on the federal government in a futile fight for ownership, they are arming counties with money and expertise to help them convince federal officials to hew more closely to residents’ interests.

Colorado is one of the states at the forefront of this new approach. This year, state lawmakers there approved $1 million in grants for counties that want to influence federal land use decisions. County leaders can use the money to hire consultants to evaluate data, provide scientific research or attend BLM coordination meetings. The law authorizing the grants also requires state agencies to provide additional expertise and assistance to counties when they ask for it.

Democratic state Rep. KC Becker, a former attorney for the BLM, said many county leaders in Colorado don’t realize how much influence they can have with federal officials. She pointed to a “consistency provision” in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, a 1976 law governing BLM oversight of public land, which requires management that conforms, at least generally, to what local leaders want.

Becker and her Republican co-sponsor, Rep. Bob Rankin, said they wrote the bill to promote cooperation, rather than confrontation, with the federal government.

“Some people just want a takeover, but a lot of those state laws are more symbolic. I don’t want to make a point, I want to make a difference,” Becker said.

Rankin said the grants are useful to counties even in cases where local leaders are fundamentally opposed to federal policy. He pointed to oil drilling as an example. “Say they’re discussing the impact of a new drilling permit. Maybe the county is for it or maybe they’re against it, but they can have a consultant for the process,” he said. Rankin said the outside help can be used to better understand the process, provide outside analysis, and help draft county responses to federal proposals.

The first grant awarded under the Colorado program was for just under $25,000 to Gunnison County, home of the Gunnison sage-grouse.

The county is challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to place the bird on the federal endangered species list, arguing that its own conservation efforts on private land are sufficient.

The wildlife service’s designation also has prompted the BLM to make some changes. The agency is proposing amendments to the management plans covering the Gunnison sage-grouse habitat in multiple counties near the Utah-Colorado border.

Jim Cochran, the wildlife conservation coordinator for Gunnison County, said even as the lawsuit proceeds, the county is using the grant money to hire outside experts to track the 11 proposed amendments, which would likely effect grazing and recreation on public land.

Cochran, a wildlife biologist, said soil and range conservation experts are analyzing how land and soil is affected by animal and recreational use and are helping the county draft responses to the BLM proposals using that analysis.

“We’re partners in many things. But they’re federal, and we’re local, and we have different constituents,” Cochran said. “We’re working with them, but we’re very much concerned about protecting our interests.”

The BLM said its processes are meant to encourage public involvement.

“The BLM supports state and local efforts to engage with the BLM,” the agency said in a statement.

Utah is using multiple methods to get what it wants from federal land managers.

The state has not abandoned its attempt to get federal land into state hands. A 2012 state law called on the federal government to transfer to the state all public land that is not designated as a national park or wilderness area or owned by Native American tribes — about 30 million acres in total, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. State Rep. Ken Ivory, a Republican, said because the federal government did not comply with the 2012 law, the state has set aside $4 million for a lawsuit challenging federal control of the land and is assembling a legal team.

But at the same time, the state is pursuing other avenues to get what it wants. This year the state passed a law requiring every county in the state to develop a resource management plan.

State Senate Republican Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, who sponsored the legislation, said the new requirement not only helps create a statewide plan, but it also prepares counties to deal with the federal government and argue that federal plans should be consistent with theirs.

Some Utah counties have long coordinated with the federal government on land issues, but other areas that are more sparsely populated never had the money to develop thorough plans.

The state office of public land policy could serve as a resource for interested counties, but the onus is now on counties to have a plan in place — and the state will cover half the cost.

Mike Worthen, the natural resource management specialist for Iron County, said not all counties are aware of how involved they can be in the federal planning process or of government regulations requiring consistency. He said it’s important for counties to have a plan in place before any federal level changes are proposed.

“Otherwise they falter when they don’t have an adequate county resource plan to explain what they want, and then they have nothing to fall back on when the federal government comes back with a proposal,” Worthen said.

Okerlund said counties should generally have a vision for the land within their boundaries, but requiring the plans helps them make decisions about how land and natural resources should be used before the federal government does.

“Local governments ought to be involved in the process, but to do that they need a plan that shows how the resources in their jurisdiction are important to them and how to use them,” he said.

Photo: States want to gain control of federal land within their borders. (Chris Adams/MCT)

Hurting The Wilderness We Love

Upon running the entire 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail in record time, a marathoner broke several rules at the finish line on top of Maine’s majestic Mount Katahdin. Among them was public consumption of alcohol — in this case, Champagne. Another was littering by shaking the bottle and spraying Champagne every which way.

Less appealing liquids have undoubtedly been deposited on those boulders, but one can sympathize with the highly annoyed response of the Baxter State Park authorities. Their rules limit groups hiking the trail to 12 people. The speedster was greeted by a far larger number, including invited media. His clothes and a supporting van, meanwhile, were covered with corporate logos.

The physical feat was undeniably impressive. But it had zero to do with the point of the trail, which is to let humans connect with relatively unspoiled nature. For this runner, the wilderness was used as a stage, a backdrop for promoting his excellence.

Like the national parks, America’s celebrated trails are drawing big crowds — not only the Appalachian on the East Coast but also the Pacific Crest Trail on the West. Though their popularity can be seen as a good thing — they expand the constituency for conservation — it also alters the encounter with wilderness into something a bit more industrial.

Ecotourism has become big business. Some outfitters and guides do a fine job of balancing the humans’ wants with protection of the wilds. Others are intent on maximizing profit by sexing up what is usually a slow-moving experience, even to the point of prodding wild animals to perform.

For example, the giant manta rays swimming around the Big Island of Hawaii have become a major moneymaker in the district of Kona, according to The Washington Post.

At night, boat operators deposit large groups of diving tourists into the waters around the fragile reefs. They shine lights, which attract the plankton on which mantas feed. The rays soon appear and, as promised in the brochures, put on quite a show.

The boats have been known to drop anchor on the fragile reefs. And dive masters have used tongs to move spiny urchins so that tourists could comfortably sit on the coral. Some mantas are getting injured, and others are losing their fear of humans, which endangers them in other circumstances.

An up-close and personal encounter with a manta undoubtedly makes for an exciting Facebook entry. If seeing these creatures in their primeval habitat is the objective, however, one cannot do better than going to the IMAX and watching a professionally produced wildlife documentary.

Clearly, some people can’t enjoy nature unless a sport is attached — hence the controversial move in Congress to open more waterways in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks to paddlers. Both parks already allow non-motorized boating on certain stretches.

What’s the problem here? After all, we’re not talking about Jet Skis and speedboats.

The problem is that even human-powered watercraft can damage trout and other wildlife habitat. They can introduce invasive aquatic plants. The problem is that politicians are trying to take science-based judgments out of the hands of park professionals. The problem is that “hand-propelled” watercraft include pack rafts, often used for thrill rides over rapids and carrying groups of people.

Members of American Whitewater, a river access group, are reportedly split on this matter. Limiting human activities in wilderness areas can involve tough calls.

It helps to remember that there are places in this big earth for every kind of sportive activity — from breaking human speed records to driving 7,000-horsepower yachts. If the thumb must come down on the scale, let it rest on the side of nature.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo: James via Flickr