Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Humbling of an Asshole

For those of you who have known me for more than a few hours, this should come as no surprise: I can be a real asshole at times. Particularly when I am angry, which doesn't happen as much as it used to or as much as some people seem to think. What usually angers me most is rude and of obnoxious behavior from others, directed towards me or others. In other words, asshole behavior in others brings out the asshole behavior in me.

It doesn't happen all the time. It depends -- Kind of like a wild grizzly who might tolerate a person one day, but attack the next. I'm certain it has a lot to do with their mood, and mine.

The other day I was in one of those moods, and was then provoked.

A guy in a big huge truck came right up behind my Subaru and started riding my ass, within inches it seemed. And his rig was jacked up so high that his lights shone right through my back window. It made me think of one of those movie scenes in which an alien ship descends on a car and lights the whole thing up. And then he lays on the horn. Bright lights and loud noises is a bad, sometimes volatile mix for me.

I had stopped behind a line of traffic backed up from a red traffic light, and backed up so far that I could not get into the left turning lane, even when the left-turn green arrow started blinking and everyone within that lane had turned. But a white car blocked my freedom.

Which bugs me. A lot. I remember my dad showing me places along the Connecticut coast and tell me things like, "See that subdivision there? That used to be a salt marsh where we went skinny-dipping, caught crabs, and fished for snapper blues." And now here I am, 40 years later, stuck in traffic where, just to the left of me (where the Home Depot and the mega, multi-movie-theater complex now is -- along with a mega chunk of earth now sealed off by concrete and asphalt) is where I used to hunt pheasants, ducks, geese, and white tailed deer when I first moved here.

And this is where the guy is riding my ass. Bright lights and loud noise. So I do what I've done numerous times before; I get out of my car and walk back to have a chat with the obnoxious asshole. Usually they roll their windows up or keep them up, lock the doors, and yell through the glass things such as, "What, are you crazy? Get back in your car." I usually respond with things such as, "Come on, please, just lay off -- back off and be nice. Okay?"

Which is exactly what I sad to the ass-riding, horn-honking asshole while holding up traffic near the box stores and parking lots where I used to hunt. Most the time people respond by saying things such as, "Okay, okay, I'm sorry, now get back in your car." And so I do, and that is that.

Until the other day.

This guy didn't do that. He told me to "fuck off," and then flipped on his high-beams and laid harder on the horn. Bright lights and loud noise. Then I say, "Wow, you really are an asshole." He opens his truck door, leans out, and says, "What the fuck did you just call me." This about the time when the asshole in me emerged. I walked up to him and yelled, "You're a fucking asshole, now stop!"
He punched me. Hard. And he had a hell of a punch. My glasses cut into my eye. I was totally unprepared for that; I was caught off guard. I was shocked and awed. I responded with violence.

Which bugs me. A lot. Once, not so long ago, I took a court-ordered anger-management class. The instructor was awesome, if not harsh, and called me on (and made me aware of) my bullshit.

"Ah, so you're the savior, you're going to confront all rude behavior in the world and put an end to it," he would say. "And we can thank you for that?"

But they deserve it; there should be consequences for their actions.

"And you have appointed yourself judge, jury and executioner?"

But sometimes I can't help myself, I can't control myself.

"Oh bullshit, Dave. You have full control of your behavior, but you're turning that control over to them -- you're letting them control you!"

Ouch! I hate being controlled.

And so it happened again. I let the ass-riding, horn-honking asshole control me. He called my bluff. I met my match. Christine Stalling has long told me to stop doing this crap. "Someday you're going to do that to someone as crazy as you and it won't work out like you hope." As always, she was right.

It turns out he is a fellow Marine. Much younger; maybe 25, or 30. A good-looking guy, with a hell of a punch, and a temper. He seemed like an asshole.

Just like me.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Plight of the Bighorns

Back in October I took a break from elk hunting to photograph bighorn sheep at the National Bison Range in Moise. I was surprised how close one ram let me to get, and then I noticed something was wrong. Several times he dropped his head to the ground and struggled to lift it back up. The weight of his heavy horns he long proudly carried had apparently become too burdensome. He was dying. I returned the next day and found his body.

After posting a photo of the ram on Facebook, and speculating about his death, my friend Stacy Courville, a wildlife biologist with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe, said the sheep most likely died from pneumonia, which had recently infected the Bison Range. So I talked to Jeff King, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manager who oversees the range. Courville was correct: A bacteria called  Mycoplasma ovipheumonia had infected the bighorn populations, causing pneumonia. More than 35 wild sheep had died in just a few months. King and others suspect that the bacteria was transferred to the wild herd from a domestic sheep herd about a mile west of the range.

Once the bacteria infects a herd of wild sheep, it can be devastating, and not much can be done.  

Mycoplasma ovipheumonia has no cell wall, so antibiotics do not work on it,” says Mark Penninger, an Oregon-based wildlife biologist who heads up the bighorn sheep program for the U.S. Forest Service. “It is carried with no ill effects by many domestic sheep and goats, but is deadly to wild sheep. Our wild sheep have not evolved with this pathogen. It can sometimes kill wild sheep by itself, but is often a precursor that compromises the respiratory system's ability to move things, such as bacteria and viruses, out with mucous. Then the sheep die when their body responds by producing more mucous, which results in pneumonia. It is quite the dilemma when trying to protect and restore bighorn populations.

When a bighorn sheep population is initially infected, often as many as a third, and sometimes up to 90%, of the herd may die of pneumonia. Most survivors are apparently immune, but their lambs are not and usually die before weaning. In some populations, annual pneumonia outbreaks in lambs continue for decades after the initial infection, which prevents the population from bouncing back. In other populations, lamb survival returns to normal relatively quickly. Why some populations recover and others do not is one of the most important questions scientists are trying to answer. Some researchers hope that wild sheep herds could eventually develop an immunity.

But in the meantime, bighorns are being infected and dying throughout their range.

More than 90 bighorns recently died of pneumonia near Plains, and another 39 died near Gardiner. “We’re losing hundreds of wild sheep to this disease every year and it is decimating herds across the west,” said Kyle Meintzer, director of the Wild Sheep Foundation (WSF) based in Bozeman. “For example, in 2013, 400 wild sheep in California were lost, and that’s 80 per cent of what was the largest herd in the state. Wildlife managers were forced to sacrifice the herd in the Tendoy Mountains in Montana due to recurring pneumonia and low lamb survival. Wildlife managers, with the help of hunters, will remove 100 per cent of the herd and later will repopulate the herd with healthy bighorns.”

Unfortunately, killing wild sheep because of suspicion of exposure is the prudent thing to do in many cases, according to Mark Penninger. “A wandering wild sheep can cover a lot of miles and return to its herd with death in its breath. Killing one sheep could prevent the loss of an entire herd. Capturing and testing is rarely practical due to urgency and terrain.”

Although scientists don’t know exactly how the disease is transmitted, what factors contribute to transmission and whether transmission of other bacteria, even among wild sheep alone, contributes to the bighorn die-offs, mounting evidence suggests that domestic sheep are a major vector. A 2008 study by Colorado Division of Wildlife scientists showed that a single domestic sheep that wandered onto bighorn winter range caused a die-off of more than 86 bighorns from 1997 to 2000.

What can be done? The most viable – yet controversial – proposals involve separating wild sheep from domestic sheep by large distances so they cannot come in contact. “The science is clear that domestic and wild sheep can’t live together,” says Kevin Hurley, Conservation Director for WSF.

In the Salmon River country of Idaho, where 76-percent of the bighorn populations was lost to pneumonia, legal battles ensued between sheep herders, conservationists and the U.S. Forest Service when the Payette National Forest decided to keep domestic sheep off grazing leases within bighorn sheep range. In 2008, a U.S. District Judge ruled in favor of the decision. But leaders of hunter-conservation organizations, and wildlife biologists and mangers with state and federal agencies, would prefer to work with the sheep ranching industry to find viable solutions rather than fight things out in court.

The WSF recently met with members of Congress and federal wildlife agencies on solutions to create safe zones against deadly pneumonia bacteria and viruses that are infecting wild sheep herds in the U.S. “Having a disease-free zone around the new herd is necessary to prevent new infection and assure the success of restoration,” says Kyle Meintzer.

Steve Torbit, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Rocky Mountain Regional Center in Boulder, Colorado, calls for “livestock producers and wildlife folks to roll up their sleeves and work together to find areas suitable for domestic sheep.” Torbit and other bighorn advocates hope they can persuade western sheep ranchers and federal officials to develop a strategy that will allow bighorn sheep populations to expand through conservation and further reintroductions across the West. “I don’t want to start a new range war, because it’s not good for anybody, and it’s certainly not good for wildlife,” he says. He favors a collaborative process that brings ranchers, sportsmen, tribes and conservationists together to protect the range and wildlife but still allows ranchers to thrive – creating safe zones for wild sheep far from domestic sheep, and setting aside other zones for domestic sheep far from bighorn habitat.

As Kevin Hurley puts it: “If you believe in compromise and conservation, both sides have to give up something.”