Hunting and Fishing Icons at Risk

Badly planned and fast-tracked energy development in places like Wyoming’s Red Desert, or the sprawl of housing, fences, and roads around northern plains communities and cities, could spell the end of the great pronghorn recovery. The nation’s largest migratory pronghorn herd, 50,000 strong, roams here along with the nation’s only true desert elk herd. See this place while you can. The Greater Sage Grouse The greater sage grouse was once an iconic feature of the western sagebrush steppes. There are still opportunities to hunt these birds, but if their numbers continue to fall, of course, and if the sage grouse becomes federally protected as an endangered species, hunting them will end. The fact that we have just come to understand that the sage grouse is our big wild canary-in-the-coal-mine of the same American landscape that supports sustainable livestock grazing and some of the best publicly accessible big-game hunting left on the planet. This is not about whether or not you support mining; the Pebble Project is simply in the wrong place, and no one—not even its former CEO—will say that the operation poses no risk to the fisheries here. There will be no way to keep our hunting and fishing—our American icons of wilderness and wildlife—if we are not willing to fight for them. We will be told that we cannot have jobs and energy development if we protect the migration routes of pronghorns, the winter ranges of mule deer, or the dancing grounds of sage grouse. Take your power from the American landscape and all it holds, and then use that power to make sure it all goes on.
hunting icons at risk
Iconic places, animals, and traditions.

The American Pronghorn

I know of a place in the Madison Valley where ancient hunters hazed pronghorns over a small set of cliffs, to kill or cripple them and to give those hungry humans, who at the time had neither guns nor bows, an edge on an animal that can run 60 mph. There were, at the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition, millions of pronghorns on the American plains. We managed to drive them almost to extinction by the 1920s, but we also managed—almost entirely through the conservation efforts of hunters—to recover the species to almost 1 million today.

The pronghorn is a long-wandering, migratory animal, and we are just now, through decades of research by wildlife biologists, coming to understand how it lives and travels. Part of that understanding involves the crucial need for protection of migration corridors and winter and summer ranges that pronghorns depend on for survival. Badly planned and fast-tracked energy development in places like Wyoming’s Red Desert, or the sprawl of housing, fences, and roads around northern plains communities and cities, could spell the end of the great pronghorn recovery. We would need to sacrifice almost nothing to make sure that this—our most beautiful plains animal—survives for millennia more. We just need to make sure that development is planned with the pronghorn migrations and critical ranges in mind. That takes the same kind of political clout that hunters brought to the table when the pronghorn was almost extinct. Can we do it again?

The Red Desert

In a world roaring with our machinery, paved with our roads, and running on the dings and buzzes of cellphones, there is a lot to be said for a vast expanse of nothingness. But to call central Wyoming’s Red Desert “nothingness” is to miss one of the most overlooked parts of the American West. Quiet, yes. Isolated, to the nth degree. Empty, it is not.

The country will unfold before you. North, there are the dramatic mountain ranges—the Wind Rivers, the Tetons, the Absarokas. South, the Colorado Rockies explode. There are sage grouse aplenty here. The nation’s largest migratory pronghorn herd, 50,000 strong, roams here along with the nation’s only true desert elk herd. Thousands of mule deer live here, too, as nomadic as the wind, moving with the seasons.

Nobody can really agree where the Red Desert starts or where it ends. Efforts to conserve the landscape go back at least to 1898, when it was first proposed as a game reserve to help rebuild fast-dwindling stocks of big game. In 1935, Wyoming Gov. Leslie Miller wanted to protect much of it as a national park. In the 1960s, Wyoming conservationists proposed creating a North American Antelope Range here, and there are seven proposed wilderness study areas. Energy development booms and busts have transfigured much of the land and will do so again if oil and gas prices rise—on a much greater scale. See this place while you can.

The Greater Sage Grouse

The greater sage grouse was once an iconic feature of…

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