Fauna of the National Parks
of the United States
PROBLEMS OF COMPETITIVE ORIGIN
In the national parks man enters into close contact with the fauna, a different relationship from the one that has prevailed for thousands of years. But only one party to the age-old conflict has agreed to a cessation of warfare. It is the altruism which always rides more easily on the brow of the victor. The animal life has not developed any altruism. It must continue to fight for its existence, always motivated by the necessity of the moment.
It would be profitable in meeting the problems which have resulted from this new situation to analyze the human-animal relationship further. The larger animals are physically more powerful than man, better equipped with natural weapons of defense and offense. On the other hand, man's intellect has devised weapons so effective that some animals have become extinct, and many others would be, if man himself did not have a different purpose. In addition to the older purpose of using up and destroying the wild life about him, man has recently discovered a new purpose, which is to utilize the fauna in certain localities by saving it in its natural state for the recreational and scientific benefits. Wilderness preserves such as national parks perform this function.
Consequently, when visitors enter national parks their old weapons and purpose are laid aside. They come into a new contact with animal life in which they have no means of defense but in which the animals still retain their weapons. As a result, every year a few visitors are injured from this new contact which they do not quite understand. It really happens from a failure to realize what a wild animal is, and to keep alert to the fact that the animal can not have a knowledge of the game as it should be played in a park.
As man's purpose is to leave the fauna undisturbed, the proper attack for problems of this sort is through education of the park visitor to an understanding of how to make the new sort of contact with the wild life. So long as people without weapons of defense invite too close an intimacy with animals that are well armed, injuries are sure to result.
Destruction of property and too close association with offensive animals, such as skunks, can be averted by the use of human ingenuity in inventing protective devices. The additional expense involved is justified in the same way that costly road building is justified, namely, the preservation and development of the values for which parks are created. Here, as elsewhere, in meeting wild-life problems the death penalty should be the last resort. It is only necessary in rare instances and should never be directed against the whole population of any species. The rattlesnake is the only candidate to be indicted so far, and even it should not be condemned without fair trial.
Rattlesnake in Yosemite. Reptiles are a very ancient form of life, having dominated the earth long before mammals and birds ever appeared. They still play their part in the scheme of nature, and are just as much a part of the parks' fauna as any other vertebrate. Unfortunately, the rattlesnake menace assumes far more importance in the human mind than the facts would warrant. Conservatively speaking, it is not one ten-thousandth of the hazard that the automobile is, and it is not one five-hundredth of the hazard that the bear is. But, nevertheless, it is naturally feared because it is a lurking, unseen danger and because folklore has made it abhorrent.
To cut short all useless discussion, this much seems justifiable. In centers of human habitation, such as the floor of Yosemite Valley, the rattlesnake should be killed. Elsewhere throughout the park it is not worth worrying about. The reasoning is analogous to that which determines that railings shall be provided at the human concentration points on the cliffs of Yosemite. No one considers that it is necessary to fence the entire rim.
Bear damage. In point of amount of injury to people and their property, the bear is chief offender. In fact, this is the only major problem of damage to man by animals in the parks. Numbers of park visitors have been scratched or bitten or cuffed by bears, and many more have suffered property losses. It is a serious administrative concern inasmuch as the Service is obligated to provide for the reasonable safety and comfort of the visiting public.
There would be no logic in destroying the bears and none in keeping the visitors away from them, for that is the very thing which they came to see. Some other solution must be sought, and so far no program has been entirely successful. It is safe to say that this question never will be solved until a thorough understanding is had of all the causes. Corrective measures are certain to fail until the direct causes of the problems are dealt with. The fallacy of spreading an inviting feast for bears and then "taking them for a ride" to remote sections is evident. The bears travel in a vicious circle, but obviously it is man who keeps them running on that path.
Realizing, then, that the general cause of the problem lies in the nature of the relationship which man has developed in his new contact with this animal, the following suggestions are offered as a means to an analysis of that relationship.
(a) Attempt to discover exactly what the situation was whenever an injury was sustained. Perhaps it would become evident that all cases of personal injury from bears come from the human practice of feeding the bears by hand.
(b) Ascertain definitely whether it is a certain few bears which cause all the injuries. There is some indication that this is the case.
(c) Study the bears themselves i. e, their relative numbers, past and present, their food supply, their habits with young, etc. Perhaps there is an abnormal population of bears brought about by increased food supply; perhaps their natural food is subnormal; perhaps it is neither of these factors, but some other.
(d) Make similar investigations of all reports of property damage.
Upon the results of these investigations remedial measures might be devised. It is almost a certainty that no single factor is the cause, and, consequently, no single measure the remedy. But this much is offered in accord with the original statement of the problem: Since the whole situation is one of maladjustment in this new form of human and animal contact, the fundamental remedy would lie in reaching a suitable adjustment between man and animals in the parks. It is easier to make the human adjustment to a new circumstance than to coerce the animals. In other words, man will have to learn that in this new situation wild animals are still wild; and that, even though the animals are there for man's benefit and enjoyment, he will have to learn how to enjoy them. He can not feed them, pet them, domesticate them, and have them in an unnatural proximity without paying the consequences. When a man stops to feed a bear by hand and have his picture taken in the act, he simply does not know what that bear is until the bear strikes him in the face. It is significant that those who live in the parks the entire year are rarely the ones who are injured. They have learned the best adjustment to the new situation.
To educate people to this point of view, for their own safety and pleasure, may take several years, but there seems to be no other course. Concerning the bears themselves, such measures as dogging, trapping, treeing, shooting, and all the rest, are helpful during the stage of transition, but they will never be the ultimate solution. Certain bears which are found to be constant criminals should be disposed of. If the bear population becomes abnormally large, some reduction should be made to approximate the normal carrying capacity of the range. But such measures should be undertaken only after the facts are definitely known.
Since the wild animals of the parks do not go out of their way to do injury to people, there is no reason why man and animals should not mingle in these areas with perfect safety to each, provided each keeps in his own sphere.
Concerning the property damage of bears, procedure should be on the same natural basis. Bears are equipped by nature to tear up obstacles to get their food. They have powerful muscles, claws, teeth, and tough hides. They will always get their food wherever it is physically possible for them to reach it. Therefore, if man is going to live in close proximity to bears he must protect his property by devices which bears can not break. This is an expense. When we say that we can not afford a thing, we mean that we do not value it as highly as we do something else. But either the property damage done by bears is worth doing something about or else it is not worth considering. The list of personal injuries and property damage, however, is such that it demands consideration. This means that in the scheme of parks' administration the bear problem must be provided for in the budgets as well as items of road construction and police protection. If food is not available around human habitations, bears will not stay there long.
Certain animals do no physical injury to man but merely cause his discomfort. Minor readjustments will take care of these problems and it will not be necessary to impair the status of the offending animal.
If hotel guests complain, as they frequently do, that woodpeckers on the roof disturb their slumbers it is better to enlist the sympathies of the visitor for the woodpecker or to move him to an inside room than to make an innocent bird pay the penalty. If skunks are a pest under habitations, it is more consistent with park policy to proof the basements against ingress than to kill the skunks.