Wildlife on the Wind
A Field Biologist's Journey and an Indian Reservation's Renewal
Publication Year: 2010
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.
Published by: Utah State University Press
Contents, Illustrations, Introduction
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Chapter 1: Gettin’ There
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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. ...
Chapter 2: On the Reservation
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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. ...
Chapter 3: First Elk
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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. ...
Chapter 4: Mountains and Sky
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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. ...
Chapter 5: Stranded
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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. ...
Chapter 6: The Way It Was
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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. ...
Chapter 7: Younger Kids
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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. ...
Chapter 8: On the Same Page
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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.” ...
Chapter 9: Game Code
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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. ...
Chapter 10: Upshot
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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. ...
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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 all things. Such is the source of native peoples’ reverence for all Nature. ...
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Writing this book is something I have always known I would do. If I had stayed longer, more than the blink-of-an-eye four years I was at Wind River Indian Reservation, I may have completed this much sooner. But that was not to be. After my transfer from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Technical Assistance Office in Lander, Wyoming, in June 1982, my new assignment at the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, distracted my attention and occupied my time. ...
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Page Count: 227
Publication Year: 2010