Our Noblest Deer, Page 3

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But winter comes early on the peaks. September snows bury the low vegetation and start the elk herd downward, just as the early blizzards long ago on the Dakota prairies started them for the sheltering badlands along the river valleys. Halfway down the mountain sides they find green meadows again and pause for more feeding, but the spirit of autumn is in their blood. The hardened antlers are again polished, the fat cows take on a few more layers of fat against the cold and famine of winter, the five-months calves are getting most of their food by grazing, but some are still depending in part on their mother's milk, and much on her care and protection. Let a bear pass by and the mothers are all in front, ready to fight for their young or to lead a swift stampede.

Then, in early October, a snowy night comes to the timbered country and the bugling begins, a series of long quavering, roaring, or braying notes, well described as "bugling", but perhaps better by Maximilian's term of "flöting". It carries for a mile or more on the still air of night, and mixed with the squealing of the cows and barking of the calves of the herd all around one, it thrills to the very marrow.

After the mating season the November snows pile deep in the mountains and only the strong animals can dig down for food to the dry grass beneath or reach to the long cropped overhead browse. Then the real migration begins, and in single file, generally led by some old cow, the herd breaks a new trail above some very old one, down, down to lower levels and less snow, with the fond hope of more and better food. When the way was unobstructed by ranches and fences and the summer grass and browse had not been consumed by sheep and cattle and horses, the migration was pleasant and profitable to the elk herds as they covered a few hundred miles to grassy bottomlands and dense thickets along the river valleys, but this was long ago. Now they do well to get half-way down and in a mild winter the stronger animals live through, but in severe winters with deep mows many die of starvation.


Feeding hay and grain is a temporary makeshift that has saved the lives of thousands of elk, but it does not pay, it is not good for the elk, and in a bad winter there is never enough hay. All the elk want is the native vegetation, left where it grows so they can dig it out of the snow and browse on buds and twigs of the bushes and low branches for their natural winter food. This would require more land than would. raise the hay to feed them, but they would get their natural food and have to work for a living instead of being pauperized on expensive hay that often contains destructive foxtail and other unwholesome elements.

Generally there is no scarcity of summer food and range for a reasonable number of elk as they can out-climb and out-travel domestic stock, but winter food is their great need. There is an abundance of public land suitably located for winter range for all of the elk now occupying the western States. The only problem is shall enough of it be used for winter range for the elk, Or shall all of it be given up to domestic stock? Some privately-owned ranch land in high valleys has been bought and turned over to the Biological Survey for elk hay land, but not enough to afford winter forage nor even enough to produce the winter hay required. There is no escaping the bare fact that there must be more winter food or fewer elk.

Now the elk problem is one of apportioning the right number of elk to definite areas where both summer and winter food are available in sufficient quantities to sustain permanently a definite number of animals. It is just as fatal to the food supply to overstock the range with elk as with domestic stock, for the carrying capacity of the range would soon be ruined by the over-grazing of either.

The coldest weather holds no terrors for these hardy animals with their thick winter coats if suitable food is available to keep their inner fires burning. But they do enjoy the shelter from storms afforded by dense thickets and evergreen groves or, in pleasant weather, the sunny side of a gulch or the south slope of some dry ridge. The type of country to be selected for them is of vital importance, though it may well be the roughest and poorest of range for other stock.

Only through definite plans for wildlife management can we hope to save a worthy remnant of our wild heritage. Many of our smaller forms of game can be maintained even among the farms and settlements without harm to any industry and with advantage to the land owners as well as to the sportsmen and people at large. Many other beautiful, interesting and useful species may be encouraged in the midst of populous areas. But such noble animals as the buffalo, moose and elk can never safely range at large among settlements of people, and if maintained at all must be given suitable habitat.

Fortunately, the diversity of country across the continent affords great areas unsuited to cultivation but well adapted to the production of forests and game in abundance and, still more fortunately, we are awakening to the necessity of making definite plans for such maintenance. Administrators, naturalists, sportsmen and the people at large are joining forces in a common cause of far-reaching education that if carried out will surely perpetuate far into the future the elk and other forms of wildlife. If this fails, our civilization will pass on a stigma of selfishness, neglect and inefficiency unworthy of the aims and standards for which, as a nation, we should strive.

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