The Flatlander's View

Good manners — and bad — on winter wildlife ranges

By Steve Moseley
Posted 1/11/22

During the several years I lived among you in paradise — and on as many occasions as possible in the 15 years since — I have happily invested countless hours observing, appreciating and …

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The Flatlander's View

Good manners — and bad — on winter wildlife ranges

Posted

During the several years I lived among you in paradise — and on as many occasions as possible in the 15 years since — I have happily invested countless hours observing, appreciating and photographing the amazing wild creatures you are blessed to have at arm’s length. I have seen some great behavior by my fellow humans in their respect for each other and the animals; people remaining calm at bear jams is rare to see, as you who live there know, but even that happens now and again.

Of course, there’s the other side of the manners ethic, too:

I once watched in horror as a couple carloads of slack-jawed human ruminants gleefully shouted, clapped their hands and guffawed loudly at their own cleverness while chasing bighorn sheep into full-flight panic straight up vertical rock faces above the North Fork Highway. They may have been doped-up or drunk, but what they were for was galactically stupid. Locals no less. Yup, Park County plates. For shame.

There was the lady who chased a grizzly bear down a scree- and deadfall-strewn slope to the river below in quest of a National Geographic shot with her cardboard Kodak. This happened at that first big pullout above the river just inside the East Gate.

The lady who sent her three small grandkids out alone to stand next to a bull moose below Wayfarers Chapel on the North Fork while she extracted a Brittany Spaniel from the van and attempted to put together a nice tight photo of everyone — including the moose — remains seared in memory. This despite the more than a decade that has passed since that stunning day.

The fellow who walked his wife and kids up from the road in Hayden Valley to set up a nice family photo with two enraged bison in rut who were trying to kill each other at the time stands out, too.

Though much less egregious, a similarly unfortunate experience came early last month when two friends and I, plus perhaps a half-dozen other photographers, were enjoying a herd of sheep in that wide area between Big Game and Elk Fork campgrounds. You know the spot if you have spent any time at all up North Fork.

The herd alternately displayed rut and feeding behavior right alongside the road while all of us remained respectfully back by our vehicles using medium to long lenses so as not to influence or disturb the sheep as they went about their day.

All of us, that is, except the one outlier who crept up on the herd and camped in their midst while deploying a stubby little lens that appeared inadequate to the task.

We actually had to shoot around this woman to keep her out of our own photos. None of us had ever seen anything like it. Of course, creeping so close inevitably moves the animals, even if subtly. I had never seen anyone behave this way in 20-plus years roaming the North Fork. My colleagues and I found that day deeply disappointing. Doubly so from a would-be fellow wildlife enthusiast and photographer.

Finally, in exasperation we asked this woman to please move aside at least a little so as not to appear in our photos. Things did not go well after that.

We were told in no uncertain terms that, unlike us, she “lives here” and “this is how we do things here.” Even invoked a national wildlife organization. (Later investigation proved her not to be “with” them at all.)

It was made clear to us that in this monumentally self-entitled local photographer’s view, “tourons” (you know, half tourist, half moron) of our lowly station properly belong in Yellowstone and nowhere else. Period.

The instant flash of scorn and aggression seemed to us over the top. Could it be this was not the first time her own unprofessional behavior had been called to account?

We might have mentioned that every sign reads Shoshone National Forest, not Shoshone Local Forest, but intuitively we sensed this would not be well received … a suspicion loudly confirmed as her Jeep roared back down the hill at hostile full-throttle a few minutes later.

I am confident this person is an excellent photographer, though no better than us, I bet. With reflection and thought will she be less self-absorbed and obnoxious next time? Smart money says don’t bet on it.

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