National Geographic : 2016 May
136 national geographic • may 2016 as such other predaceous animals as the wolverine, the coyote, the bobcat, and the red fox. Yellowstone is our wildest park south of the border complex that includes Glacier, in part because it’s our biggest. The other good thing about geographical bigness is that, besides giving space to large predators with broad territorial needs, it usually encompasses habitat diversity as well as sheer space, thereby shelter- ing a greater variety of creatures at all levels of size, living all modes of life. That truth was reaffirmed to me by an elk hunter one December morning in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. This hunter had killed an elk on the National Elk Refuge, which is legal by special permit (though, given the name of the place, paradoxi- cal) and with stipulations, such as only limited-range weapons allowed on the South Unit of the refuge. “Limited range” means muzzle-loader or bow and arrow or other old-fashioned weapons, so as to demand more of the hunters and give an element of fair chase. When I spotted this fellow from a nearby road, his dead elk lay on a one-wheeled game cart and with two friends he was rolling it slowly across the bottomland toward his truck. I went striding out to talk with him—committing exactly the sort of nosy intrusion that hunters with freshly killed ani- mals seldom welcome. Once I had introduced myself and explained the basis of my nosiness, he answered my questions genially. His name was Mitch Bock, he said, “like the beer, not the composer.” He lived in Fort Collins, Colorado. He had gotten his elk—a nice cow, six or eight years old, just the sort that the refuge managers hoped to see taken—with a black-powder rifle. He had killed a cow yesterday too, under another permit. That hunt had required a four-hour belly crawl through the soggy meadowland to get near her. I thanked him for the information and was about to leave. But wait, he said, you’re from National Geographic? Yes. And you all are doing a special issue on Greater Yellowstone? Yes. “Don’t forget the little boreal toad,” he said. It’s native to Yellow- stone, he explained, but like so many amphibians, isn’t doing well in the modern age. PARTS OF ONE WHOLE E verything is connected. That’s the first lesson not just of ecol- ogy but also of resource politics. The wolf is connected to the grizzly bear by way of their competition for ungulate prey, especially elk calves and adult elk that have been weakened by winter or the rigors of the autumn rut. Whitebark pine are connected to mountain pine beetles, whose population outbreaks are connected to climate change. Bison are connected to Montana livestock policy by way of a disease, brucellosis, probably brought to America in cattle. Elk are connected to the boreal toad by way of Mitch Bock. Elk are also connected to cutthroat trout. In this case it’s by way of grizzly predation, taking a bigger toll on elk—some evidence suggests— since the crash of the Yellowstone Lake cutthroat. Aspen trees and We wanted a landscape full of living creatures as well as geysers and canyons, and by a long series of mistakes, corrections, and happy accidents, we have it in 2016.