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Yellowstone Revealed: Protecting wildlife

Posted at 12:52 PM, Jan 16, 2023

(Editor's Note: Yellowstone National Park celebrated its 150th Birthday in 2022. In honor of that historic milestone we're bringing you a new series called "Yellowstone Revealed." These reports offer a glimpse into the park's colorful history and stories that you've likely never heard before. This is the tenth installment - Protecting wildlife.)

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK - In 1872, Yellowstone was established as the world’s first national park, created to protect thermal wonders but not wildlife.

That wasn't enough for some at the time. General Phillip Sheridan wanted to protect the park’s wildlife, which was being wiped out by market hunters.

“Poachers were running elk into snow drifts, and while they were still alive, prying open their mouths and cutting out the elk ivories," said historian Jeremy Johnston, curator of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West Museum in Cody.

Sheridan asked his friend Buffalo Bill Cody to help, and he wrote an editorial for the New York Sun, which prompted the Secretary of the Interior Department to ban hunting in the park.

But poachers, such as Edgar Howell from Cooke City, ignored the law. In 1894, soldiers caught him in the act of killing and beheading some of the last remaining bison in the park.

Coincidentally a hunting group called the Boone and Crockett Club had sent a reporter to the park, who was there when Howell was arrested.

He "reported that Howell was turned loose, there was no punishment for him, and the outcry that came out of those articles led Congress and the Legislature to follow the lobbying efforts of the Boone and Crocket club to create effective judicial systems throughout Yellowstone National Park,” Johnston said.

That was the Lacey Act, which protects the park’s wildlife today.

How did a group of eastern hunters come to protect animals in Yellowstone? In 1887, the conservationist who earlier discovered thousands of animals had been killed by market hunters, George Bird Grinnel, met Theodore Roosevelt to form the Boone and Crockett Club.

“The two of them met, and decided a sporting organization that promoted a sportsman’s code as well as an organization that would protect wildlife habitat throughout the American West, especially Yellowstone," Johnston said.

It was the model for a conservation hunting code that exists today all over America.

“So the wildlife we see in Yellowstone today is really a collective effort of the U.S. Army, officers like General Sheridan, naturalists like George Bird Grinnell, sport hunters like Theodore Roosevelt, and even former market hunters like William F. Buffalo Bill Cody,” Johnston said.

In the early days of the park, it was soldiers and hunters, men with guns, who saved the wildlife of Yellowstone.


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