Saturday, July 22, 2006

Pombo Shoots The Bull

"For decades, the image of the buffalo has served as the official Interior Department seal. Last year, in a bill designed to protect buffalo at Yellowstone National Park, lawmakers wrote that 'more than any other animal, the American buffalo ... is a wildlife icon of the United States ....'" LINK

I came across this story, and thought I’d share it with SNTP readers. It’s the saga of one David Smith, who just resigned his federal position under, shall we say, a cloud (although the Justice Department has declined to prosecute him).
WASHINGTON -- The American bison, once hunted almost to extinction, is now so revered in the United States that its image graces the seal of the Interior Department, where it stands proudly in the shadow of mountains.

Still, a senior political appointee at the agency apparently thought the real thing might look better stuffed and mounted -- so he shot one.

David Smith, a hunter who until last Friday was deputy assistant secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, shot and killed a bison grazing at a friend's ranch in Texas in December 2004. He had the hoofs made into bookends and kept the skull, wrapped in taxidermy packaging, in the garage of his home.

He broke no laws by shooting the semi-domesticated animal in the head with a rifle from 50 yards away. But in a new report, Interior Department Inspector General Earl Devaney found Smith violated rules banning federal officials from accepting gifts from people who are regulated by, or might do business with, their agency.
So of course that made me think about another "mighty" Buffalo Hunter — Richard Pombo. A couple of years ago, Pombo participated in his own buffalo hunt, this one a fundraiser for his political action committee which was staged in his honor by the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota. The tribe opened their reservation and their herd to anyone who was willing to donate a hefty $5,000 to Pombo’s Rich-PAC. Those who wanted to come early were, as a bonus, invited to an extra day of prairie dog hunting.

Prairie dog hunting?

Aren’t those the cute little critters who are wait-listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act? Well, it turns out that the history of the prairie dog is strikingly similar to that of the buffalo. Once numbering in the millions, prairie dogs now stand on the brink of elimination. But rather than trying to prevent their extinction, ranchers are hoping to see this other symbol of the Great Plains disappear because of their belief that the prairie dogs lower their profits by competing with cattle for rangeland grasses.

But there are many reasons to work towards preserving prairie dogs:
With the near extermination of prairie dogs, the black footed ferret, the rarest mammal on this continent, is down to just a few pairs, most in the Conata Basin in the Badlands of South Dakota, where ranchers and politicians are doing their best to eliminate what prairie dogs remain.

Everything is there for a reason. The rattlesnake eats the prairie dog, the hawk eats the rattlesnake. Or, the ferret eats the prairie dog and is consumed by the swift fox, which is eaten by the coyote. And even though most of the remaining prairie dogs reside on public lands, a loud and persistent call to exterminate them continues.

Ranchers say the prairie dogs eat the grass intended for cattle. But just as the spotted owl wasn’t responsible for the loss of timber jobs, neither is the prairie dog responsible for harm to livestock. Researcher Dan Uresk of the US Forest Service in Rapid City, SD has produced numerous studies that show cattle gain weight faster in prairie dog towns than on rangeland…and he also found that the easiest way to attract prairie dogs…is to overgraze grasslands.

Thus, the need for the Endangered Species Act.
The Rosebud Sioux see it differently, and thus their offer to stage a prairie dog/buffalo hunt benefiting Richard Pombo:

U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo will hunt a Rosebud member's bison herd April 19 as part of a $5,000-per-person fund-raiser, the tribe announced. Pombo is chairman of the House Resources Committee, which oversees Native American affairs and environmental issues. [...]

Pombo is a leading advocate of revising the Endangered Species Act to take economic effects into account. The act is a possible impediment to Rosebud's efforts to control prairie dogs, which reduce the grazing value on as many as 50,000 acres there.

[Pombo spokesman Brian] Kennedy said Pombo would relish taking up the subject.
That’s just what the Tribe was hoping for when they offered to host the fundraiser:
Rosebud Tribe spokeswoman Rose Lafferty said the tribe was hosting Pombo largely to introduce him to issues affecting the reservation. But she also understood there were inevitable political overtones.[…]

"For us, it's not so much a campaign or fund raising as it is getting Chairman Pombo to come to our reservation," she said. "We hope he'll remember us when he gets back to Washington."
So how did it all turn out? Well, an April 20, 2004, article in the local paper, the Argus Leader, gave this version of the hunt:
[Tribal president Charles] Colombe and other tribal members took the opportunity to tell Pombo about problems on the Rosebud Indian Reservation such as underfunded health care, flaws in federal education law and prairie dogs.

And Pombo took the opportunity to hunt a bull from the tribe's buffalo herd, which ranges on about 10,000 acres of deeply rolling, pine-studded hills near the Little White River. […]

At a press agent's insistence, the tribe barred reporters from watching the hunt or the ceremony that followed. But observers said Pombo hit the bull with one shot from a 7-millimeter rifle from about 75 yards, and the bull ran a good distance before dying.
Just as a side note, what is it with these Republican politicians and their love of shooting semi-domesticated animals from close range?

Anyway, continuing on from the Argus article:
[Tribal member Russell] Eagle Bear also brought up the growing prairie dog population, which the tribe says reduces the value of its grazing land.

Pombo is a leading proponent of revising the Endangered Species Act, which protects a species dependent on the prairie dog, the black-footed ferret. Environmentalists have proposed the prairie dog itself for listing as endangered.

Pombo said he supports direct congressional appropriations to tribes for prairie dog and ferret management. Rosebud received $500,000 through that channel last year. He also said the prairie dog does not appear endangered in South Dakota.
Subsequently, as we all well know, Pombo pushed legislation through the House to destroy the Endangered Species Act. Looks like the Rosebud Sioux got their money’s worth.

The only question is if, as David Smith just learned, there are “rules banning federal officials from accepting gifts from people who are regulated by, or might do business with, their agency,” why has there been no federal investigation of this exchange of favors between Richard Pombo and the Rosebud Sioux?


Blogger Jack Ryan said...

I think McNerney beats Pombo if he hammers him on three main issues:

1. Rising Oil Prices and Support for Bush's reckless policy in the Middle East

2. Pombo's ties to Abramoff. I've written more about this here.

3. Pombo's anti-environmental positions. The reason I list this third is because it's the first two issues that can attract support from independents, moderates, and cross-over voters. The third helps mobilize McNerney's base.

3:32 PM, July 24, 2006  

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