From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 5, Number 13 - 11/22/00
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

The List
The Cook Tent
by Russell Nelson

I am sitting in my pickup in the parking lot at the Marbleton Fire Station. Perhaps twenty other people, predominantly unshaven Caucasian males like me, are also here. The temperature was well below zero this morning, austere and beautiful as this November cold snap has been. People bleakly mill about in small clusters, stoically bent to their purpose, the over-riding tone is one of anticipation. No, it is not Election Day: as I write this America is divided along politico-ideological lines in a power transfer situation reminiscent of a Smothers Brothers dialog.

None of the crowd growing here today seems concerned about that; it is as far from their consciousness as spring. This group is assembling with purpose borne of failure- behind the vacant stares are empty freezers: this is a last ditch effort to get a license to kill. Today, one hundred permits will be given out allowing hunters to shoot cow or calf elk on private ground from now until the end of January (with the blessing of ranchers who are sick and tired of fighting them off their stack yards every winter). These permits are going out on a first come basis; this event is also about staking one's claim. Early on two men had started a list of names in order of arrival. This document becomes a tool, justification for inclusion in the allocation of a limited resource. In contention, it is not sanctioned by the State, but is the fabrication of those individuals arriving first wishing to preserve their claim. On one level, it may be viewed as a caricature of larger growth and development issues. As the day wears on, the list comes to embody the essence of politics- on one hand the collective desire to impose order on anarchy, and on the other the striving of individuals for positions of power within that order.

Before noon the crowd has grown to over 200, and is taking on the feel of a Detroit picket, maybe a Russian bread line. Several claim the list is invalid. Others respond that they will have a fight if they try to break the line. With saber rattling from both sides, it occurs to me that the midst of a crowd this size bent on legitimized gunplay is not the best place to shoot off one's mouth, so I remain silent, watching American democracy and Wyoming sportsmen in action. The Fish and Game range biologists are merely there to dangle the carrot, not to regulate tranquility, so it comes down to the Sheriff's Office to see to it that no one gets hurt. This they do very smoothly, and in the face of sanctions and plummeting mercury as the sun dips behind the building, the shouting subsides and order prevails, for the remainder of the day.

Today could very well have devolved into real violence, but for the intervention of authority. The anthropologist in me wants to know why, and the conflict resolutionist wonders how to avoid it in the future. Today's high levels of emotion probably derive from the competitive spirit engendered in sporting events, and encouraged by society. The Fish and Game wanted to pass the opportunity of an extended hunting season to the people of Wyoming, for which they are to be commended. They could have imposed order in any number of ways. They could have billed it as a drawing rather than first come, first served. If it's got to be a first come event, send someone to the fire station first thing in the morning, take names until there are 100 people inside. Maybe, make a pot of coffee. Give all of them the lecture, their packets, and send them on their way. It would be done by noon. Have lunch and go scout for poachers. On the other hand, with over a thousand animals surplus, would there be any real harm in issuing 200 rather than 100 permits? Charged by the state with managing our wildlife, they could cull the surplus animals themselves, turning the meat over to the poor. As the stewards of a public resource, they would welcome thoughtful input from you, the public. As administrators, they may do it differently next year. As I drove my kids to school the next day, I was thankful the scene of yesterday's disquietude was just the Marbleton Fire Station today.

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