Let Them Roam

July 03, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Are we doing enough to protect our Lands and Wildlife? Part I

February 26, 2017  •  Leave a Comment


We have done much to mend the damage weve done to nature but have much more work to do. We need to rewild whole landscapes, boldly creating connected habitat for species that need room to roam, such as grizzly bears, wolverines, and even bison. Healthy lands rich in biodiversity will be far more resilient to climate change.”   - Cristina Eisenberg - Earthwatch Chief Scientist, ecologist and author

http://cristinaeisenberg.com      The Carnivore Way: Coexisting with and Conserving North America's Predators


Are we doing enough to protect our Lands and Wildlife?


In our current climate where our Government is slashing regulations and there is a strong effort to be able to sell off and exploit our Public Lands, what can we do or do we need to worry?

In the USA we have about 134,000,000 acres somewhat protected in National Parks, this is about 14% of the land in the USA. The US Forest Service has another 193,000,000 acres and in total the Federal Government owns about 2.27 billion acres.

Boy, that sounds like a ton of land doesn't it?

However there is a problem, a significant portion of that land is not left to be wild with the animals left unmolested. 788 million acres are grazing lands, we have mines and logging regions scattered across our Public Lands, we even have hunting in some National Parks.

The farthest point in the USA from a road is only about 30 miles, now that I find scary and that brings us to the the point of this posting. Even though on paper we have a decent amount of land for wildlife, in reality this is not the case. Too much of our lands set aside for wildlife is “fractured”, animals have to brave developments, highways and unprotected spaces to migrate in the search for forage and to find genetic diversity.

E.O. Wilson has famously stated that to actually protect our wildlife and lands we need to protect 50% of ALL our lands and waters WORLDWIDE and this isn't just protecting a big chunk in one location and bulldozing the rest, no, its protecting multiple connected lands so that we provide migration corridors and protect bio-diversity. Just protecting a desert wont help animals that don’t live there, just as just protecting the Rocky Mountains wouldn't do much to protect animals in Death Valley.

Scientists have put forth that we currently are in the midst of the 6th Great Extinction with the current rate of extinction being at least 100x greater than “normal” and some holding forth that its closer to 1000x greater than normal.

I, for one, tend to pay attention to scientists and pay attention with my own eyes to what is going on, not just in the USA but throughout the world. Take Lions and other big cats in Africa, in the last 70 years Lions have crashed from over 450,000 to hardly 20,000. Large tracts of wildlands all over the world have been broken up to provide farmland and living areas for us, while pushing animals into constantly constricting and scattered holdings to survive and when the animals try to move from their region through ours to get to another region, they are killed by us.

Here in the US our Game Management Agencies have for years, up until recently, viewed predators as expendable and a nuisance to our game management model, a model that sadly seems to be based upon a Game Farm mentality, wherein we want as much hunt-able wildlife as possible, even if this means over population of the animals and a detachment from actual nature in the management style.

If we ever would manage to protect even a 30% portion of the US for wildlife, it would require a massive undertaking starting with EDUCATION, in fact all the below issues are educationally based.

  1. Education
  2. Rethinking Private Property Rights
  3. Rethinking States Rights
  4. Convincing people that its better to think of the future instead of the “now”

Education: Too many people lack even a basic understanding of biology and about how interconnect we, our lands and so forth truly are. On top of that they fail to recognize that so many of our problems, both with protecting our lands and protecting ourselves are rooted with inequality and population.

Rethinking Private Property Rights: Very often people who own their land do not act in a responsible way towards the wildlife they share it with, the feeling of “its mine and I can do what I want” is understandable, however I, and many others feel that owning land is a privilege and the owners have a responsibility to balance their desires with that of the animals one shares the land with.

Rethinking States Rights: You see States constantly wanting to do what they want without over consideration of how their actions impact the next State over. The feeling that the State “owns” its wildlife and its lands and it doesn't matter what another State is doing or wants is a fact that needs to be changed. Our lands and our wildlife belong to ALL of us, it doesn't matter if you are in a different county, state or country we are all responsible.

Convincing people that its better to think of the future instead of the “now”: For generations we have fallen for the trap of doing what we feel we should do for jobs, growth and so forth using either the thought that “any problem can be fixed later”, or just not caring what the future holds since we will be dead by then. Im sure you all have heard the line “ what are we leaving for our children”, and simply put, that is a pretty lame line. We should be caring what we leave for the people living here in 200 years, not simply a couple decades from now.

We (the people who care and want to make a difference) all need to do a better job than we currently do. We all too often fall into the “preaching to the choir” area, where we just talk to like minded folks instead of reaching out and educating the masses, to put it mildly, we NEED the masses. It would be great if we could just march forth and do what needs to be done on our own, however that isn't reality, and in today’s climate of anti-education, anti-intellect, pro-destruction and pro-”think’about’only’me’me’me’me’me” we need to do everything we can to force changes for the better.

There are so many wide ranging issues that have to be faced and dealt with and we are running out of time to make a real difference. Can you image in 100 years not having a wild Grizzly in the lower 48? Can you image that the only Lions to be found in the world are in a zoo? The future as it stand right now can go two ways, unfortunately doing the right thing is much harder than passing the buck to the next generation.

In future postings I will address issues like Highway Over/Under-passes for wildlife, I will bring forth things like the Yukon To Yukon Conservation Initiative and other issues that I feel are key to undoing the damage we have done, along with securing a better future for our lands, wildlife and us.

Below I’ve included a couple write-ups that pertain to the issue.


Thank you,

Joshua Able




Max Waugh - www.maxwaugh.com


“My first instinct is to say "no" in regards to the general question about protecting our wildlife and habitat. And in the U.S., at least, we're already seeing a new government taking steps to lessen protection for not only wildlife, but surrounding lands and the communities that neighbor them. In regards to the issue of fractured habitat, one wonders if it's too late to truly mend wildlife migration corridors and extended habitats, given the proliferation of human settlement and development worldwide, but it's not stopping people from trying. There are small successes, such as the wildlife overpasses first constructed in Europe and now being considered here (for mountain lions and other wildlife in California, for example), that have been proven to be effective in preventing road kill incidents. On a larger scale, there are proposals to create much more expansive protection areas overseas, such as a region in central Asia that would span a number of countries and create a "tiger corridor." In South Africa, the owners of Samara Private Game Reserve have a long term goal of buying up the surrounding private ranch land in order to span the gap between two huge neighboring national parks. They've bought as many as eleven properties already, I believe, but still have a lot of work to do. If they ever succeed, it would finally create a proper connected territory for the vulnerable mountain zebra--which only exists in small pockets in southern Africa--and other threatened species in the region. So are we doing enough? Probably not locally, and we're likely to regress domestically over the next four years. But it's not too late to even make small improvements (like the overpasses), in order to ease a little pressure on our wildlife and create a better way to coexist.”




Tyler Brasington




"Aside from Yellowstone grizzly bear research, I've spent a good part of my time as an undergraduate looking at various issues pressing the environment and humanity. The largest issue for our generation, and those to follow, is anthropogenic climate change. This includes but is not limited to increased carbon dioxide, ocean acidification, glacial melt, deforestation, etc.

Due to increasing urbanization and industrialization in our country, small areas of protected public lands, like National Parks, are becoming even smaller. Buffer zones like national forests surrounding these areas are being timbered, sold off, developed, mineral rights sold for mining etc. Oil and natural gas operations involving fracking or the creation of additional and unneeded pipelines pose direct threat to the inhabitants of these ecosystems. A lot of the issues surrounding issues with wildlife, our lands and environment lies at the root principle of coexistence, and politics.

Unfortunately, not everyone is a scientist, biologist, geologist or chemist, it's important for those that are knowledgeable about what is going on with our environment, lands and wildlife, to be vigilant and help others understand and process what is happening. Not everyone sees the beauty in nature and wildlife, and not everyone understands the science involved; the web of interconnectedness that lies within ecosystems, and how that relates to us, humans. The two most essential compounds for human existence lie in water and air. Without water and air, human existence would be impossible. It's both critical and essential that both of those elements in human nature be preserved, or risk the consequences, the most severe being a mass exodus, or extinction.

The work of nature and it's cycles, are responsible for the natural purification of both water and air on earth. We pay nothing for these natural systems. Yet, when ecosystems are directly impaired in their abilities to perform these tasks, it directly impacts those inhabitants who call it home, and those who rely on its functions.

Currently less than 20% of the worlds key biodiversity areas are completely covered by protected areas. Current deregulation of decade old legislation that once protected our lands, waters and wildlife have become a growing threat. The possibility and potential of our public lands, national parks, being sold off, to be privatized, is a reality.

If we do not remain vigilant, and stand up in the face of adversity, to protect our lands and wildlife for years to come, before we know it, there will be nothing left to protect."

So to conclude what I wrote: are we doing enough to protect our lands and wildlife? There is no simple answer. In some respect, yes, our park system, and department of interior are very successful in preserving and protecting our lands and wildlife. However, that accounts for only a mere fraction of the overall picture.



Photography in the Yellowstone National Park

February 20, 2017  •  1 Comment

Over the course of my time here I have noticed that all too often photographers, be they the “big lens” crowd, or just the average tourists with a point and shoot or phone, have a tendency to go about photographing the wildlife in ways that negatively impact the animals, or the enjoyment of others to view the animals.

For starters, lets review the actual Park rules.

  1. Don’t cause the animals to change their behavior
  2. Stay 100 yards from Bears and Wolves
  3. Stay 25 yards from smaller predators like Coyotes and 25 yards from Moose, Elk and so on.
  4. No stopping/parking in the road (stop/park on the other side of the white line)
  5. No walking on the road (walk on the other side of the white line)
  6. No feeding wildlife
  7. No yelling at/making noises/etc to cause the animals to change behavior for your shot

Now of course the vast majority of people and photographers break these rules to some degree and the Rangers and the regulars understand this will happen, however there is “bending” a rule and there is gross violation of a rule.

Simple “rules” that we all need to be aware of

  1. if 1 person goes closer, others will follow. Yes, a single person could be 50 yards off the road and still at the legal distance from a fox and not cause the fox stress. However where one goes others will follow and suddenly you have 20 people there and, even though all are still at least 25 yards from the fox, the fox is stressed and moving away, while being followed by a group of people. FAIL.
  2. (see 1) the road and your car are the best places for many photo opportunities. Wildlife is used to the road and view it as a human area, wildlife is used to cars/trucks and are not overly bothered by them. However when a person leaves the vehicle, wildlife tends to pay more attention and if that person leaves the road to approach an animal, in many many cases (not in the case of Bison/etc) the animal will leave the area.
  3. Let the bear, wolf, etc CROSS the road. Trust me, the wolf isn't jogging 20 yards off the road for fun, it wants to get around you and go to the other-side, (ok, sometimes it is out for a jog, but its best to assume it wants to cross). By blocking animals from crossing the road you are causing stress and in the case of wolves and others, depending on the season, they are trying to get back to their young to feed them, you blocking them is a major negative. However, if it is an animal trying to cross the road then DO STOP, but stop 100 yards +/- away from the animal and provide it with an opening in which to cross. Once its over the road, drive closer, stop for a moment and take your pictures.  
  4. Bison WILL MOVE, just because you have a couple of them standing in the road doesn't mean you have to sit there for an hour. However it isn't just bison who stand in the road, many others also do the same, just keep moving forward gently and the animal will move out of the way. Animals die all the time due to getting in the road and cars/trucks not stopping (think a Bison at night), by training them that cars stop for them, you increase the risk to the animals. Be aware of your area and road conditions. You don’t want to cause a Bison to run on ice covered roads, also the animals need a place to get off the road. If you are on a grade and there is no area for the animal to leave the road, you may be behind them for a little while as they continue on their way.
  5. At times its fine to go ahead and stop IN the road, just do not block traffic and do not “abuse” the stop. Be aware of the road, clearly do not stop near the crest of a hill or on a blind curve, doing so endangers yourself and others. If you have an animal on hand, stop for a moment, take several pictures and then move to a parking area from which you can assess the situation.
  6. Do not “surround” animals. Often you see groups of people spread out and, if not fully surrounding an animal, their actions produce too much stress. Its always best for people to stay in one group, if people spread out the animal will tend to become stressed and its “escape” routes away from people suddenly become reduced. Stay together.

In regards to #1, I cant stress this enough, leaving the road to photograph a Predator will very often result in the animal moving farther away. I've watched people walk 200 yards from the road to get to animals that are 500 yards away. Yes, the people never get closer than 300 yards, but the animals almost always spot the people and move farther away, thus making the hike out a waste of time, plus the animals are farther away for anybody else who wished to view them.

Everything is subject to the unique situation at hand, there is no “one rule fits all circumstances”, however if you try to avoid causing the animal stress, if you try to avoid risking harm to yourself or others, generally you are doing the right thing.

Here is a scenario that is fairly common:

A Black Bear is sighted in the Tower region. We will see 20+ people standing off the shoulder of the road enjoying watching and photographing the bear, this isn't by itself an issue. The Rangers tend to provide a good bit of leeway to the people in regards to the 100 yard rule. If the bear isn't being stressed and the people are following the Rangers instructions we may be standing at 75 yards instead of 100.

Key Issues:

  1. The people are all grouped together and listening to the Rangers instruction.
  2. Nobody is standing in the road
  3. All vehicles are park over the white line and therefor off the road
  4. The Bear is relaxed and just doing “bear stuff”.


However, if you add some variables into the mix it can change the scenario suddenly. 

Lets remove the Ranger from the equation and/or add in some folk who don’t understand the situation. So, instead of everybody standing in a group at 75 yards, now we have several people who move off to the right and/or left and also away from the road. These people may still be 75 yards away but they are starting to surround the bear, this increases the likelihood of the bear becoming stressed due to no longer just keeping an eye on one group near the road, now it has to keep an eye on multiple groups, some who have ventured into the bears “territory”, the area away from the road.

Suddenly what should be an enjoyable experience turns into a negative due to stressing the animal. This is a no win for us or the bear. Please note that even at 100 yards, multiple groups of people surrounding the animal is not the way to do things.

Yellowstone provides wonderful opportunities for viewing and photographing animals, just remember that we are guests in the animals home and we need to respect them. By following rules, or “bending” them in cases where its not going to negatively impact the animals, or other peoples viewing we can enjoy the wildlife without causing undo stress. Always 1st think about how what you are doing impacts the animal and then take into consideration how your actions may impact the viewing chances for other visitors to the Park. If you observe a situation where its clear that things are being done wrong, never hesitate to inform other visitors that there is a “better way”, don’t be rude, don’t be abusive, just be polite and courteous. If you observe a major violation, don’t hesitate to take pictures of what is going on and report it to the 1st ranger you have contact with. Generally such actions are warranted if somebody is using a drone, harassing an animal, feeding an animal or some other serious issue.


Thanks for reading this and I hope you have a wonderful time here in YNP.


Joshua Able



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