Monday, October 8, 2012

Cataloochie Elk

New Video of the Elk and Photographer

                As some of you already know, I live just outside the boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the extreme western part of North Carolina.  Just to the west sets a beautiful high peak known as Cataloochee.  That mountain not only houses both our winter ski resort and in the warmer months, the historic Ghost Town in the Sky, but it also acts as a natural barrier to one of the park’s pristine wilderness areas, the Cataloochee Valley.
                Back in 2002, the NC Wild Resources Commission and the National Park Service initiated an experimental reintroduction of elk to our mountains; they picked the Cataloochee Valley to establish the herd both for its resources and protective isolation.  The valley is accessible from the North Carolina side only by an exciting, 11 mile, white-knuckle ride on dirt road up and over a mountain pass with a vertical wall of rock on one side and a steep precipice on the other.  It is a one-lane road with two-way traffic and often leads to WTF moments when two vehicles meet midway.  The ride is perilous but worth the effort as our original group of 25 elk has grown to an impressive herd of 150, with new calves being born each spring.  Each evening, these picturesque animals emerge from the forest to graze in the open valley to the delight of the hundreds of nature lovers who journeyed to watch from the distant parkways.  The rangers will admit that we do occasionally lose a baby to the black bears or wolves, but this is one of those rare incidences where humans have tampered with Nature and the outcome has become a glorious success.
                Unfortunately, whenever humans are involved, because of an anatomical anomaly, you end up with certain number of assholes.  Now to premise this story, I will tell you that I grew up in southern New Jersey in a family that supplemented our diet by subsistence hunting and fishing.  Without regard to my prolonged abstinence from that activity, I DO NOT have a problem with people taking game as a food source under a controlled and regulated harvest.  But back to those inevitable “human orifices,” on May 18th of this year, three elk, a bull, an adolescent cow, and a pregnant cow, were shot dead in the Pisgah National Forest just outside of the park.  All three (or four) animals were left to rot in the woods without any attempt to harvest the illegal meat.
                There is, of course, reward money posted for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the poachers, but I really don’t think that a monetary fine, a little jail time, and the possible forfeiture of their weapons and vehicles, goes quite far enough.  I think these arrestees, if they’re found, should undergo a comprehensive re-education on how difficult it was to take unsuspecting animals from their familiar habitat and strand them deep in a mountainous forest where they were left to forage for food, find potable water, avoid bears, and survive the cold winter nights atop the highest peaks east of the Rockies.  After these butt-heads have a good understanding of the difficulties faced by these majestic animals as they gained not only a survivable foot-hold, but flourished in their new surroundings, these creeps that found pleasure in killing for killing’s sake, should be blindfolded, driven as far into the mountains as possible, and then marched another 10 or 12 miles, stripped naked and turned loose (that’s all the elk had).  If they make it out, I think they may have a little more respect for the sanctity of life and the tribulations of living in the wild without some pea-brained yahoo shooting a gun at them for no good reason.
                Now, I’m telling you my idea so you will know without doubt, that if you ever wake up to hear about some wild, naked men, half crazed with hunger and dehydration, claiming to have been kidnapped and abandoned on a remote mountain top in the Smokys, the perpetrator wasn’t me, but the assholes deserved it.

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