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Wildlife on the Wind

Wildlife on the Wind: A Field Biologist's Journey and an Indian Reservation's Renewal

Bruce L. Smith
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 227
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  • Book Info
    Wildlife on the Wind
    Book Description:

    In the heart of Wyoming sprawls the ancient homeland of the Eastern Shoshone Indians, who were forced by the U.S. government to share a reservation in the Wind River basin and flanking mountain ranges with their historical enemy, the Northern Arapahos. Both tribes lost their sovereign, wide-ranging ways of life and economic dependence on decimated buffalo. Tribal members subsisted on increasingly depleted numbers of other big game-deer, elk, moose, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep. In 1978, the tribal councils petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help them recover their wildlife heritage. Bruce Smith became the first wildlife biologist to work on the reservation. Wildlife on the Wind recounts how he helped Native Americans change the course of conservation for some of America's most charismatic wildlife.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-792-6
    Subjects: Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xii)

    There is nothing quite like it, the anticipation I feel buckling into the safety harness of the bolt-upright seat of a helicopter, hearing the turbine fire up, feeling the chassis shudder, and seeing the drooping rotors spin to life and flatten overhead. With the mountains newly frosted, this promises to be a glorious day. Creeping down from the Wind River Range’s frozen summits, salmon pink light awakens the dense bands of evergreen forest, stabs the small parks tucked within, and stirs horned larks into whirling, tight flocks against foothills of gray-green sage. With snow crystals sweeping the acrylic bubble—the...

  2. Part I

    • 1 Gettin’ There
      (pp. 3-22)

      What’s it like working with Indians? Early on, the question unsettled me. Not because I had no consequential answer, but because of how it struck my sensibilities. Often I interpreted the question’s tone to probe dark secrets about the Indian people, rather than to learn about our shared endeavors. Perhaps I would confirm someone’s preconceived notions or disclose a shocking revelation. I heard the question directed toward those who were different from us, as if inquiring about strange aliens.

      Ironic this seems to me now for the obvious reason. If anyone, we non-Indians are the aliens. But there’s another paradox....

    • 2 On the Reservation
      (pp. 23-46)

      Wind River Indian Reservation is one of those places most people have only visited at 65 miles per hour. In 1978, it was home to 5,700 Shoshone and Arapaho Indians in a scattering of rural settlements and ranchlands. It remains sparsely populated today. The reservation is better known for where its roads lead than for its own attractions. From the east, it provides a gateway to Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park, and the south entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Lander, a welcoming town of 10,000 near the reservation’s southern boundary, is home to the National Outdoor Leadership School, where...

  3. Part II

    • 3 First Elk
      (pp. 49-74)

      Two weeks after arriving in Wyoming, I saw my first reservation elk from a Cessna 182 airplane. Dick Baldes cobbled together the dollars for six hours of flight time over winter ranges in the Wind River Range and Owl Creek Mountains. The new wildlife program’s budget made no allowance for such niceties. For the remainder of fiscal year 1978 it was spartan.

      Typically, wildlife surveys are flown during winter or early spring, when snow restricts big game to limited areas. As a further advantage, the snow background makes animals stand out like Winnebagos in a parking lot. Well, not quite...

    • 4 Mountains and Sky
      (pp. 75-95)

      Long weekends usually found me deep in the Wind Rivers. Backpacking had infused my blood during my graduate studies of mountain goats and summer employment shadowing elk. Buoyant self-sufficiency and escape from civilization’s confinement quickened my boots and my heart, as did launching a canoe for a weekend float. Perhaps it smacked of the self-determination and wonder that drove fortune-seeking easterners to launch Conestoga wagons crammed with all earthly possessions into the western frontier. With horses I could have traveled farther and certainly in greater luxury. But pack trips require more attention—including care and feeding of the horses—and...

    • 5 Stranded
      (pp. 96-119)

      Long cobalt silhouettes linked the sparse junipers that slipped beneath as we chased the helicopter’s shadow across dissected sagelands. An immature golden eagle wearing white-banded tail feathers, the decorative plumes prized by Plains Indians, streaked past the left door where I was seated. The dense, still air made for ideal flying conditions. It was a great day to be alive, soaring with the eagle.

      Our pilot John guided the Hiller 12E around the east flank of Black Mountain, so named, I assumed, for its cloak of lodgepole and limber pines that shaded to pyramidal firs and spruce above 9,000 feet....

    • 6 The Way It Was
      (pp. 120-142)

      Traveling the reservation, I found the Christian mission church remained the most prominent building in many small towns: St. Edward’s, St. Michael’s, St. Stephen’s. Those stone and log chambers were where God-fearing men and women found the Great Spirit, rather than in the peaks and plains, rivers and woodlands, or in the eagle and bison. The incongruity was no less poignant than announced by a motel I once passed on Route 66 near San Bernardino, California. The motel consisted of 19 stucco tepees. The sign in front read, “Sleep In A Wigwam—Get More For Your Wampum.”

      A half mile...

    • 7 Younger Kids
      (pp. 143-156)

      I was making progress divining the status of reservation wildlife. My interviews of elders painted a portrait of the past. Comparing past with present would show how things had changed, but would still not reveal what could be. “Could be” concerned potential—future populations that available habitat might sustain. Perhaps they were numbers never experienced by living Arapahos and Shoshones. I would trust two lines of evidence to make these predictions: comparisons with wildlife densities adjacent to the reservation, and carrying capacity estimates based on our winter range forage inventories.

      My biggest challenge at WRIR would be persuading tribal members...

  4. Part III

    • 8 On the Same Page
      (pp. 159-175)

      I eagerly delivered reports—annual progress reports, habitat inventory summaries, status reports of big game species—to the Tribal Fish and Game Committee and Joint Business Council. Certain council members would thumb the pages and glance curiously at me as if to say, “I am not impressed by how much time you spend at a typewriter.”

      Most of these documents were skimmed at best. I knew that. But I regarded chronicling our findings an essential contribution for succeeding biologists, tribal leaders, and the Shoshone and Arapaho people. This permanent record was the benchmark by which future efforts to restore WRIR’s...

    • 9 Game Code
      (pp. 176-192)

      The biggest challenge to restoring and sustaining wildlife on WRIR was gaining control of tribal hunting. The 1948 game code, the only previous comprehensive curb on hunting, lasted just five years. The accounts of elders painted a bleak picture of wildlife decline following its repeal in 1953.

      Fearing that further depletion of game was likely, the Shoshone General Council appointed a committee of men and women to draft a new game code in June 1978. This was presented by Chairman Frank Enos in February 1979 to the Tribal Fish and Game Committee, composed of three Shoshone and three Arapaho councilmen....

    • 10 Upshot
      (pp. 193-205)

      At 9,658 feet above sea level, Togwotee Pass was still snowbound on April 29, 2007, as I drove east from Jackson Hole to Lander. Snowmobiles still careened across two to four feet of settled snow now stained with conifer litter and roadside grime that snowplows spewed from the slushy highway. I cracked the car window to inhale the heady scent of fir and spruce. A pine squirrel dashed frantically across the road, a cone clenched in his teeth. I saw no elk tracks punched into the snow. The migration to the high country from winter ranges farther south had not...

  5. Epilogue
    (pp. 206-210)

    Traditional beliefs of native people regard all life, including humans, as connected on a parallel plane. This horizontal organization incorporates spirituality without hierarchy, arrogance, or subservience. There is “other” power, but not “higher” power, with the spirit of Creation infused in things. Such is the source of native peoples’ reverence for all Nature.

    Some believe today’s great moral issue is to take care of each other. Or as the fourteenth Dalai Lama succinctly asserted, “My true religion is kindness.” I believe kindness extends to caring for all that enriches our lives in the world around us, including wild things and...