Departures, arrivals, & taxidermy: Welcome to our neck of the woods

AP photo – R. Millage

Kathleen Stachowski  Other Nations

In these troubled times, we’ve come to expect the steely-eyed gaze of TSA screeners and security personnel following us in every airport, everywhere. But what you might find shocking is the glassy-eyed gaze you’ll get from wild animals when you visit Missoula, Montana’s international airport. Rest assured, they won’t charge, butt, or trample if you forget to put your 3-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer in your quart Ziploc. Firmly affixed to the wall as trophies, they are present simply to say (albeit wordlessly), “Welcome to Montana, pardner.” Continue reading for further details on this eternally-mute welcoming committee–after a few words about the all-too-prevalent attitude (let’s call it speciesist) that recruited them for the job.   

Montana’s state-sanctioned wolf slaughter closed February 28th; 225 wolves will become trophy mounts, rugs, or whatever it is one does with a dead wolf. Projectiles killed 128; traps, 97. Add to this the 104 wolves killed by Wildlife Services and ranchers, and about half the previous population (some 650 at the end of 2011) has been “harvested.” Montana’s Democratic governor, after signing legislation that tossed so-called “fair chase” standards out the window, said in a bald-faced lie, “This legislation leaves management of the gray wolf where it belongs, in the hands of scientists, not politicians.” Ha ha, “science”:

Next season could see a sharper population drop, after (Gov.) Bullock on Feb. 13 signed a law that loosened hunting and trapping rules. That came in the wake of pressure from livestock owners and hunters who have pushed for the state to be more aggressive against the animals since wolves lost their endangered species protections two years ago. Billings Gazette

The bill was rushed through the legislature with lightning speed so it could become law before another day was wasted on one license per hunter (now it’s three) and fair chase hunting–well, as fair as it gets with high-powered rifles and foothold traps. According to the MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks Missoula-region manager, hunters learned that actually hunting wolves is very hard work; trapping is easier and more gratifying:

“There were a lot of people who put a lot of time and effort into it last year and came up empty. It’s not the kind of effort that many people will sustain. The trouble with hunting is that you have to be in the same place at the same time.” With trapping, (he) said people just need to find the right place. Missoulian

Click image for more license plates

Yup, bait, set, and walk away from a loaded weapon. Even if you don’t catch a wolf, chances are good you’ll catch something! To make things extra fair, the bill also authorized the use of electronic calls and gave the heave-ho to no-hunting zones bordering Glacier and Yellowstone national parks where animals lead protected lives…until they step over that deadly, invisible boundary.

Yellowstone National Park’s wild bison aren’t faring much better; they, too, are targets of that aggressive rancher and hunter “science.” Even though these few thousand animals are America’s last truly wild and most genetically-diverse bison, and the Yellowstone area is the only place on earth where wild bison herds have survived continuously since prehistoric times, one bill before the legislature calls for year-round hunting just outside the park boundary and another tries to more narrowly redefine “wild bison.” For a 30-second public service announcement on Montana’s bad neighbor policy, click here.

Finally, if you’ve been following the play-by-play action provided on these pages, you already know that Montana is the only state in the union to allow legal attendance at illegal dogfights, thus enabling potential felons to escape by mingling with spectators when dogfights are busted. Any day now we expect the House Agriculture committee–the same legislative body that stuck it to fighting dogs in February–to stick it to puppy mill dogs (and cats) in March. Minimal humane standards for one species might create the dreaded slippery slope eventually leading to minimal humane standards for other species (think rodeo animals, or any farmed animal)–a disaster for the exploiters.

Combine attitudes like these with the ego-pumping cachet of trophy hunting, and it’s easy to see how the airport’s interior decorators would never question decking the halls with dead animals. Who cares if some vegan bunny-hugger from East Namby-Pamby doesn’t like our ruggedly Western decor?!? If you can’t fight with the big dogs, go on back home!

Now that news of Montana’s war against animals has reached your neck of the woods, it’s possible you’re thinking that war zones and vacations don’t mix. But look, I’m not organizing a boycott, nor even calling for one. Boycotts hurt honest business people trying to make a living, and Montana’s economy relies on tourism. But based on the inescapable culture of animal exploitation and death here, you sure couldn’t be faulted if you decided to forego even the passing fancy of a Big Sky adventure and opted, instead, to let our governor and tourism office know exactly why.

Since you might not be flying into Missoula’s international airport in the near future, come with me on a virtual tour. As you exit the secure, ticketed area, you’re met by the watchful glass gaze of six trophy mounts splayed across the facing wall: two massive elk, a moose, and three pronghorn antelopes. A gigantic fly fishing poster welcomes you to Glacier Country.   Proceed toward baggage claim and you’ll pass a six-foot-tall pardon our dust sign featuring a bull elk photo and text that reads, “We bet we’ll finish our remodel before you bag your elk.” (You ARE here to take a life, aren’t you?!?) Near that you’ll notice a lighted sign for the Boone and Crockett Club national headquarters in Missoula–just in case your bagged elk is of record trophy dimensions.

As you proceed toward the baggage claim area, you’ll pass a big tom turkey in all his colorful, lady-attracting splendor standing at eternal attention in a glass display case. Glance over your shoulder toward the ticketing counters and you won’t be able to miss the 8-foot-tall brown bear stretched to full height in another glass case. Will you find any respite from dead animals at baggage claim? Silly tourist! Look for another moose, and there–just above the conveyor belt–a mountain lion pounces on a mountain goat, the moment of predator/prey struggle captured for the ages by taxidermy. Elsewhere above the conveyor, a grizzly rises to survey the luggage stampede below. As you grab your bag and turn to flee this silent zoo of slaughtered beings, one more pronghorn bids you safe travels and enjoyment in the beautiful wilds he once freely roamed.
Video of electronic predator caller in use here.

7 Responses

  1. I truly don’t know how you and my other vegan friends who fly in and out of Missoula airport — or who live in Montana, period — can bear it, Kathleen.

    It’s just as heartless of your state to subject all air travelers to the emotional torture of seeing these taxideries as it is of the hunters and trappers to kill the animals in the first place.

    God, help us all. And I do mean my plea, in the most importunate way, as the comma I tucked after the first word indicates.

  2. The “war” on wildlife (as well as the landscape and native peoples — who were hardly vegans, btw) took place circa the late 18th century, through the early part of the 20th century.

    It was then that some people, many of them hunters and traditional outdoorsmen, began to recognize the wrongness of the status quo, and the need for a new approach to management. Because by then, most of the West’s wildlife really had been wiped out — by completely unregulated, free-for-all hunting, commercial slaughter of wildlife, total disregard for the land, and other extremely poor and short-sighted practices.

    People such as Teddy Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold led the way toward a new way of doing things. Managed, highly regulated hunting, rather than willy-nilly slaughter, being but one example.

    And so, if it had not been for the efforts an considerable financial contributions of hunters, hunter-friendly (or at least not anti-hunting) environmental groups and the various government agencies, there probably wouldn’t be any Western wildlife for the author to complain about being killed.

    As it is, the West, particularly my home states of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, boasts a wildlife population unrivaled in size, distribution and variety since pre-Columbian times — as well as being the envy of much of the world.


    Not hardly. If there’s been a victory for wildlife and natural landscapes anywhere in the world in the past century, it’s been in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

    My father hunted primarily to put meat on the table, as do I. As do many Westerners.

    Sure, the cliche image of a rich, portly guy from New Jersey flying into Montana, so he can pay an outfitter tens of thousands to go out into the woods and kill his “trophy” elk — to go hang in the boardroom back home — was as offensive to me as anybody else. And thusly, I held the outfitting industry and trophy hunters in contempt for many years. That is, until I got to know some of the people involved and leaned a thing or six. Then of course — surprise, surprise — the world took on another one of those shades of grey, which ideologues apparently find too pesky.

    Regarding Bison — ever visited with the Montana State Veterinarian about the issue? I have. Once again, lots of shades of grey, which don’t lead themselves to ideology, or sweeping rhetorical statements about “war.”

    Do I trust everything the cattlemen’s associations have to say about the matter? No. But, neither do I take anything the Buffalo Field Campaign has to say, without a healthy dose of salt.

    As far as wolves go, I was cheerleading for their return back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, long before it became popular.

    It was always understood, the northern Rockies wolves would be de-listed once their populations hit a certain level. (And that level was exceeded, by many times, before they were actually de-listed), and public hunting would be applied as part of the states’ management plans.

    Which, for me, begs two questions.

    First, If the West “hates” wolves so much, and the worst supposed wolf-haters (hunters and ranchers) have such a hegemony of power here, then how was reintroduction accomplished in first place?

    And before jumping to reactionary musings regarding that question, realize that Ed Bangs, Doug Smith and many of the others key in getting the wolves here, and monitoring them since they’ve been here, are themselves hunters.

    Secondly — for those now aghast at wolves being hunted, and fired up to “save” them from us Western troglodytes — where were you 20, 25, 30 years ago?

  3. 1. Federal supremacy
    2. 30 years ago (mid-80s) I was learning about wolves the hard way–without the internet–by sending (via mail) money and requests for information to the International Wolf Center in Ely, MN. By reading Of Wolves and Men by Barry Lopez and other books. My interest in wolves goes back as far as yours.

    The state vet, seriously? Since exotic cattle first infected Yellowstone bison with brucellosis 100 years ago, not ONE instance of bison to cattle transmission has been documented. Yet THOUSANDS of YNP bison have been slaughtered thanks to the livestock industry and their various lackeys, state vets included, trumping up charges against wild bison–including the specter of undulant fever in humans. Here’s what the current state vet had to say about the possibility of disease transmission from bison to cattle: ‘Not zero, its low. You cant prove a negative. The current management is a result of tradition.’ Wow, that’s got “science” written all over it, doesn’t it.

    You’ve made your point, HAL, you believe there is no war on wildlife. You are at odds with many other Montanans–many of them who, like you, kill animals. In fact, their collaborative website is called “War on Montana’s Wildlife & Environment.”

    Finally, a question for you: Why do you continually argue for speciesism at a website whose tagline is “Transcending speciesism since October 2008”? Speaking for myself, but probably also many or most others who frequent this site, there are no “shades of grey” in trophy hunting.

  4. 1: The weight of federal authority probably tipped the scales, but wolf reintroduction was actually crafted, and supported, by a vast range of individuals, agencies and interest groups. Including, as previously noted, some hunters.
    (btw, as a native of the West, I’m thankful for federal management of much of the land here. Local authorities tend to look at land primarily or only in terms of how much money can be made off it.)

    2: I’m glad we share and interest in wolves. As previously indicated, I grew up steeped in the philosophy of Aldo Leopold, who was probably one of the first supporters of predators in general, and wolves in particular. My father and I read “Never Cry Wolf” together when I was a small child.

    The state vet’s view on the Bison issue is more nuanced than you’re trying to make it out to be. Past that, I don’t know enough about the entire Bison mess to take a particular side on the issue. But again, I suspect it’s not as black and white as either the cattlemen or the Buffalo Field Campaign make it out to be.

    “War” is a hyperbolic term. The reason and object for war is to either crush, eliminate or otherwise completely defeat an enemy.

    Nobody wants to eliminate wildlife. And outside of some loudmouths on the extreme, that holds true of wolves too. Even the people who really don’t like them, accept the fact they are here to stay.

    And an vital point you seem to continually miss on the wolf issue — the states have a deeply vested interest in keeping the wolves around, and at particular population levels. The last thing — the very last thing — the states want, is for the wolves to be re-listed. Killing too many wolves would be the quickest and surest way to do that. In other words, some of the very people you assume to “hate” wolves and want to kill every last one of them, have perhaps the strongest vested interest in making sure that never happens.

    As to why I come here — well perhaps for the same reason you decide to live in a Western town, and argue so scathingly and stridently against some core aspects of Western culture and wildlife management. Being a dissenting voice is far more interesting than hanging out in an echo chamber, don’t you think?

  5. Sounds more like a Cabela’s than an airport.

  6. Count on 19peace80 to elicit a chuckle or two! 🙂

    How sadly true, though.

  7. It’s not an airport (or a state) I’d ever feel welcome in… Sounds like a morgue!

    Just in time for this article though – My neighbors are both teachers and were thinking of driving “out west” for their 3 month vacations. In each conversation they are “leaning” more on the compassionate side of thinking. Now I KNOW I’ll have to tell them all about Montana and their lust for dog/wolf killing!

    And OF COURSE it’s all a “science”! After all it’s also ALL a “sport” too! Tricksters and con-artists — All wanna-be-a-man so badly that the only solution to “problems” they find in nature is to destroy life. Such a pity that their shallow lives and minds don’t see another way. 😦

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