Hey Chicago–animal suffering lies behind that scenic splendor

Dear Chicago:

We need to talk. You can trust me–I’m practically a native daughter. Heck, from my hometown in Indiana, we can look across Lake Michigan and see your skyline (well, on a clear day). I’m a Cubs fan, ’nuff said! But I’ve lived in Montana for going on 14 years now, and if all this doesn’t qualify me to have a frank discussion with you about those tourism ads papering the city…I’m just sayin’.

Well I remember Chicago Tribune columnist Barbara Brotman’s mock hissy fit back in 2010 when Montana’s Office of Tourism started targeting the Windy City. She wrote:

She went so far as to challenge Chicagoans to fight back with a “Take THAT, Montana” photo campaign (view photos here) wherein Tribune readers were to match Montana’s scenic glory, photo for photo, with their own Land of Lincoln natural splendor.

Now comes word that Ms. Brotman has conceded in the face of a tourism office surge when, on May 1st, Montana ramped up its million dollar campaign and stuck it to Chicago big time. “I have been well and truly vanquished,” she lamented.

Hey Chicago, didn’t your mama ever tell you that beauty is only skin deep? That a pretty face don’t make no pretty heart? (I learned that, buddy, from the start!) Look here, Chi-town, if your BFF fell fast and hard for a gorgeous guy but one whom you knew to be a cad, wouldn’t you say something?!?

Well, I’m sayin’ something. Some ugly traditions and politics lie beneath Montana’s gorgeous exterior. If you care about animals and abhor their suffering, listen up.

You big city folk probably aren’t too familiar with the wolverine. Montana is the only state in the lower 48 to still allow the trapping of wolverines–rare, uber-wild, elusive bundles of attitude. Trapping for pleasure and profit is alive and well in Montana, using cruel devices that clamp onto feet, crush bodies, or snare and garrot necks. There’s no mandatory interval in which trappers must check their traps for suffering animals, though 48 hours is suggested. Fewer than 175 wolverines remain in Montana; the breeding population is far smaller. And now climate change threatens the species’ requirement for deep, persistent, springtime snow to protect babies in their dens. So much so that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has proposed listing wolverines as threatened–a proposal the state of Montana has vowed to fight. Nope, a pretty face don’t make no pretty heart.

Wolves. Only two years off Endangered Species Act listing and Montana can’t kill them fast enough. Just this past season, 225 were slaughtered–128 in a hunt, and 97 in traps. But that wasn’t enough, so the state has proposed an upcoming 6-1/2 month season, a five-wolf bag limit, no statewide quota, no slaughter-free buffer zones around Glacier or Yellowstone, and has OKd the use of electronic calls (so much for Montana’s highly-touted “fair chase ethic”). A commonly-seen bumper sticker around these parts reads, “Wolves: smoke a pack a day.” Nothin’ pretty about that.

Dogfighting. It’s a felony in all fifty states, but in only one is it still legal to attend as a spectator. Guess which one, Chicago? In what should have been a slam-dunk against crime and animal abuse, Montana legislators in February killed a bill (never allowing it out of committee) meant to close the spectator loophole. That dangerous slippery slope is to blame: too much regulation of animal cruelty in, say, dogfighting might lead to regulation of animal cruelty in…wait for it…rodeo. I kid you not. Despite repeated testimony from law enforcement that spectators enable dogfighting by providing cover for criminal organizers, it was simply more important to ensure that calves can be snapped by the neck with impunity in rodeo events. Beauty can be shallow, indeed.

Agents haze mom & calf who later died-click for story

Bison. Entire books have been written about the complex issues surrounding the persecution of Yellowstone’s wild bison at the hands of Montana’s livestock industry. Some animals seasonally migrate out of their protected home in the park and onto the adjacent, predominantly public lands in Montana where they’re considered intruders on their own native turf. Since the year 2000, 4,250 of America’s last wild, free-roaming, and most genetically-diverse bison have been killed–rounded up and sent to slaughter on your taxpayer dime, or shot in a so-called hunting season (shooting a bison has been likened to shooting a sofa or a parked car), or hazed (sometimes to injury–video here–or death, as in the case of these newborn calves) by agents on ATVs, snowmobiles, horseback, and by air in helicopters. And you thought the buffalo wars ended in the 19th century!

Look here, Windy City, I love Montana’s drop-dead awesomeness as much as the next guy, and maybe more because I’m a hiker and backpacker. Yellowstone (mostly in Wyoming, but Montana claims three of five park entrances), Glacier, the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, the Beartooth Plateau–this is serious, knock-your-socks-off stuff and I understand how lucky I am to have it readily available. I don’t hate Montana, as some will stand ready to accuse.

But oh how it rankles that the state exploits its world-class beauty and wildlife to lure visitors’ dollars with one hand while persecuting animals for sport and private commercial interests–often in the face of public opposition–with the other. It’s only right that you see this–the seamy side–too, as you face the onslaught of breathtaking Big Sky images on your daily commutes.

I read that two Chicago commuter train cars are fully sheathed in photo wraps of bison in Yellowstone. I can certainly understand the choice of that image. Stand in the park and gaze upon such a scene and it’ll bring tears of humility and wonder to your eyes. Yellowstone is the only place on the planet where wild bison have survived continuously since prehistoric times. You’re looking at something precious.

Perhaps you can now understand the bitter irony that some of us Montanans perceive in the use of that image. Just thought you should know.

Comment on this post at animal law blog Animal Blawg.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *