Here in Cody Yellowstone we spend a lot of time outdoors working, playing and adventuring.
With our rivers, streams and lakes supporting some of the best fish habitat in the world, fishing is huge. Because of our abundant wildlife and wide-open spaces, hunting is a part of our collective personality and something that families share and pass along to succeeding generations.
What might surprise a lot people is that serious hunters and anglers are among the most fervent stewards of the environment. It’s common to “Catch and Release” trout, and “Leave no Trace” is more of a lifestyle than slogan in my neighborhood.
And while more than one friend of mine has complained about wolves, bears, prairie dogs, bison and other species, I do not know anyone who truly believes we should hunt animals to extinction.
There was a time, however, where it seemed like there would always be plenty of wildlife and the thought of a complete species being obliterated was too outlandish to even consider.
I am proud to say that our region has been the site of more than one conservation success story even though we came way too close to wiping out certain species.
Here are a few examples:
The American bison was once so common that people told stories of settlers getting stuck inside their houses for days because a herd so large took that long to move across a stretch of land. I’ve heard that 60 million bison once roamed North America, and that they were common as far east as western New York. Even if that number is on the high side, bison were incredibly plentiful.
It’s hard to believe that around only two dozen of this species were left in the early 1900s when they were relocated to Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park where they were protected and bred until the herd was deemed healthy enough to be set free. Today, you can drive through the park and see the results with bison easily spotted from the road. And if you get a chance, check out the Buffalo Ranch where Yellowstone Forever operates a field campus.
While you’re at the Buffalo Ranch, ask about the Rose Creek wolf pens. Wolves in Yellowstone and the surrounding area were common when Yellowstone was designated the world’s first national park, but they were not popular. Ranchers lost cattle and sheep, and humans were generally fearful of wolves. As a result, they were completely wiped out by the 1930s.
In 1995, after many years of efforts to bring them back, 14 wolves were captured in Canada and reintroduced to the park. Up a hill behind the Buffalo Ranch, the Rose Creek pen was built where the wolves were placed until they acclimated to their surroundings. Once the gates were opened, the wolves slowly scattered throughout the area. A year later a second group was introduced in the park and close to 25 years later wolves are spotted on a daily basis, especially in Lamar Valley.
Unlike wolves, black-footed ferrets are valued by ranchers because their primary food source is the prairie dog whose burrows are dangerous to horses and cattle.
Biologists believed that the ferret had gone extinct until 1981. That’s when a dog named Shep showed up with a dead animal at the Lazy BV ranch near the town of Meeteetse. Ranch owner John Hogg contacted the authorities because this dead animal was so unusual. It turns out this was a black-footed ferret.
A breeding and reintroduction program was started in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, and today the ferret is surviving quite well.
I like to think that because we are closer to nature than our friends and families in densely populated areas, we have a greater appreciation of our wildlife. That might or might be true, but there’s no denying we have some pretty impressive success stories.
Until next week, I am lovin’ life – while catching and releasing – in Cody Yellowstone.