Thursday, April 7, 2011

Preserves Are For Preserving: Dispatches from the Sunshine State VI

I don’t usually return to a topic quite so quickly, but the great bison debate is still a hot issue here in central Florida. A few days ago I reported on this debate in general terms and noted that one of the main reasons given for removing or reducing the size of the small bison herd at the Paynes Prairie State Preserve near Gainesville was the issue of safety and liability should any of the bison get loose or endanger visitors to the preserve. This week The Gainesville Sun recalled two specific instances last year when male bison wandered off the preserve.

In the first incident last May, a male bison was reported wandering in an area very near the preserve’s northern boundary. Local law enforcement was alerted as were the State Fish and Wildlife authorities and the Florida Park Service. All responded with the intention of herding the vagabond bison back to the preserve, and if this failed, to tranquilize it to facilitate its return. Observing the bison moving in his general direction, the preserve’s manager fired his shotgun striking the bison squarely between the eyes. This was followed by two more shots to the side of the head. A state park police officer also fired several shotgun rounds at the beast before the manager finished it off with a shot to the head and one to the heart. So much for tranquilizing the poor critter who was probably more scared than any of its human pursuers. Reports indicate that the bison was unarmed.

A few days later a second male bison was spotted near a popular trail, part of which runs across preserve property. Authorities judged this bison to be “aggressive” although they provided no specific details as to who was threatened and why. The bison was cornered and shot several times with a shotgun and a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle. A Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson later stated that “deadly force” is only used when an animal poses imminent danger to humans whether they are on the preserve or not. Of course, this makes sense. I am not certain, however, that either of these animals were a viable threat to anyone, and I don’t believe “He is coming your way” constitutes “imminent danger,” especially if you are armed with a shotgun or a semi-automatic rifle. I have encountered bison at very close range in Yellowstone National Park and never felt like I was threatened by the simple fact that they were nearby or moving in the same direction I was.

In both of these instances there appears to be no evidence of any attempt to tranquilize or otherwise subdue the two bison in question. Why not? The Paynes Prairie State Preserve was established to preserve and protect the natural environment and the animal and birds that call it home. Yet there are those who do not see it that way. No one can argue for the need to protect human life, and if an animal poses a theat and cannot be captured or subdued, it may be necessary to destroy the animal. But I do not sense that this was the case in the two incidents reported by The Gainesville Sun and described here. I think it is quite clear that there is no genuine concern for these animals among those who are duty-bound to protect them. Once again it proved too much trouble to handle this situation the right away. The State wants to reduce the herd and it has found a easy way to do it. If a bison wanders where it should not be (or where the State doesn’t want it to be), it becomes an imminent danger and is quickly dispatched.

Preserves are for preserving. This bison herd only numbers 60-70 animals and one would think the State could come up with a practical solution to the problem of bison wandering off the reservation. After all, Paynes Prairie is 22 thousand acres and there must be a area where the bison can roam and not pose a threat to anyone. I hope the State of Florida will make a more concerted effort to find a better solution to the problem. Killing animals does not seem like a good way to protect them.

1 comment:

  1. Shoot first, ask questions later. I suspect the shooters were tickled at the opportunity to shoot a bison, and they apparently tried to make the moment go far. If they think their bison population is growing too fast, they could pass some animals on to other preserves in the country (American Prairie Foundation, MT); might even be good for genetic exchange.