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The Highest and Best Use

February 14, 2011

This year there are 40 bills in the South Dakota Legislature that bear on wildlife, wildlife habitat, and the management of the people’s wildlife.  The old hands tell me that this “interest” in our great outdoors is unprecedented.  Unfortunately, the common denominator I see running through this spate of legislation is that wildlife unfairly competes with livestock, wildlife habitat impedes the highest and best use of land — i.e., development, and this state should move toward the Texas style of hunting where one pays to get on and play.

I thought maybe this all was just a part of the current war-on-the-West rhetoric that periodically sweeps over this region, but after reading the following in Thomas Power’s The Killing of Crazy Horse, I began to fear there might be another explanation:

     At that time there were still plenty of buffalo in the north, but the hunting pressure was relentless.  Seeking meat and robes over the winter of 1881-82, Baptiste Pourier rode up into the Black Hills “and hunted, just hunted,” he said many years later while giving a deposition to a lawyer. “And at that time every hill and every little place where you could put up a tent, there was two or three hunters there and just as soon as it would be light enough [the witness here clapped his hands several times] that is all you would hear all day until sundown.  If the moon would shine, they would shoot all night,  And they kept that up.”

     What Lieutenant Hugh Scott found astonishing was the speed with which the great northern herds vanished.  Lieutenant Richard Irving Dodge had seen the destruction of the herds south of the Platte.  Passing through a favorite hunting ground one fall he found only the carcasses of dead animals.  “The air was foul with sickening stench,” he wrote, “and the vast plain, which only a short twelvemonth before teemed with animal life, was a dead, solitary, putrid desert.”

     Now the smell of rotting buffalo carcasses moved to the northern plains.  “There were about three thousand men on the range killing buffalo for their hides,” Scott wrote of the summer of 1883.  That September, with a fellow officer, Scott rode five hundred miles looking for buffalo without finding so much as a fresh track.  On the journey they met “an old Sioux Indian”  who had been doing the same thing with better luck.  He had killed one old scabby bull.

     . . . A year later, in August 1884, Scott killed a final buffalo.  He never saw another.

     Twenty years after Scott’s last kill some Oglala came to visit the anthropologist Clark Wissler in his quarters at Pine Ridge.  They had been told that Wissler owned an old-time buffalo robe.  ‘”A venerable man,” Wissler remembered, “asked to see and feel the skin.”  Others followed.  They touched the deep fur, knelt before the robe, prayed, and sang.  Sometimes the sick were brought to see and touch Wissler’s robe.  The depth of their feeling made Wissler ashamed.  He had never seen a wild buffalo and had never tasted their meat.  “The suddness of the loss was the appalling part of it, ” Wissler wrote.

Maybe all this is a congenital thing out here.  We’re a phrenologist’s dream, we are.

Margadant

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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 14, 2011 5:53 pm

    Locally around the Grove and Geneva at least, virtually all of the land is no hunting at all or controlled by leases by local clubs.

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