Perhaps most folks living here aren’t aware of it, but Cody Country can be a dangerous place to live. Aside from the intermittent high winds, which can reach hurricane strength on occasion, there’s the occasional earthquake in the backcountry and the deceitful roar of the spring snowmelt as high water tears down the Shoshone River. For the tourists and inexperienced backcountry users and all too often even the experienced residents, there’s the occasional mauling or death by grizzly bear that stalks the front ranges, sometimes even arriving in our fair town.
Experiences shift from dangerous to adventurous, depending on your attitude, to the toxic. There’s also the matter of the dangerously high mercury levels in the trout in the North Fork and, I assume, as a result of fish migration, Buffalo Bill Reservoir. Mercury levels have been recorded that are uncommonly high, especially in the larger specimens, and it’s naturally occurring. Apparently the mercury literally comes out of the ground anywhere from inside Yellowstone Park and its unstable underground springs, geysers, hot pools and mineral beds, to the drainages of a multitude of smaller streams that originate in the high country and feed into the North Fork.
Likewise, our backcountry is laced with lead deposits, among other minerals, elements and rare earths. An excellent example is the well-named Galena Pass up in the Sunlight country. Galena is the formal name for lead and it occurs naturally in this area. There is more, but it stands to reason that if just those two toxic elements are present in the ground around here, that free-ranging wildlife will ingest it occasionally, possibly absorbing it by association. As in what happens to the eagle that makes a habit of preying on marmots that have spent years eating grass and other vegetation growing over a lead ore deposit?
As far as really toxic elements present in our local countryside, it wasn’t much over 60 years ago the uranium boom was in full swing across the basin and throughout the foothills. Over above Lovell, in the Big Horn foothills, only a scant 80 miles away, older open claims lie unprotected, radiating into the surrounding country or did back when I roamed that backcountry. Doesn’t common sense suggest that is detrimental to the general health of the resident population of critters living there? What happens to the owl or eagle that eats a mouse that glows in the dark?
Granted, the areas of special interest are, or were, 35 years ago when I roamed that country, remote, with difficult access, signed as dangerous due to radioactivity and off limits to trespass. Unfortunately, critters can’t read warning signs. Nor do deer, coyotes, antelope, mountain lions, bunnies, mice and marmots understand what a painted skull and crossbones on a piece of weathered wood mean.
And please don’t tell me about lead poisoning in the half dozen eagles down at the bird lady’s rehab center. I don’t doubt that they are real and also that she is genuinely concerned. But my concern is more about why a wind-powered electric farm over by Laramie is allowed to kill 52 eagles a year. I know this because a reader with that special interest sent me copies of the documents so attesting, several days before the same information appeared in an area newspaper.
Add in all of the rest of known legal or even the unknown kills by northern tier wind farms of bald eagles and golden eagles, not to mention the killings of multitudes of various raptors by those high voltage electric lines that crisscross the sage prairies of our state and yes, even by the highway traffic deaths and injuries.
Apparently the edicts of the Endangered Species Act are only enforced or brought to public attention when some animal rights attorney sees a paycheck in the mix. Or when some group of government biologists senses an avenue to help guarantee their future paychecks by protecting or restoring species that may or may not be in trouble. Using whenever necessary, fake science to back their play.
Then there’s that matter of animal rights groups preying on the gullibility of an urban population divorced from the natural world to raise mega-millions for their own selfish uses, but that’s an entire column by itself.
The sorry truth is that it’s a lot easier for the antis to blame hunters and lead bullets for all of their problems than to pass intelligent, protective laws stipulating construction techniques and management practices that actually protect non-game wildlife and to put conservation practices in place that enhance the odds for non-game species, survival.
Wasn’t that what the ESA was originally proposed to do, before the animal extremists and the profiteers hijacked it?