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Knocking again

This is a long read without a happy ending, but for those of you interested in the biopolitics beneath elk feeding and the pending disease crisis in Wyoming, there’s plenty  to chew on.  This is the second article in a series on the topic.  My previous post provided the link to Part 1.   http://mountainjournal.org/the-killing-of-our-national-elk-herd

Knocking at the door

Mountain Journal is a new online magazine billed as public-interest journalism focused on understanding the trends and forces at work in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.  Here is a link to the first of a two-part series on how chronic wasting disease (CWD) may change the face of the lower 48’s greatest wildland ecosystem.  It’s worth a read.


Defending Our Public Lands

As a an advocate for our public lands and a combat veteran, I have two reasons to pass along this inspiring article that recently appeared in High Country News.



Protector of our public lands?

Below is a link to a recent article that appeared in High Country News, a great source for news on the West’s wildlife and wildlands.  In terms of conservation of public resources and protecting human health, the Trump administration continues to disappoint.


Harvey and the Climate

For those of you who may not have seen it, here is a link to a New York Times Op-ed by Nicholas Kristof.  It succinctly makes the case for why we must address climate change.  Is climate change directly responsible for hurricane Harvey?  No.  But Harvey is likely part of a broad pattern of global climatic weirding that’s spawning a host of dangerous consequences.

Opinion | We Don’t Deny Harvey, So Why Deny Climate Change?

Stories from Afield interview

Last fall my most recent book was published, Stories from Afield.  Below is a link to an interview about the book that aired last week on Wyoming Public Radio.  I’m posting this because in the interview I discuss two topics important to me: public lands and public engagement in conservation of wildlife and wildlands.  It’s just 14 minutes long and includes a short reading from the book.

More than ever, our natural resources — which belong to all of us — are threatened by a host of forces.  Make your voice heard about their value to you.  Here’s the link:  http://wyomingpublicmedia.org/post/spoken-words-7-bruce-smith-stories-afield

Montana’s Mountain Goats

My apologies to all of you who subscribe to my blog.  I’ve been on hiatus from posting for far too long.

I’m providing a link to a study that a fellow scientist and I recently completed for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department.  In January 2014 I proposed to MFWP a synthesis of the past 50 years of data on Montana’s mountain goat populations.  The project was funded in early 2015 when my colleague and I began gathering and organizing all the population survey and harvest data on Montana’s goats — 58 populations.  We also developed and distributed a 25-question survey to the state’s 18 wildlife biologists who manage goat populations.  In short, Montana’s native goat populations (outside Glacier National Park) are not doing well.

Since the first comprehensive aerial surveys were conducted in the 1940s, numbers of native goats have declined by about 70%.  In 1941, MFWP began transplanting goats from native populations (which largely occupy western Montana) to previously unoccupied mountain ranges east of the Continental divide in central Montana.  In general introduced populations have grown.  The report, linked below, provides details of our findings and some explanation for the disparity we found in the status of native vs. introduced populations.

Goats receive book award

It’s been some time since I’ve posted a new entry on the blog.  Not that there hasn’t been significant news about wildlife and wildlands conservation, but I’ve been preoccupied elsewhere, especially with mountain goats.  And that’s what I have to share today.  Life on the Rocks: A Portrait of the American Goat received two awards yesterday.  The book won best book in both the Nature and Environment and in the Design and Artistic Merit categories of the National Outdoor Book Award Foundation’s annual competition.

This is really a win for the mountain goats.  The recognition accorded the book will hopefully translate into more readers learning of the mountain goat’s story and the conservation challenges this remarkable animal and other alpine species face.  I’ve included the announcement by the foundation’s chairman here:

 National Outdoor Book Awards:  Nature & Environment Category

Winner. (Also tied for first place in the Design & Artistic Merit category).  Life on the Rocks:  A Portrait of the American Mountain Goat.  Written and photographed by Bruce L. Smith.  University Press of Colorado, Boulder, CO.  ISBN 9781607322917.

Life on the Rocks is not only the winner of the Nature & Environment Category, but it also tied for first place in the Design & Artistic Merit Category.  This double win represents the first time in the history of the National Outdoor Books that a title entered in two categories has won both.  One peek inside this large format book, and you’ll see why.  You’re immediately drawn to dramatic photographs of mountain goats perched on lofty cliffsides, photographs which hint at the enormous patience that author and photographer Bruce Smith had in trying to get close to these elusive subjects.  From the very first page, Smith draws us into a unique world, one that few have ever seen, the high mountains and the resplendent white goats that have adapted to life there.  Smith, a wildlife biologist, writes that his desire is to help bring greater appreciation and attention to the conservation needs for this “American athlete of the Alpine.”  To that end, his book has accomplished those goals brilliantly.  http://www.noba-web.org/books14.htm


Harvesting or Killing?

An article I published in the July/August 2014 issue of Natural History magazine (Life on the Edge), prompted a comment from a reader.  A Mr. Palmer wrote:

Dear Editors,NH Cover 7814

The article “Life on the Edge” by Bruce L. Smith in your July-August issue (adapted from his book on mountain goats) is excellent, except that it is marred by his abuse of the word “harvest” as a euphemism for thrill-killing of animals.  “Harvest” is properly used to describe gathering a crop that has been planted for that purpose, or the whole scope of food gathering (animal and plant) in the hunter-gatherer tradition. Killing animals for fun is not “harvesting.”

I was sent Mr. Palmer’s letter by the magazine’s editors, and because his viewpoint is shared by others, I offered the following response, which I’m sharing here:

I thank Mr. Palmer for his comment about my use of the term “harvest” in the article about the mountain goat.  As he correctly points out, our species has a very long history of harvesting plants and animals from the land for our uses, and the term harvest has a long history in the wildlife management/conservation profession.  Hunted species of herbivores produce an annual, harvestable surplus; that is, populations reproduce at a rate that if unchecked by mortality would exceed available habitat and resources.  Predation, disease, accidents, etc. dampen such growth, and regulated hunting by humans to harvest this surplus has a long tradition in the North American model of wildlife conservation.  My intent was not to sugar-coat hunting by humans in calling it harvesting.

However, harvest of any species of the public’s wildlife (or population thereof) must be justified—justified by rigorously-collected data that demonstrate that hunting is consistent with a species’ conservation.  Accordingly many wildlife species are not subject to hunting in North America, most bird species for example.  At the extreme among large mammals, white-tailed deer are highly fecund and produce a large surplus each year.  Their harvest (even culling in some state and national park units and municipalities) has been justified to reduce damage to natural habitats (and consequent impacts on other animal species) and suburban landscape plantings, limit roadway hazards, and forestall disease outbreaks in the deer.  Of course human reduction of most large predator species has removed a significant constraint on increasing deer populations.

Mountain goats have been hunted for food and sport, including as wildlife trophies.  Where this recreational pursuit is justified, the low reproductive rates and high juvenile mortality of native populations require conservative hunting prescriptions.  In Life on the Rocks: A Portrait of the American Mountain Goat, I describe the reasons for historical overharvest of many goat populations, how wildlife managers are taking corrective actions, and the sensitivity of this species not only to hunting but to other human impacts on the animal and its environment.  As a unique and integral thread in the fabric of our public, wildland landscapes, mountain goats afford many values compelling our attention to their conservation.

Hoof rot in elk

Since 2008, reports and documentation of a disease called hoof rot have been on the increase in the southwestern part of Washington state.  The disease results in lameness, and state authorities have decided to euthanize symptomatic animals.  See details here.

Interestingly, elk on the National Elk Refuge have suffered from a similar malady caused by a baterium of a different genus, Fusobacterium, in recent years .  Foot infections produce lameness in several dozen elk and as many as three dozen of those afflicted have died each winter when the infection becomes septic.

As in southwestern Washington, wet, muddy conditions on the NER likely contribute to the disease.  The accumulation of manure on Wyoming feedgrounds–where thousands of elk congregate for months each year–likely favors culture of Fusobaterium and the opportunity for infection of elk.



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