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The sporting season begins

Notes from the North Woods

However, by 1902 a new era was unfolding as Americans began to redefine their relationship with the natural world. Fortunately, such unsportsmanlike hunting practices were soon halted due to the efforts of early conservationists such as Theodore Roosevelt, William H. H. Murray, John Bird Burnham, Charles Hallock, Col. William Hornaday, George Bird Grinnell and Harry V. Radford. They worked together to ensure the survival and conservation of many native game species.

In 1904, the NYS Fish and Game Commission prohibited beaver trapping and the molestation or destruction of their dams. However, bounties were still being offered for black bear, wolves and cougar. Even though New York Gov. Odell signed a bill in 1904 to protect black bear across the state, the bill exempted Essex County, which paid out bounties for 52 Black Bears in 1906.

The last buffalo and a lost pygmy

It was while working as a taxidermist for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, that Col. William Townsend Hornaday was instructed to collect specimens of American bison for the museum’s collection. Although he eventually collected the required specimens for the Smithsonian; Hornaday was struck by the plight of the buffalo’s near extinction after traveling the west.

He returned to the East and committed himself to saving the massive symbols of The Great Plains of the Wild West, especially in light of the wanton destruction of other species of similarly endless populations such as the Passenger Pigeon, which was declared extinct in 1908.

Eventually, he started a political organization called the American Bison Society of which he was the president, and under his leadership the society began a captive breeding program and created ranges and reserves in the West.

Hornaday began his efforts by penning The Extermination of the American Bison, a book which exposed the wanton destruction of one of the most iconic species in the West. Buffalo were slaughtered in an effort to remove a major source of food, shelter and weapons from the Native People as a part of the strategy of war, which was similar to the 'scorched earth policies' of other conflicts. Buffalo robes were selling for only a dollar, while their bones were used for fertilizer.

Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at brookside18@adelphia.net.

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