One Yea for Being Prey

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"What sort of person would rather be prey?" asks Glenn Reynolds in an interesting column about reintroducing predatory animals into Boulder, Colorado, at Tech Central Station.

In a very different context, but one worth mulling over, Reason Contributing Editor Charles Oliver answered that question: Teenage boys who consume slasher films. (Go to here and scroll down)

NEXT: He Fought the Law...

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31 responses to “One Yea for Being Prey

  1. Thinking that someone who wants to live among cougars is necessarily ignorant of the danger is akin to thinking that anyone who drives a race car real fast is ignorant of that danger. Maybe the people in Boulder find value in having cougars around that they consider worth the danger? One can have any opinion one likes of such an arrangement (or of driving race cars for that matter) without having to caricature all who like it as naive and stupid. Please bear in mind that, whatever impression that article gives, death by cougar is still extremely rare, even if more common than forty years ago.

    All that said, a populace that succeeds in keeping cougars around should consider the position they’re putting the minority that disagrees with them in.

  2. Let’s set aside Reynold’s decision to strike out “local extinction” for the lovey-dover phrase “hunting induced absence,” and assume he’s actually trying to create an honest, good faith argument.

    Reynolds assumes that having cougars present places the population in greater danger. Funny how he never provides any figures for how many deaths and injuries they have been. But then, to do so would invite a comparison to the number of deaths and injuries caused by people driving into deer, or as the cougars refer to them, “BambiSnacks.” Nationally, the number of people injured by these overabundant prey vastly outnumbers those injured by their all-too-rare pursuers. Reynolds insults Boulderites for not being sufficiently interested in hunting, then insults them again for pursuing a policy that introduces nature’s own hunters into the mix.

    There is a valid point buried deep, deep inside this mess, though. People in developed areas do sometimes assume friendship is the natural state of relations between people and beasts. What he says about cougars not learning to fear humans is true. Any preditor that shows its face in or near developed areas needs to be convinced never to come back – not cooed at, and given the opporunity to learn that people aren’t so bad after all.

    Because we are.

  3. Maybe the people in Boulder find value in having cougars around that they consider worth the danger?

    Except that’s not the way the bunny-huggers pitched it in Boulder. They said the cougars were no threat.

    Remember, the average “liberal” Boulder resident is a supporter of the nanny state. Most environmentalists are supporters of the precautionary principle. They are thus highly, highly risk-averse.

  4. I’m all for re-introducing predators to wilderness areas. We never should have wiped them out to begin with. One should not expect safety to be the norm roaming around in the wilderness. Our forefathers knew this, which is why they chose to arm themselves against such dangers. Today, that’s become much less socially acceptable.

    I don’t think humans should see themselves as separate from nature. We are very much a part of it. I think we do have the responsibility of being good custodians of our environment, but that doesn’t extend to becoming part of the food chain if there are ways to easily avoid it.

  5. I am a amateur mountain climber. On an outing in Alaska my party and I were stalked by a hungry bear (slightly unusual behavior for a bear BTW – they tend to either ignore or otherwise get away from humans). It was an interesting experience; so long as you do not become paranoid you’ll likely survive such an encounter. 🙂

    Essentially Americans, if they are going to accept predators into their midst, have to decide where they want them, and where they want to exclude them. There should be some areas where the predators reign, so to speak; where humans should have to confront them on their own terms. The neccessary corollary is of course their exclusion from other areas – including killing them if neccessary.

  6. Cougars, who have a long history of stalking people, tend to attack from behind. Guns don’t really help. But… that’s just the breaks. I suppose the people of CO, like some folks in the jungle, could wear wide-eyed masks on the back of their heads.

  7. JB, the idea that people shouldn’t be in some places is in deep conflict with many interrelated strains of American thought.

  8. R.C. Dean,

    “They said the cougars were no threat.” What is the source for that? I know the article linked here asserts that, but the article doesn’t back it up as far as I can tell.

    “They are thus highly, highly risk-averse.” Oh, that is just so prejudicial! You reach that conclusion through the use of multiple assumptions, and even if they’re all true, so what? As dubious as the precautionary principle is, those who employ it are worried about bringing on a worldwide catastrophe as opposed to a one in 100,000 chance of getting eaten by a cougar! Hey, maybe YOU’re the “risk-averse” one if you think that’s worth worrying about!

  9. joe,

    Well, they shouldn’t. Some people do not belong in the forest. This summer I was hiking in Vermont’s Northeast kingdom, around Lake Willoughby (a beautiful lake, btw), and a woman scremed like she was in a “slasher” film. It was, as you say, “blood crudling.” Her scream was caused by a common, non-poisonous snake.

    Later that day I saw several moose; now moose can be very dangerous (they have been known to charge people who bother them), and if this woman had been around I am sure they would have rammed her for screaming. 🙂

  10. I didn’t say I agreed with all of those strains, jb, or all of their applications.

  11. It’s a sad story: people had deep-seated sentimentality about the issue, they were so invested in their preconceptions that they wouldn’t look at the facts, and eventually people got hurt.

    But we’re talking about cougars here, not unrestricted gun sales.

    (Hey, no shouting; I don’t want to argue about gun control. I just thought Reynolds’ tone was kind of funny.)

  12. I am going to have to agree with the prof on this one. I lived in the Denver area for three years, and the cougar population had become a real problem by the time I moved away. He is right about the motivations of the people of Boulder who let the problem get out of hand as well, and by out of hand I mean that cougars were causing problems in areas where people should have felt they were safe, not in the wilderness where all bets are off.

    The problem is that they approach the cougar the same as they do the prarie dog and the deer. Its an approach that is both impracticle, dangerous, and yes naive. A good analogy of the attitude he describes is to think of the bear enthusiast who became prey in Alaska last month (who incidentaly was from Colorado, Aspen though). Yes the animals are beautiful, but they are dangerous. Even if only 1 out of every 200 cat encounters turns out to cause injury or death, if the law of the land is that these animals are not to be hunted, the local government has just sentenced that one poor soul to a very painful experience (once again I am not talking about wilderness and undeveloped areas, only areas where people have an expectation of safety). And the risks taken allowing these animals to live among large groups of people are not worth being able to say that you “live among wildlife”. To say that it does, IMHO, is not only naive but just plain dumb.

    But then again we are not talking about most places in the US. We are talking about “Boulder” afterall, and I would think that most people with more than a casual knowledge of the place would agree that it is not like your typical town.

  13. alkali,
    Where in the US are gun sales “unrestricted?”

  14. bennett,

    Hogwash! I currently live in Denver. I used to live in Boulder. I won’t disagree that Boulder has more than its share of certain, uh, types, but then, that impression of Boulder is exaggerated in Denver, so I don’t take your previous proximity as any sign of objectivity about the issue. I’ve done lots of hiking with Boulder environmentalists and I’ve never known one who would think that cougars or bears pose zero threat and are just cute cuddly things. And I’ll bet you that driving on a highway is hundreds of times more dangerous than cougars are to Boulder pedestrians. Nah, make that thousands! (Man, those highways are really out of hand!!) That bear hugger was one person, for Chrissake! Okay, maybe there’s a few others who think like him around somewhere, but since no one here has actually documented people arguing for protecting cougars on the grounds that they’re harmless, I think it’s only REASONable to assume they’re willing to live with the danger, especially since it’s relatively minimal compared to other dangers we daily take for granted. Hell, I had a landlord who made it into the local paper for takin a picture he took of a lion chomping on a deer. You think he couldn’t figure out that the cougar could potentially chomp on HIM too? Sure he knew that, but the chances were slim. Cougar attacks make big news, but I hardly ever hear of them. Y’all are just more interested in justifying your stereotypes than looking at this logically!

  15. there’s the problem that these environmentalists are promoting policies that affect the ability of others to defend themselves and discourage cougars from coming to the area

    you can be charged with harrassing a wild animal, and i believe that it is felonious to do so on federal property (which is most of the west)

    if you want to pet cougars… go ahead. but if you stop people from discouraging cougars (and their food source deers) from coming into urban areas, you should be held responsible (i.e. guilty of murder… and civily liable to boot)

  16. Well, fydor, maybe we can agree to disagree on some of this. I have not read the book yet, but plan to. It is on the way from Amazon. First off I never claimed to be “objective”, I just have a degree of familiarity with the subject. I also worked in Boulder for 18 months, and did not really care for many of the people I came in contact with, so I must admit that I am far from absolutely objective.

    While I realize that the attacks are rare, I think that we can both agree that incidents are on the rise due to a host of issues, such as more people moving to the foothills and placing themselves into harms way. However, there are also cases where the things have wandered into the city (I can remember a case of one living along Cherry Creek in Denver and scaring the shit out of some joggers). And I will also agree with you that this is blown out of proportion (hell, driving between Denver and Fort Fun is truly taking your life in your own hands). However, as the article the prof wrote has shown, those “types” are sometimes incapable of making logical decisions with regards to their environment, especially when so many of them approach it in the manner of a religion. And if you lived there at some point I think you will know what I am talking about. Fair enough? You do also have to admit that this is fun to talk about.

  17. Oh, and by the way. I mentioned the bear guy only as an analogy, not as evidence of some mass movement that represented the Boulder population.

  18. joe

    “JB, the idea that people shouldn’t be in some places is in deep conflict with many interrelated strains of American thought.”

    joe, I don’t think notre ami was advocating an actual formal prohibition on people venturing where predators live, merely “*some*…people do not belong in the forest” as a general observation of what should be a self-evident fact.

    “There should be some areas where the predators reign, so to speak; where humans should have to confront them on their own terms” sounds to me like good advice (and a stern warning), there are many who seem unwilling to accept this responsibility. Indeed as the article and other posters have pointed out there are some who seem to view these creatures as harmless cuddly pets, but when confronted with them in reality cannot handle the situation.

    “The neccessary corollary is of course their exclusion from other areas – including killing them if neccessary”: If there is anything that is “is in deep conflict with many interrelated strains of American thought” it is this one. The notion that animals have “rights” equivalent to humans is the one that has taken root, it is by no means held by a majority (indeed it seems to be limited to women and girls raised in an urban setting with only a high school diploma or a degree in liberal arts). When this attitude is combined with the overall humane belief that cruelty to animals is wrong and the hunting ethic of respect for prey you have a mixed signal for policy makers. It should be obvious that a proper culling of excess populations should be done (either by hired marksman or by issuing licenses to sport hunters: perhaps that’s a subject for another thread)

  19. fydor,

    Well, its not just Boulder. Even the Denver cops (I will tell you I lived there from 97-00) never missed a chance to bring out the tear gas either. I just remember it happening with a little more frequency up there, and I never could make any sense of it.

  20. bennett,

    Yeah, environmentalism often has the trappings of a true believer’s religion, and when they say stupid shit, we should take ’em to task. But when I think people are exaggerating their faults and claiming (well, more like imply) they’re saying really really stupid shit and everyone’s believing it with no evidence given (the only quote is we “came to speak for the cougars” which is corny, but fits fine into my own analysis that they value wildlife’s presence) I’m gonna point that out too. “In the end…people started to be eaten.” Yeah, sure. Hey, I told my girlfriend about our conversation and she cracked up and told me to tell you all that Colorado is crawling with lions, especially the streets of Boulder, and you’d best all stay away cause it’s very dangerous here!! 🙂 Yes, this IS fun!

  21. hey,

    Most of the west is federal land? Oh come now. Most of Idaho, that’s it. There’s a national forest several miles from Boulder, but that’s several miles. Those who live closer are aware of the dangers. I believe shooting lions in self-defense is perfectly within the law. You may have a point about the discouragement interpreted as harrassment. I believe the law is intended for gratuitous harrassment, but I know how the law gets stretched. Anyway, that point’s a stronger expression of the point I made in the second paragraph of my first post on this thread. Agreed, the effect that one’s befriending of predators (or using the law to prevent others from keeping their distance) has on others is a relevant issue to bring up….Hmm, I suppose I can see the connection of this to the avowed “fluffy mountain lion syndrome” claimed in the article, but I also think we’re addressing the more relevant issue more directly here!

  22. arjay,

    How about the rights of humans who WANT there to be places where animals in effect have rights? Not literally but in effect, because we humans WANT it.

    Admittedly reservations setup by privately owned organizations like the Nature Conservancy would be ultimately more fair than state land purchases.

  23. You mean you still have to make stuff up to keep people from moving in? I thought they closed off the borders to the “People’s Republic” a long time ago…..

  24. Heh-heh. Yeah, many would like to, in fact everyone wants to be the last one who could move there! I don’t *think* they’ve got anything more strict than the 2% growth limit they’ve had for years…

  25. arjay, I took jb’s comments to refer to development patterns. Surprise! “There should be some areas where the predators reign, so to speak; where humans should have to confront them on their own terms.”

    If you build a house in the woods, you’re living in the woods. You don’t have the right to expect the wildlife to be limited to squirrels and songbirds, and you don’t have the right to screw up the local food web in order to make your “neighborhood” as predator-free as an actual neighborhood.

  26. joe:

    How far does that go? Am I not justified in shooting an aggressive predator if I go hiking in his neighborhood?

  27. fydor,

    This is off subject, but do the college kids still riot there a couple times a year? Or has Boulder stopped that crap?

  28. There’s a big difference between shooting a bona fide “aggressive” predator in self-defense and looking for predators and shooting them as a, heh-heh, preemptive measure. I really don’t think there’s any laws against genuine self-defense. Luckily, genuine instances of needing to defend oneself from genuinely aggressive predators are still pretty rare, as I’ve said repeatedly in this thread.

  29. bennett,

    Ho-ho, you really have it in for Boulder!! I don’t recall hearing about couch-burning riots for a few years now, but maybe they’ve become so common place they don’t make headlines anymore! 🙂

  30. Jason, I have no problem with people defending themselves in those situations. But ultimately, it is not the management of those situations (which always have a bad outcome, the only question being, how bad?) that can solve the problem. It is the avoidance of those situations.

    Likud used to have a slogan: “Us here, Them there.” That’s not a bad wildlife management stategy.

  31. fyodor

    “How about the rights of humans who WANT there to be places where animals in effect have rights? Not literally but in effect, because we humans WANT it.”

    I am faced with some difficulty over this. I have a photo of my parents on muleback in the Grand Canyon in the 1940s and know that it all still exists in essentially the same form, thanks to Uncle Sam. I also have memories of my own childhood “in the bush” every chance I could (you could hardly get me to come home). Philosophically I must advocate private propety but find myself enjoying many wildlife areas created by govt.

    BTW, just because I reject the animal “rights” movement does not mean I do not accept a notion of respect for wildlife that rejects cruelty or the gratuitous killing of animals, or that I reject the establishment of preserves for them.

    I simply do not know what the solution is. Therefore I go with the pragmatic approach of enjoying the various Wildlife Management Areas, National Forests, National Parks etc. I deal with some of this by contributing to Ducks Unlimited & Nature Conservancy.

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