by Justice William W. Bedsworth
I love animals.
Not all animals. The deer who stands in the middle of the fairway taunting me with her confidence that the middle of the fairway is the safest place to be when I tee it up . . . she is not my friend. And I know the ducks’ opinion of me is greatly influenced by whether or not I have bread. But my default position on animals is favorable.
I don’t love them enough to be vegan or to give up baseball.1 But enough that the time I spend on the internet includes way too many minutes adoring cute kittens or marveling that apparently everything I was taught about what animals don’t get along with each other was wrong because, “Look, this lion is snuggling with a puppy!”
And I’m generally supportive of legislation that’s protective of woodland creatures. I kinda feel we’ve royally screwed up the planet we share with them so we kinda owe it to them to put limits on when and how we’re going to kill them. Seems like the least we can do.
So when I read about legislation that seems to threaten their welfare, it gets my attention. In this case, I read, “Wyoming residents have been given permission for the first time to collect and eat deer, antelope, moose, and elk killed by cars.”
You may not have realized it is against the law in most places to eat roadkill. That includes California.
It may not have occurred to you to wonder if you could eat that flattened, bloody raccoon lying in the mud by the side of the road. And most SoCal residents have not yet had the experience of swerving to avoid an antelope in the road.2
But “kill it and grill it” is not the law in California. You sideswipe a deer in Santiago Canyon, you have not just provided venison for six weeks. What you’ve done is probably incur a substantial repair debt.3 Because you can’t eat roadkill in California.4
At least until next year. Under the Wildlife Safety Traffic Act of 2019,5 our state’s Fish and Game Commission is—even as we speak—working to come up with a pilot program to suspend that prohibition and allow you to salvage deer, elk, pronghorn antelope, and wild pigs.6 The idea is we kill enough of these things to provide “potentially . . . hundreds of thousands of pounds of healthy meat that could be used to feed those in need.”7
Hundreds of thousands of pounds? Good Lord, I thought once we got my dad off the road, it would be safe to drive. Apparently not.
I mean, we’re pretty sure that hundreds of thousands of pounds of meat doesn’t represent animal suicides, aren’t we? This isn’t a problem that could be cured by seeding our forests with Xanax. No, we’re apparently mowing down Bambi’s relatives like weeds in front of a John Deere.
So I can certainly understand our legislature’s thinking that maybe we’re wasting
a resource. But the downside of such laws is described by Wyoming Chief Game Warden Rick King8 who worries that some people will deliberately drive into wildlife “to take illegal game.” There’s always a hook, isn’t there?
In the law, we call that the Doctrine of Unintended Consequences.9 In Wyoming, they call it, “Good morning, Mr. Arby’s owner. Me and Billy were out in our Chevy Tahoe with re-enforced bumpers last night, and we have a quarter ton of venison, pronghorn, and wild pig for sale. We also have a couple of raccoons and a mailbox, but we’re thinkin’ we’ll be keepin’ those.”10
And while we’re on the topic of the Doctrine of Unintended Consequences, let’s discuss the 45,000 people who have filed applications to kill a buffalo.
That’s right. According to the New York Times, “As many as 500 bison11 . . . have recently taken up full-time residence in the northern part of Grand Canyon National Park and are causing havoc with the ecosystem, say park officials who want to reduce the herd to 200.”
They’re going to allow 12 people to shoot one bison each.12 How we’re going to solve our 300 bison problem by killing 12 is beyond me. Apparently my already tenuous math skills have somehow managed to deteriorate because this calculation is completely beyond my comprehension. But that’s the deal.
And they have 45,000 applicants for those 12 spots. 45,000.
Okay, I’m not a hunter myself, but I can see where the chance to participate in a buffalo hunt—an opportunity that doesn’t come around much if you aren’t Teddy Roosevelt—might be enticing. I’m a little surprised it’s 45,000 applicants worth of enticing, but alright. Hell, lots of things surprise me.
But here’s where the Doctrine of Unintended Consequences comes in. If you are one of the lucky 12 selectees, you “must be in good physical health, pass a marksmanship proficiency test and be ‘willing to haul bison carcasses out of the wilderness on foot without motorized assistance.’”
Can we go back to the “hauling bison carcasses” part?
Yessir. Well, you see, the buffalo herd is in the Grand Canyon National Park. It’s in a wilderness area where motorized vehicles are not permitted13, and the National Park Service says, “We are not willing to violate the management practices that we already have in place.”
So if you’re one of the Deputized Dozen, you have to carve the buffalo up, throw it over your shoulders, and carry it out piece by piece. As described by the National Park Service’s spokeswoman, “it will be very strenuous work.”
Very strenuous work, my Aunt Dorothy! It’s a death march is what it is.
How many of those 45,000 applicants do you think intend the consequence of “walking perhaps miles with 100 pounds per person in a park above 8,000 feet of elevation . . . full of tall ponderosa pine, quaking aspen trees, and pools of water?”
Remember the last time you helped a friend move? Remember promising yourself, as you lifted another gabblefratzing, motherloving, furshlugginer box of books14 that you were never again going to get talked into carrying a bunch of heavy boxes downstairs, lifting them into the truck, and then lifting them out of the truck and carrying them upstairs at the new house? Remember that?
So what would you do if the friend said, “I need you to help me carve up a buffalo into hundred pound chunks and then carry them, stinking and bleeding, through a few miles of wilderness. Oh, and bring oxygen, we’re going to be doing this at an elevation 1,000 feet higher than the one that wiped out world-class athletes at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968.”
I’ll tell you what you’d say. You’d say, “Sure. Happy to.”
Then you’d walk out to the garage, take a ball-peen hammer out of the toolbox, and calmly bring it down on your instep like you were trying to win a kewpie doll at the county fair. Then you could email him a photo of your foot in a cast and say, “Sorry. Broke my foot. Can’t help you. Heart’s broken. Also foot. (See photo.)”
I figure this column should be classified as a public service announcement. I figure now that you know how chancy and difficult wildlife management is, you’ll never open your copy of the Fish and Game Code. Or covet a buffalo hunt.
(1) Horsehide baseballs, cowhide gloves, mystery meat hot dogs.
(2) A Jaguar maybe, or a Bronco; even an Impala, but no antelopes.
(3) Forty years ago I hit a deer in Oregon; damn things must be made of Kevlar. He was down for about ten seconds; my car was in the shop for three days.
(4) It continues to amaze me that we can’t get MCLE credits for this column.
(5) How could anyone vote against insuring the safety of wildlife traffic?
(6) Obviously four groups that need to replace their lobbyist.
(7) State Senator Bob Archuleta, who sponsored the bill.
(8) No, not our Rick King. Judge King rarely has time for a lunch break, much less a second job.
(9) Explained to me by one of my early mentors, Judge Myron Brown, as, “Anytime you pass a law to stop one thing, you encourage something else. And the something else is always worse.”
(10) Don’t write me nasty letters. It’s the guy in Wyoming who foresaw these people.
(11) Yeah, I know. I said “buffalo”; the NYT said “bison”. The NYT wants to impress you with their taxonomic precision; I’ve given up impressing you. That horse has left the barn. Let’s hope it doesn’t get run over by a Chevy Tahoe.
(12) Apparently, only shooting will be allowed. If you were hoping to strangle or stab one, you’re SOL.
(13) No Chevy Tahoes with reinforced bumpers allowed.
(14) “How is it you own 800 books, and I’ve never seen you reading?”
William W. Bedsworth is an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. He writes this column to get it out of his system. A Criminal Waste of Space won Best Column in California in 2018 from the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA). And look for his latest book, Lawyers, Gubs, and Monkeys, through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Vandeplas Publishing. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.