By now nearly everyone has heard the expression “a fed bear is a dead bear.”
That wisdom should inform humans’ behavior with all species of wildlife.
The science is clear. Wild animals have adapted for thousands of years to the harsh winters of Wyoming, and their bodies can’t handle a sudden change to rich foodstuffs.
Deer or moose lured to backyards also cross more roads and run the risk of being struck and killed by a vehicle.
When animals congregate around a trough, they are more susceptible to disease.
Wildlife that is emboldened and habituated is less wild.
For all of these reasons, people shouldn’t meddle with nature.
In a harsh winter like this, more wild animals will die. The sick and weak won’t make it. That means the ones that do survive will be hardier and have better genes. It’s natural selection at work.
That may seem cruel, but it’s part of the cycle of life.
Part of the magic of winter is that wild animals come out of the shadows. Snow forces them down from the higher elevations. In the valley they forage on weeds, bark and twigs, the foods their ancestors have eaten every winter for millennia.
Compassion for fellow life forms is part of human nature, but it needs to be channeled into a form of love that’s constructive.
The best way to help wildlife stay wild and alive is to watch them from a distance. Appreciate their cold-adapted coats, their majestic antlers and their ability to survive a bleak season. Let them be.
The exception to the feeding rule, of course, are the feedgrounds staffed and run by federal and state officials. Management and feeding of the Jackson Elk Herd is a topic that’s been debated for more than a century, with some scientists pressuring politicians to phase out the meals.
That’s a topic for another day, but the writing is on the wall.
The power of Jackson Hole is that it allows people to intimately connect with the environment. There are plenty of ways to do that without feeding or physically touching wild animals, which harms them and makes them less wild.
Take a picture. Enjoy their grace. Relish chance encounters.
And keep your food to yourself.