“What’s up, young fella?” I asked the young bull moose that stood by the stairs near the front door of our house as I stepped out of the shop one recent morning.
Snowflakes swirled from the sky, and piled up on his well-insulated back as he looked at me. The young moose walked toward me, and when he was close, I lifted my hand out for him to sniff. He snorted and turned sideways from me, and I saw how gaunt his body appeared. His skin draped like kids wearing their parent’s clothes.
The look on his face seemed to be saying, “a little help here,” as the little bull slowly walked back down the driveway where he had entered the yard.
The next day I came across another young moose that had starved to death. It is an all-too-common occurrence when prowling around in winter, but the starved animals typically don’t appear until early in March. It was Jan. 7 when I found ravens and eagles scavenging the young carcass.
When I got home, I told Christine I would have to cut some birch trees for the moose. She commented on how early it was and asked if I was sure it was time. I hadn’t told her about the one that had already died, sparing her heartbreak for the moment.
The area where I grew up had fierce winters, wildlife struggled, and finding dead or dying animals became a part of growing up. But, in severe winters, people were allowed to put out feed for a short time to get them “over the hump.”
Some of my best memories are of driving around the country with a pickup full of food, and stopping in key places to put it out. Sometimes my dad and I would load it into sleds and haul it to spots where deer herded up, or out to shelterbelts where pheasants congregated. Watching those critters dive into the feed left for them made me feel awfully good.
It wasn’t until later in life that I became aware of the “let nature take its course” concept. The way I was raised, if you came across an animal in trouble, you helped it if you could. Domestic or wild, didn’t matter. Sometimes that meant ending the animal’s suffering. More often it was recognizing a problem and doing what you could to assist.
Letting nature take its course in places where civilization has encroached doesn’t seem plausible. Is it natural for a moose, while moving through ancestral land, to stop at the light before crossing the road? Is it nature when a deer gets wrapped up in a barbed wire fence or when a bird flies into a windmill or a window? I wonder.
If we have created unnatural obstructions for animals, a natural route no longer exists for them to follow.
It seems like when people choose to “manage” wildlife, nature is often circumvented. If humans are removed from the equation, wildlife wouldn’t need management. Wildlife management is sort of an oxymoron. Ever tried to tell a wild animal what to do? How’d that work out for you?
For nearly 60 years, I’ve been studying and memorizing hunting and fishing regulations. In all of that time, I’ve yet to see a law that does anything but regulate the behavior of hunters and fishermen. Animals live by instinct. At best, they can only be manipulated, not governed, by human-created circumstances.
It is the same for regulations on our public lands. They attempt to manage the behavior of people accessing the country, to minimize the destruction that seems to follow in the wake of unmanaged human impacts on nature.
Perhaps most importantly, once the management of flora and fauna of our world is accepted, there comes an enormous responsibility for the welfare of the managed. When the managed becomes a prized source of sustenance as it is in hunting, fishing, photography and wildlife viewing, the responsibility of those who benefit is magnified.
In my younger years, I thought being a game biologist would be a great way to make my way in the world. Now, I shudder to think about what these folks go through trying to appease a demanding public while ensuring healthy wild places for future generations to enjoy.
When I read the story about the fellow who initiated a rescue of the moose that broke through the ice on an Anchorage lake, which no doubt saved the moose’s life, I thought what a wonderful experience that had to have been for the folks involved and hats off to those folks. It was the right thing to do. And I thought, what an awful position for a wildlife manager or enforcement officer to be in.
I’ve known these folks all my life, and I’ve never met one who didn’t genuinely care about the animals involved. When a call comes for a situation like the struggling moose, it has to be a nightmare when they can’t respond. Even worse, in today’s litigious society, they had no choice but to tell the folks so desperately wanting to save the animal, to stand down and “let nature take its course.”
Imagine the headline if things went bad.
“Man killed in moose rescue attempt after Fish & Game told him to go ahead.”
It is a Catch-22 situation, damned if you do, damned if you don’t. This story is an example of how, in a society that often relies on government to answer situations, there are ways that we can help wildlife that do not cause harm and allow us to live with ourselves.
The property where we live was once a horse pasture. Fortunately for the moose and us, the land grew up in birch trees when the horses were gone. Moose seem to love feeding on the tops of them when they are cut. Or maybe they don’t love them, but they sure eat them.
The day after finding the young moose dead, we went out to a place out of sight of the dogs and cut down a bunch of them, felling the tops into a nice pile.
It never takes moose long to find fresh-cut birch. Two days later, I called Christine at work to report that the young bull had found the birch and was making a pig of himself on them.
Early the next morning, while giving Rascal the rabbit his morning carrot, the dogs went a bit crazy, and I looked up to see the little bull walking up the driveway. He stopped about 50 feet away. His big nose quivered as he slowly approached. At about 10 feet, he stopped, looked at me for a few moments, snorted, and turned around to follow his footsteps back to the little feedlot we had created for him.
Perhaps we forget that our own nature, human nature, tells us to help animals that are suffering and nothing will change that. It was the right thing to do.