As we spread further and further into rural open spaces in search of solitude and country lifestyle, why is it that some of us fail to include a mentality for accepting wildlife as part of that lifestyle? And why is it that we demand wildlife to conform to human habit rather than the other way around? Why is it that we condition wildlife not to fear us and in some instances, depend on us, and yet we still get upset when animals act like animals and exhibit animal behavior?
When I first moved here to Nevada I, like so many others, found the sight of a free-roaming band of mustangs an exciting experience. But then, I also love to see a free-roaming herd of deer, elk or any other critter in a natural environment.
I learned very quickly, that in a rural environment, portulaca and petunias were like ambrosia for our population of rabbits and ground squirrels. Roses are a delicacy for deer and a vegetable garden needs more fortification than Ft. Knox. All these things I learned to protect without removing the critters from their surroundings or harming a hair on their heads.
I have owned several wild horses in my life. One, in particular, was an outstanding individual.
He had been captured during a round-up of wild horses, along with his mother, on the Owyhee Reservation in northeastern Nevada. He was about 2 years old when he was adopted by a family living in Genoa. He was a coal-black beauty and although he was sweet-natured and loving, he was also head-strong-determined to go his own way when he took a notion. It was that stubborn determination that almost earned him a trip to the slaughterhouse before I took him in. I got my Charlie-horse by paying the owner the amount she thought she would get at the slaughterhouse. I bow to the fact that so many adopted horses meet the fate that Charlie almost did. But then I also bow to the fact that many domestic horses meet a similar fate and no one says a word about them. When we would sell some of our working horses to thin the herd at the end of a packing season, we always kept the asking price above the slaughter price to prevent someone from making a cruel investment.
Now, just like the bears, it's hard to call the horses truly wild. Human interaction has taken their fear away. It remains up to all of us, living here, to take steps to protect our own property. If we choose to have landscaping comparable to the ninth green on the finest golf course, then I strongly suggest a good fence around it to protect the investment. Bears love human food and garbage is easy pickings. That's a given. Get off your duff, secure the attraction, clean up your environment and make the easy food source unavailable. It is very possible to co-exist by helping these animals to remain wild. We are not doing them any kindness by feeding them no matter how well intended our motives may be. To interrupt their natural cycles is to invite eventual disaster.
I realize that cows are considered domestic but, when I lived and worked near the Desolation Wilderness, I would love to bed down in camp for the night and be lulled to sleep by the gentle clanking of cow bells out in the high country meadows. To me it was a comforting sound that has now been silenced. Open range grazing had been a tradition in the mountains for as long as there have been cows in California. But, modern-day recreational visitors found them annoying and soon, at least on the Eldorado National Forest in the Crystal Basin, environmentalists had their way, citing stream erosion and meadow destruction among the many reasons to remove the cows from the forest. And then there was always my favorite reason, a personal best - hikers found cow and horse poop on the trails to be offensive. My favorite answer to that issue will always remain, "It's only fertilizer, pick up your feet and step over it!" Now, without high country graze, and the stewardship of the cowboys, grass and lodgepole pines are overgrowing meadows and streams. The meadows are slowly disappearing and a natural cycle totally disrupted.
Let's all hope that rural Nevada and its variety of inhabitants can keep on keepin' on.
-- Jonni Hill can be reached through The Record-Courier at email@example.com or by calling 782-5121, ext. 213, or after hours at JHILL47@aol.com.