Yellowstone National Park Wilderness

Now imagine this whole superlative wilderness heavily populated with wild animals in a state of normal living. Imagine thirty thousand elk, for in-stance, roaming about in bands of half a dozen to half a thousand. Imagine them not friendly, perhaps, but fearless, with that entire indifference which most animals show to creatures which neither help nor harm them—as indifferent, say, as the rabbits in your pasture or the squirrels in your oak woods. Imagine all the wild animals, except the sneaking, predatory kind, proportionally plentiful and similarly fearless—bear, antelope, mountain-sheep, deer, bison, even moose in the fastnesses, to say nothing of the innumerable smaller beasts. There has been no hunting of harm-less animals in the Yellowstone since 1894, and this is one result.

It is true that comparatively few visitors see many animals, but that is the fault of their haste or their temperament or their inexperience of nature. One must seek in sympathy to find. Tearing over the wilderness roads in noisy motors smelling of gasolene is not the best way to find them, although the elk and deer became indifferent to automobiles as soon as they discovered them harmless. One may see them not infrequently from automobiles and often from horse-drawn wagons; and one may see them often and intimately who walks or rides horseback on the trails.

The admission of the automobile to Yellowstone roads changed seeing conditions materially. In five days of quiet driving in 1914 with Colonel L. M. Brett, then superintendent of the park, in a direction opposite to the stages, I saw more animals from my wagon-seat than I had expected to see wild in all my life. We saw bear half a dozen times, elk in numbers, black-tailed and white-tailed deer so frequently that count was lost the second morning, four bands of antelope, buffalo, foxes, coyotes, and even a bull moose. TOnce we stopped so as not to hurry a large bear and two cubs which were leisurely crossing the road. Deer watched us pass within a hundred yards. Elk grazed at close quarters, and our one bull moose obligingly ambled ahead of us along the road. There was never fear, never excitement (except my own), not even haste. Even the accustomed horses no more than cocked an ear or two while waiting for three wild bears to get out of the middle of the road.

Of course scenic completeness is enough in itself to justify the existence of these animals in the marvellous wilderness of the Yellowstone. Their presence in normal abundance and their calm at-homeness perfects nature’s spectacle. In this respect, also, Yellowstone’s unique place among the national parks is secure.

The lessons of the Yellowstone are plain. It is now too late to restore elsewhere the great natural possession which the thoughtless savagery of a former generation destroyed in careless ruth, but, thanks to this early impulse of conservation, a fine example still remains in the Yellowstone. But it is not too late to obliterate wholly certain misconceptions by which that savagery was then justified. It is not too late to look upon wild animals as fellow heritors of the earth, possessing certain natural rights which men are glad rather than bound to respect. It is not too late to consider them, with birds and forests, lakes, rivers, seas, and skies, a part of nature’s glorious gift for man’s manifold satisfaction, a gift to carefully con-serve for the study and enjoyment of to-day, and to develop for the uses of larger and more appreciative generations to come.

Of course if this be brought to universal accomplishment (and the impulse has been advancing fast of late), it must be Yellowstone’s part to furnish the exhibit, for we have no other.

To many the most surprising part of Yellowstone’s wild-animal message is man’s immunity from hatred and harm by predatory beasts. To know that wild bears if kindly treated are not only harmless but friendly, that grizzlies will not attack except in self-defense, and that wolves, wild cats, and mountain-lions fly with that instinctive dread which is man’s dependable protection, may destroy certain romantic illusions of youth and discredit the observation if not the conscious verity of many an honest hunter; but it imparts a modern scientific fact which sets the whole wild-animal question in a new light. In every case of assault by bears where complete evidence has been obtainable, the United States Biological Survey, after fullest investigation, has exonerated the bear; he has always been attacked or has had reason to believe himself attacked. In more than thirty summers of field-work Vernon Bailey, Chief Field-Naturalist of the Biological Survey, has slept on the ground without fires or other protection, and frequently in the morning found tracks of investigating predatory beasts. There are reports but no records of human beings killed by wolves or mountain-lions in America. Yet, for years, all reports susceptible of proof have been officially investigated.

One of Yellowstone’s several manifest destinies is to become the well-patronized American school of wild-life study. Already, from its abundance, it is supplying wild animals to help in the long and difficult task of restoring here and there, to national parks and other favorable localities, stocks which existed before the great slaughter.