To bison, a ‘discouraging word’ is a helicopter’s repeating ‘whoosh’

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Something wonderful may be on the hooves of happening in Colorado: There’s a move afoot to open land adjacent to Denver’s international airport – which occupies a calf-sized chunk of the 50 square miles (129.5 sq km) it occupies – to the US’s largest, and closest-to-being-extinct mammal – the bison.

Often erroneously called ‘buffalo’, these four-hooved monsters can weight more than 2,000 pounds (907 kg). They once roamed the Great Plains in the tens of millions. But over-hunting, aided by human population growth resulting from the westward expansion of what would become the transcontinental railroad, when “hunting by rail” was a popular sport, which left countless bison rotting where they were dropped, cut sharply into their numbers. The population decline persisted well into the second half of the 20th century. Then the federal government, recognizing (at long last!) that the nation’s ‘National Mammal’ was at serious risk of fading out if existence, placed restrictions on killing them, and slowly the population began to recover.

Now, thanks to several federal programs (including severe penalties for killing them) their numbers are continuing to increase – but at a rough count of around 30,000 in total, they continue to need all the protection they can get to return to something like their former majestic population.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is coordinating efforts across several federal agencies to give the giants of the plains back land that was once all theirs. As much as 200 acres (81 hectares, abbreviated as 81 ha) of the Denver Airport property is expected to opened up to bison grazing through an expansion of their ‘reservation,’ as it were, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge. No timetable has been established for the plan, but it has been noted by the feds that, while the local bison would no doubt by happy to have all that land to themselves, since they don’t need such a large grazing area (in addition to the land they already call home), their population is due to be supplemented by bison from elsewhere in the west.

Sadly, or fortunately, saving the bison isn’t the only aim of opening up more grazing land for them: They’re also seen as a tourist attraction – something to (hopefully) be visible to arriving and departing airline passengers.

It’s likely that some enterprising person will also arrange for helicopter flights over the area for paying passengers, for their photographing pleasure. Never mind the fact that some enterprising individual or company will overlook the fact that the helicopters’ whoop-whoop-whoop aural signature will tend to frighten the animals more than the railroad apparently did.

It’s sad how often man does something good, then shoots himself in the foot: Bison are used to a quiet environment. Having an airport as a neighbor is bad enough, but having helicopters flying the photograph-mad masses over their heads is likely to be more than some will be able to bare – causing them to go back where they came from: The far more peaceful Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge.

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Yellowstone Grizzly Bears Coming Off ‘Endangered Species’ List

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In what the U.S. Secretary of the Interior has called “one of America’s greatest conservation successes,” Yellowstone grizzly bears have so significantly increased in population in the past 40 years that, earlier this month, they wee removed from the “endangered species” list. All 700 or so of them – up from an estimated 135 in 1975 in the greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

The New York Times noted that, “The action will not affect the protected status of the other major population of grizzlies in the lower 48 states, those that live in and around Glacier National Park of Montana, which number about 1,000. However, experts say this population, too, could soon be delisted. Several small, isolated populations would remain protected.

Not everyone has favored so-favoring the Yellowstone grizzleys – not a specific subspecies of grizzleys, but so-named because they inhabit the area within and surrounding Yellowstone National Park in Montana.

Environmental groups intend to sue to stop the de-listing and local Native American tribes also object to the move. “Grizzly bears are the slowest reproducing mammal on the planet, and a population decline can take decades to reverse,” Endangered Species Coalition field representative Derek Goldman told Colin Dwyer at NPR. “Therefore we have been calling on Fish and Wildlife Service and the states to develop adequate management plans for grizzly bears before any de-listing is finalized.”

This is not the first time the move has been attempted. Under the Obama administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed de-listing the Yellowstone grizzly. But a massive batch of 650,000 public comments led to a delay in the decision, Karen Brulliard at The Washington Post, reported. The FWS also proposed the bear for de-listing in 2007 Robbins said, but that plan was halted by a court over concerns that insects were destroying white bark pine in the region, a major food source for the bears.

Chris Servheen, FWS’s former grizzly bear recovery coordinator who managed the program for 35 years, tells Brulliard the bears are resilient enough to survive de-listing and that they could still thrive under a well-managed hunting program. But he believes the population should stay about the size it is now to remain ecologically viable. But he adds, “a managed population decline post-delisting is not biologically defensible. We didn’t recover them to drive the population down.”

Chinese Shamed For Dog-Eating Festival

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While Americans (and many others) have an emotional attachment to dogs, and would never think of eating them, they appear somewhat immune to the fact that, as has been widely publicized for the past half decade, an annual ‘festival’ in a small Chinese province is built around the brutal slaughter – and consumption – of some ten thousand dogs.

Somewhat, but not totally, immune: The Huffington Post has been particularly outspoken over the past two years about the goings-on in Yulin every June. The cruelty of the event – which local government deny any involvement in, citing “local businesses and [a small percentage of] local businesses” as its instigators and sponsors, is inexcusable, but it goes on.

The fact the festival isn’t just about dog-eating doesn’t make the international media and dog-lovers globally any less comfortable: The event is officially billed as The Lychee and Dog Meat Festival, because the former and the latter are paired in culinary preparations, Wikipedia (reference above) says. It runs for ten days, during which dogs are paraded in wooden crates and metal cages before being skinned and cooked for festival goers and local residents. Some, Huff Post says, may even be boiled alive.

Not to in any way condone what goes on in Yulin, I think westerners (in the U.S. in particular, since that’s the only country I know specifics about) need to consider how the meat that ends up on their tables is grown, slaughtered and processed.

While the system has improved due to tighter laws and greater enforcement in recent decades, both four- and two-legged ‘protein crops’ still often tend to be treated more like crops than sentient animals that do feel pain, and undergo suffering as they hear the outcries of those preceding them to the slaughter.

There’s also the fact that most of the animals raised as food crops are genetically modified in ways meant to make they grow faster – often in ways that, unavoidably, make life itself a misery. (Chickens bred to have breasts two, three or more times what nature intended couldn’t be comfortable even if they had the ability to move around and try to take some of that weight off their legs and feet.)

I’ve already cut my consumption of beef to a significant degree, and I’ve tried to be more selective in where I source the chicken we eat. But I can try harder, and despite the cost, I’m going to make a greater effort to seek out birds from farmers specializing in truly free-range one with diets that are in no way genetically modified.

I anticipate that, because of the far higher cost, we’ll be cutting back on meat overall – just as we cut back on eggs when I go for the likes of the local farmer’s ‘pure’ ones at close to double the price of a Walmart dozen. (Walmart is selling large ones at close to $1.50 per dozen; That farmer is asking $3.00.)

That means, of course, we’ll have to substitute something else into our diet – something healthier, and something less subject to ‘abuse’ by producers. ‘Not a bad tradeoff, that!