Saturday, March 03, 2007
Yesterday morning I was taking my regular pre-opening walk around the battlefield. I'd done a couple of miles and I decided to hike down the Roulette Farm trail from the Mumma farmstead. After pausing to give an early morning greeting the Mumma sheep (who were quite unresponsive) I turned overland following the trail toward the Roulette farm. Two hundred yards down the trail I was startled by something I'd heard of but had not seen until that morning.
To my left a deer was thrashing in fear, it's right rear hoof caught in the the upper strand of wire in the fence. This deer, a yearling, was completely vulnerable and totally freaked by my approach. I made what ever soothing sounds I could as I examined the situation. Try as I might, without a wire cutter, I couldn't extricate that deer. Now, I didn't press the issue, a prey animal is a prey animal, and deer or rabbit, they will thrash in a frenzy to get away. Deer usually pull so hard in their panic that they dislocate their leg in a situation like this. I backed off after a hasty assessment of the situation and made tracks back to the visitor's center which was just opening for the morning. Unlocking the front door I made a beeline to the telephone. "What's up?" ranger Brian asked. I told him what I had encountered as I dialed the park law enforcement number. Brian said "those situations don't usually end well". Sounds ominous but it's true.
I reached a Natural Resources ranger who said she'd send someone right out. I continued on to the Smith house to change into my uniform and start my ranger day.
Returning to the Visitor's Center twenty minutes later I made my way past the main counter. Ranger Christie told me that Natural Resources called with good news - a ranger with a wire cutters showed up and, after two clips, the deer, freaked but uninjured, bounded away into the brush.
What I'm left with is this observation: for as large as a deer is, and they get pretty big, the prey mentality in a deer is just as frantic and as urgent as it is in a rabbit. It was sobering to come face to face with another animal that probably outweighed me and was stronger than me, and see that it was in terror for its life, because of me.
Yesterday was a happy ending, but every day in nature is a crap shoot.
Today a call came in from a park neighbor about a shattered deer that had been hit by a car and was struggling to drag itself toward cover. " Would you please send a ranger to put it out of it's misery!" the caller pleaded. Five minutes later, a law enforcement ranger was on the scene.
Sometimes a wire cutter will solve the problem, this was not one of those times. The ranger acted quickly, efficiently, and in a very humane manner. And that deer no longer suffers.
Public lands management is more than campfire talks, hikes, and smiling rangers that always (always) wave when you drive by.
Life's pretty real here, in your National Park, just north of Sharpsburg.