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

NRDC photo

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”:

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:

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.
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Video of electronic predator caller in use here.

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