Once upon a time, in a state far, far away, there were few people and fewer animals.
Let’s call this place and time Montana 1918.
Fast forward 100 years.
We are now past one million people, and approaching 200,000 elk, 1,000 wolves, 5,000 mountain lions, 15,000 black bears and 2,000 grizzly bears (including the Yellowstone population, which spreads over Montana, Idaho and Wyoming).
Meanwhile, the state’s boundaries remain constant.
How much can we take? How much do we want?
To some people, the more of everything the merrier. If you see a problem with that, raise your hand. Thank you.
As the population of everything increases, it’s hard to say where this is going. Some will be pleased, others not so much.
There are those rural Montana folks who love where they live because there are so few other people. Conversely, there are some residents of the Flathead Valley or Gallatin County or Billings who don’t mind their crowded communities – crowded by Montana standards.
However, when an animal population increases and intrudes into our lifestyle it can be a problem no matter where you live.
East of the Rocky Mountain Front, grizzlies are seen on the prairie where they have not been for well over 100 years. Who belongs?
In many towns, big and small, people have problems with deer, raccoons and coyotes. Who belongs?
If the argument becomes who was here first, how far back do you want to go? The Homestead era? Lewis and Clark? The last ice age?
Maybe the answer lies in a combination of wildlife management and human behavior change, at least a little bit.
Part of the reason for hunting is to manage wildlife numbers. No one in their right mind suggests we allow mountain lions to roam our streets, predators to decimate a well-run livestock operation or elk and deer to eat away a farmer’s annual profits.
We are also not returning to days of no-limits, commercial hunting when our ancestors just about wiped out whole wildlife populations.
There must be a balance, which might mean occasionally changing our old, harmful habits.
For example, if our mother tells us to clean up our room, and we don’t, is it the teacher’s fault if we cannot find that term paper?
More to the point, if our home place, rural or urban, looks like a nuclear bomb went off: garbage strewn about, apples from last season left laying under the tree, or piles of grain near the bins out back, why does the hungry critter that wanders in get the blame?
Even if we simply leave pet food or small pets out at night and Fido disappears, or the backyard is trashed, isn’t the culprit probably found in the morning mirror?
We may want nature on our terms, soft and gentle, tame and visible, but that’s not always the case.
Humans have changed the natural equation by introducing some species and removing others. Then when we don’t like the answer we want to blame someone else.
Perhaps, as the Bard once said, the fault lies not in our stars… but in ourselves.
Source: Bruce AuchlyBruce Auchly
FWP Information Officer
Communication and Education Division
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Region 4