Transcript

582:

When the Beasts Come Marching In
Transcript

Originally aired 03.11.2016

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/582

Prologue.

Ira Glass

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass.

Dick Paterniti

See, now these these are new. These I hadn't seen before.

Ira Glass

Those are big. That one's probably two inches wide.

Dick Paterniti

The other one's a good inch.

Ira Glass

I'm in suburban Connecticut, and an 83-year-old man, Dick Paterniti, is showing me the holes that woodpeckers have made in his house. For over two decades, he's been replacing shingles and patching these holes. For over two decades, he has been aggravated by their birdy jackhammer noise. For over two decades, he's tried all kinds of things to get them to leave his house alone; like, for instance, the plastic owl that he bought.

Dick Paterniti

What I did was I rigged a pulley system where I put a pulley at either corner of the house.

Ira Glass

So up at the height of that window there?

Dick Paterniti

Yes. Well, 15 to 20 feet in the air at the height of the second story window. And then I looped it from one end of the house to the other, going through pulleys on both sides. And I hooked--

Ira Glass

He hung the owl on the rope and pulled him from side to side using the pulleys. He did this because he learned through bitter experience that just putting the owl at the top of a ladder didn't work. After about a week, the woodpecker realized that the plastic owl was not a threat to it in any way. And it not only returned, once Dick came outside and saw the owl and a woodpecker--

Dick Paterniti

It was sitting on his head.

Ira Glass

So the woodpecker won that round.

Dick Paterniti

It won that round, yeah.

Ira Glass

This man, Dick Paterniti, was at IBM for years. Did integrated planning and strategic planning. And when he latches onto a problem, he takes it on with a breathtaking thoroughness. Regular listeners to our program might remember his years-long search to figure out the origin of a piece of music that he would hear when he was put on hold at his local hospital. And he's tackled this woodpecker situation with a kind of "leave no stone unturned" 1960s engineering mentality that got a man on the moon.

He showed me articles highlighted in multiple colors about the birds. He showed me a table full of gear and chemicals, foam to fill holes in his house, aluminum flashing. But also metal pie tins that he would hang from strings. And colored streamers, on the theory that that scares woodpeckers away because everybody knows woodpeckers hate tacky [BLEEP]. They like a nice, classy house. Kidding.

Dick Paterniti

I think it works because of movement and because of the reflectiveness. I've also used balloons. But you know, when you get balloons hanging on your house, all around the house, people are saying, what's going on here, you know? It's a perpetual birthday party or something.

Ira Glass

Wait, how long did you do the balloons?

Dick Paterniti

I didn't do the balloons for long, but I had them in there for a couple weeks.

Ira Glass

His latest idea, while the woodpecker's been away this winter, a hawk showed up in his yard. Hawks are natural predators for woodpeckers. Just hearing a hawk's call he thinks should be enough to scare woodpeckers away.

Dick Paterniti

So I am thinking now as my forward plan of making an alliance with the hawk and seeing whether I can entice him to come more often. Because if he comes, the woodpeckers will not come. So we're working on that as one of our forward strategies.

Ira Glass

Which of course raises the question, how exactly do you form an alliance with a hawk? Stocking his yard with mice or with rabbits seemed to Dick like it crossed the line into crazy town. Putting up peanut butter might just attract rats. And do hawks even eat peanut butter?

So Dick's back up plan, if the hawk doesn't stick around for the summer, is to rig up some kind of audio playback gear and a loudspeaker to play prerecorded hawk sounds.

Dick Paterniti

But it is a terrible sound of a shrieking hawk and a distressed woodpecker. So now my plan for this spring is going to be very extensive. It's going to be broad-based, multi-faceted.

Ira Glass

So you're very aware of the bird. Does the bird know you exist?

Dick Paterniti

I don't think so. As a matter of fact, sometime I'll go out in the morning and I'll yell at him or clap my hands and he'll just continue and just not even pay attention. I'm sort of incidental in his life. He's thinking about food and a mate.

Ira Glass

Dick's son told me, Dick overthinks everything and the bird doesn't think anything at all. The bird doesn't care. And that's maybe why the bird is winning. The bird's in charge.

Today on our program, "When the Beasts Come Marching In," we human beings think we run the world. We think we've got things under control. And then an animal shows up, and things do not go like we planned.

We have three stories today. Seals and wolves, and a moose dropping in on our human lives and showing us who is not the boss. Stay with us.

Act One. Beaching and Moaning.

Ira Glass

Act One, Beaching and Moaning.

And even when an animal's not a pest-- not chewing up homes, not spreading disease, not biting average citizens. Even when an animal is pretty much universally loved, it can still wreak havoc when it arrives in our world. James Spring has this example. A community of seals, harbor seals, in La Jolla, California, near San Diego.

Note that the version of this story that we're putting online and as a podcast includes some curse words that we have unbeeped. If you prefer a beeped version of our show, you can find that at our website, ThisAmericanLife.org. Now here's James.

James Spring

I feel like it all starts with their little noses, so cute. Soft and rubbery like a pony's. And their stubby flippers, their plump little bodies like speckled bean bags.

Visitors come from all over the world to watch the harbor seals of La Jolla wiggle across the white sand of a little beach called Children's Pool. It's called Children's Pool, because back in 1931 the city built a seawall along a curved peninsula to make a protected cove for children. And it totally worked. I played there when I was a kid. I didn't drown even once.

There weren't any seals back then. But later, in the mid-80s when I was a teenager, they started to come ashore at night. Just a few at first, and then a bunch.

One night, my friend Tom and I ended up at the Children's Pool after a Wang Chung concert. Don't judge me. It was late.

I feel like there were maybe 20 seals on the sand and I sat down next to the small one. And he looked up at me and I kind of reached out with my hand. And then he totally leaned into it with his neck, like a cat. And I thought, oh, rad. The seals like us.

Then I went away to college to become a marine biologist. It didn't work out. Then a whole bunch of other stuff didn't work out either and I moved away. And when I came back years later, the Children's Pool was a very different place.

Woman

Get off the beach!

Crowd

Get off the beach!

Woman

Get off the beach!

Crowd

Get off the beach!

Woman

Get off--

James Spring

The beach is only 150 feet wide, and by the winter of 2010 it was covered with seals. They'd pretty much taken over half the sand and established a permanent rookery here. That's what it's called, a rookery. It's where they give birth and nurse their pups.

And people loved to come here and sunbathe and swim and take selfies with the seals. And everybody seemed happy. Except for this one group of activists that believed that humans shouldn't be on the beach at all, that it was bad for the seals.

Some of them wore these matching blue shirts and they had laminated badges. They looked official. They patrolled the sand, calling themselves docents, like in a museum.

But they were really there to discourage people from putting down their towels and coolers. They'd tell visitors that the seals needed to be left alone. And they tried to shame them into leaving, or at least keeping their distance.

Woman

Because you're scaring them away. Excuse me.

Man

It's OK. It's a public beach.

Woman

No, it's not OK to harass the seals. It's against the law.

Man

That is not harassing the seals. We can go on the sand. I can go on the sand.

James Spring

The activists set up camp on a sidewalk at the top of the steep steps leading down to the sand. They just had a folding table with signs and flyers. And they would yell down at anybody they thought was too close to the harbor seals. They also used video cameras to document people getting close to the animals. And then they'd upload the videos to YouTube and Facebook, like the ones you're listening to right now.

Woman

Get that off the beach!

Woman

Come on! Let the seals get up there!

James Spring

Bryan Pease is one of the leaders of the seal activists, but he's not one of the yell-y ones. He's more deliberate. An attorney who founded the Animal Protection and Rescue League after he moved here 12 years ago.

Bryan Pease

At that time, there were news reports that people had been seen stabbing seals and burning them with their cigarette butts and things like that. So really extreme stuff that people had claimed to have witnessed. I don't know that any of that was actually substantiated. But this was the climate at the time that it had been in the media that this was occurring.

So the first time I went there was actually at night. And I remember there was a guy who went up to the seals and started dancing around and just kind of annoying them. And then the seals left. They flushed in the water.

James Spring

"Flushed" is actually a scientific word. When the seals get scared, they all do this sort of wiggle stampede back into the water. Biologists call it flushing. And to Bryan and the other seal activists, flushing the seals is abuse, especially during the pupping season when the mothers are nursing their young.

Bryan Pease

If you flush them, it's interfering with their biological-- it'd be like if you're sleeping and somebody came in and shook you awake and told you to leave your house or something. It's just disruptive. And it's never like an extreme thing where somebody is running up and they start clubbing a seal, or something like that. It's more of this incremental, like, people want to-- well, how close can I get?

And they keep kind of inching forward. And you're just thinking, oh, just a couple more minutes they're going to flush all the seals away. And it's like you're just waiting for this to happen. You know it's going to happen and it always does happen.

Woman

Yep, there they go.

Man

Boo!

Woman

There they go.

Woman

You're harassing the seals!

James Spring

Flushing the seals is also illegal. It's a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, a federal law that prohibits the hunting and harassment of any marine mammal. That part about harassment though is where interpretations seemed to vary. Because when the seals flushed, they always came back.

The harbor seal rookery here was thriving. Most people liked the seals. Locals had been sharing this beach with them for 20 years. But now these activists were walking around with megaphones, telling everybody that they couldn't be down on the sand or in the water, yelling. And if anybody disagreed with the activists or their methods, they were branded seal haters.

Some of the locals began to talk about how to best handle this. They decided to form their own group. Set up their own tables at the beach, with their own flyers and banners.

Their goal in all this was just to make sure that the beach stayed open to people. That they could keep sharing it with the seals. And these newly minted "shared use" advocates, they were done taking orders from the seal activists. So if you happened to show up at the beach on a Saturday with your kids and a picnic basket, you would see the two opposing sides, pro-seal and shared use. And they were ready to rumble.

Bryan Pease

The city council actually voted to close this beach during pupping season--

James Spring

This is that pro-seal attorney guy, Bryan Pease.

Bryan Pease

And you can make donations. You can sign up for our email list. You can buy a t-shirt or a seal toy.

All these other booths that are set up here are either here just to make money-- that's the tie-dye booths. Or, in the case of this booth in the corner over here, actually here to oppose the seals. They're selling seal toys, but they're actually against the seals.

Man

We're opposing you!

Woman

That is so stupid!

Man

We are opposing you!

Woman

Look at you! Look how stupid you look.

James Spring

This is how it usually went down. Talking led to yelling. And the yelling led to just a cacophonous din of outrage.

It seemed like everybody in San Diego took a hard-line stance, and they all fell into one of these two camps. Both sides dished out a lot of propaganda. The shared use people would say that the seals were never in any jeopardy, that the activists' crusade was nothing but an elaborate scam. Here's a shared use guy talking into the camera of a seal activist.

Man

What are you saving them from? No response. What are you saving them from?

This is a seal "crookery," as far as I'm concerned. You are here stealing money from tourists. You are conning them out of their hard-earned money that they come here on vacation and claiming to say that you're saving seals.

James Spring

This was a common claim made by the shared use people, that the whole pro-seal movement was just a way to rake in a bunch of cash. Bryan Pease, the pro-seal guy who started the Animal Protection and Rescue League, says that the money collected through donations was barely enough to hire a nighttime security guard.

But the other part is kind of true. The seals were not endangered. In fact, on the International List of Threatened Species, harbor seals are classified as a species of least concern, the exact same designation that's give to the common pigeon and to the house rat.

But the rallying chant of most seal activists was that shared use is abuse-- any shared use. And that the shared use people were animal haters, that they just wanted the seals gone. But if you actually talked to a shared use advocate, they'd tell you something different.

Kent Trego

I never had any problems with the seals. I never had any problems with the seals.

James Spring

This is Kent Trego. He's a consultant at Coastal Environments and he started a research-based organization called the Nautilus Oceanic Institute. He's published more than 50 scientific papers. He also swam at the children's pool as a kid back in the 1960s. He's been sort of a voice of reason for the shared use side.

Kent Trego

Everybody that I know likes the animals. The divers enjoy swimming with them. But they're making a fuss for whatever.

James Spring

The seal activists, he means.

Kent Trego

And they're disturbing the peace. They're violating people's civil rights by harassing them in a public area. Tourist stuff-- they don't want to listen to that. They don't want to hear that. They don't want kids seeing that, you know?

And you could draw a similar situation in a similar [INAUDIBLE]. So let's say there's a public park you took your kids to and somebody came along and said, you people can't be here. This is the rare something something ground squirrel habitat and you're bothering them.

And you'd probably go, are you out of your mind? This is a public park. I mean, maybe there is an issue, but they're spewing all this and being antagonistic towards you or your kids.

Down there one day I was there. I was talking to this one guy and this little girl-- she's got to be six. His daughter comes running up, crying. And she said, that man came after me. She points to this guy--

James Spring

A pro-seal activist.

Kent Trego

And this guy's running up the beach and says, keep your kid away from the seals. I'm watching this and I'm going, who the hell is this guy? The father is incensed. And he's yelling at the guy, what are you doing around my daughter?

She was. She was terrified. She's screaming. It was that kind of incident where it just shocks you. You don't see that thing. There's a guy chasing a child?

James Spring

There were definitely times in when you'd see kids in the videos walk right up to the seals and try to pet them and the pro-seal activists would lose their minds.

Man

Get your kid in check! Whoever's kid is in the pink, keep them away from the seal!

[SHOUTING]

James Spring

As the years dragged on, more and more of these confrontations were ending up in court. And Bryan Pease began to spend a lot of his time there defending pro-seal activists who'd been arrested or had been issued citations. And he was also bringing civil cases against the other side, shared use advocates who'd been arrested during confrontations with pro-seal folks. At a certain point, he stopped going to the children's pool altogether. He says it just stressed him out too much.

Bryan Pease

I tried to stay out of most of it. I mean, sometimes I would be down there. But generally it's not very productive to be engaging in shouting matches with people that just don't agree with you. That's why they call it the "Children's Pool," right? Because that's where adults go to act like children.

James Spring

Kent Trego, our marine science-y shared use guy, didn't engage in all the fighting either. He just tried to educate the public with a little logic and some biology 101. And he went about it in sort of a quaint bygone way that he hoped might rise above the shouts of the angry mob. He wrote letters to the local editors.

The papers printed the letters with Kent's name and his title. And then the hate mail started to roll in, threatening phone calls and emails. By Kent's count, more than 200 of them.

James Spring

Were they anonymous?

Kent Trego

Yeah, they were anonymous. "We know who you are. We know you want to get rid of the seals." That's what certain people would say to me.

"We know you're in a plot and that the city's involved." I don't know if they're kidding, or if they got problems, that they're drunk, if they're on drugs. I don't know.

James Spring

How did you respond to that?

Kent Trego

You don't respond. What I was told by my attorney and other people, you don't talk to those people. If there's an incidence like that, you report it to the police. And the police got called a lot. And then they get tired of coming down there, you know?

James Spring

At the height of the conflict in 2013, the San Diego Police Department responded to 227 calls at the Children's Pool. And it seems like neither camp was really consulting the Dictionary before they tossed around words like "abuse," and "harassment," and "assault."

In one video, a cop arrives on the scene to find a shared use lady in her 60s and that Middle Eastern guy holding a skateboard and a camera. The lady's saying that the seal activists are blocking her from sitting on a bench. Then the skater's filming it, and she kind of just glancingly brushes the camera away and the cop's watching all this happen.

Man

Don't touch me! You touched me.

Policeman

Ma'am, if you assault him--

Man

Sir, she touched me.

Policeman

Yeah, I saw that. It was brutal. I know. The way she touched you was brutal. You're in pain.

James Spring

That's the cop. He's being sarcastic.

Man

Yes, I am in pain.

Policeman

You're doing fine. Now, just try to take a relax there.

Man

I'm trying.

Policeman

OK, just relax.

Man

I'm trying.

Woman

I touched his arm to get the camera out of my face. I find it very intimidating to have a camera in my face.

James Spring

The cop, at this point, has had enough.

Policeman

OK, this is all very childish. In my opinion, it really is. It's very childish.

Woman

It's a loss. Give up.

Policeman

I said very childish. Have you got that on camera?

James Spring

Everybody was filming everybody. It was like a standoff with camcorders and cellphones. A bunch of videos just show a closeup of a face holding a video camera pointing right back, filling the frame. It's like the worst art film of all time. Like in this video, the shared use guy's being all pushy with his camera.

Man

Can you say what you just said out loud? Why do you talk under your breath?

Man

Why don't you stop intimidating her?

Man

Why do you talk under your breath?

Man

Why don't you stop intimidating her?

Woman

Can you please stay--

Man

--louder so I can get a recording.

Woman

Would you please stay back from me? I really feel like you're invading my privacy right now.

Man

Stay back. You're annoying us and invading our privacy. And I'm asking you politely now to move away.

Woman

You're almost touching me. You're, like, less than a foot away.

Man

I'm just here to report what she's telling the public.

Man

She's talking to me privately.

James Spring

The two sides became so fixated on their hatred for each other, that in a lot of videos they don't even mention the seals. One morning it's cold and foggy on the beach, and a 70-year-old pro-seal activist just has had enough of a shared use guy who's filming her. And she charges right up to his camera.

Man

So you're spitting on me now, huh? That's battery.

Woman

I didn't touch you.

Man

You spit on me.

Woman

You're harassing me.

Man

You spit on me.

Woman

I did. I spit on your camera.

Man

No, you spit on me, right in the forehead.

Woman

Poor boy.

James Spring

At a certain point, the factions had been battling so long that they knew each other by name, knew where each other lived and worked. And the attacks were becoming more personal, the threats more vicious.

Man

--and illegal.

Woman

Back away from us right now, you disgusting little turd.

Man

And you're a fucking bitch!

Woman

Piss off!

Man

And somebody needs to fucking kill you!

Woman

Yeah, you want to kill me? Why don't you give it a try? Why don't you give it a try?

Man

Don't let me catch you in an alley sometime.

Woman

Oh, really? How about it?

James Spring

People on the shared use side had always accused the seal activists of valuing the lives of animals over people, and now the sentiment began to ring more true. This one's a little hard to hear.

Man

Don't get too close to the seals or I'll make your life miserable.

James Spring

He said, don't get too close to the seals or I'll make your life miserable.

Man

I'll bring my guns here.

James Spring

I'll bring my guns here.

Man

I'll fuck you all up!

James Spring

And I'll fuck you all up.

Throughout this war, the pro-seal camp had a unique weapon on their side-- the power of the federal government. And at some point they really began to brandish it. The feds could arrest or issue citations to anyone who violates the Marine Mammal Protection Act. So the seal activists would film people as they harassed the seals or drove them from the beach.

Woman

These are the lads that went for the swim.

James Spring

And then they would keep the camera rolling and they'd get all shaky--

Man

Cover your license plate.

James Spring

--as they chased the lawbreakers all the way back to their car.

Man

Cover your license plate.

James Spring

--to record their license plate.

Woman

Already got it.

James Spring

And then when they had it, the activists would turn over the video to the National Marine Fishery Service and the feds would issue fines of $500 to anybody who made the seals flush. It was an incident like this one that brought the seal war to one of its darkest hours.

Bryan Pease

So you really want me to read this?

James Spring

Read this all.

Bryan Pease

I guess I was the first one who read it.

James Spring

One day Bryan Pease received an e-mail that was addressed to one of his volunteers. It was a threat. The volunteer, a young woman who's identified only as "witness" in the federal court documents, had filmed the license plate of a pair of scuba divers who'd flushed some seals when that came up on the beach. Bryan read me the email.

Bryan Pease

OK, "Two divers who used the children's pool in September have been cited by federal wildlife marshals for disturbing the seals. Witness was apparently the one who turned them in. The problem is now that revenge will be taken out on witness."

James Spring

The e-mail continues. "Many of the local divers have close friends in the California motorcycle clubs. Motorcycle club members have been contacted about witness and she will be dealt with very harshly, if she is not killed.

They know that if she's not in San Diego, she may be found in San Francisco. Either San Diego or Oakland hit hogs will be involved in her punishment. She's brought this on herself." And then it's signed, "Biker Bobbie," with an "IE." Probably the least threatening Hell's Angels nickname of all time, but still.

James Spring

The woman who was threatened, was she scared?

Bryan Pease

Oh, she was terrified. Yeah. And I know her mother is also involved in the pro-seal protection campaign. And she'd said that their whole family was scared for quite a while. So it was pretty serious.

James Spring

Biker Bobbie emailed two other threats to the Animal Protection and Rescue League. In one, he threatened to burn down the organization's store front and to bomb a coffee shop. Bryan Pease turned the e-mails over to authorities.

The female volunteer, the one who was singled out with the death threat, the one who'd sent the video of the two scuba divers to the National Marine Fishery Service, she was considered a federal witness. And threatening a federal witness is a federal crime. So the FBI got involved. They tracked the e-mail sender's IP address to a public library about five blocks away from the children's pool. The feds had Biker Bobbie in the crosshairs.

Bryan Pease

Now, what he did was he went to the public library he had an account called deathtosealwatch@yahoo.com. And then he would log into his personal account like two seconds later, so that's how they caught him.

James Spring

And when they confronted the author of the e-mails, it turned out he was not an actual biker, nor was he a Bobbie. He was a scientist.

Kent Trego

Yeah, I sent them. Yeah, I sent them out of anger.

James Spring

It was our marine science guy, Kent Trego.

Kent Trego

I regretted it, regretted it, regretted it after I did it. It just built up on me. It was just one of those moments. But it was all words. There was never any intentions to hurt anybody.

James Spring

Kent remembers being at the children's pool on that day when the seal activist filmed the license plate of his two scuba diver pals. But he says he doesn't remember much else. He couldn't tell me any details from that day. Says he can't remember what he wrote in the emails. Even talking about it now, it makes him squirm pretty good.

Kent Trego

It wasn't meant to be a real threat or anything like that.

James Spring

I mean, obviously, the person receiving it on the other side would take it a little differently. I mean, the plan, I'm guessing, was just to scare them back, to brush them back?

Kent Trego

But I mean, I didn't even-- as far as I recall, the content wasn't even meant to scare anybody. It was just more of a reaction.

James Spring

You were pretty direct about some stuff.

Kent Trego

Yeah, like I said, I don't remember what I said, but I shouldn't have said it. But no, I didn't have any intention of hurting anybody. It's not a common sense reaction.

James Spring

Things started to come into sharper focus after he was arrested by federal agents as he walked back to his car from the beach. Kent pled guilty to the charge of threatening a federal witness. He served four and a half months in federal prison, and then another six months of house arrest. He was banned from using a computer for a couple of years, and ordered to stay away from the children's pool.

He took full responsibility for his actions. He apologized to the victim in court. He sent a letter of apology to the Animal Protection and Rescue League.

I tried to push Kent for details, for an explanation, just why he did it. Was there a chain of events, a final straw? He couldn't really give me a clear reason.

Kent Trego

It was just, I guess just felt like you wanted to get even for some reason, or whatever, or do something.

James Spring

I do know, because I'm a human being. And I mean, really, who hasn't taken things a step or two further than maybe they should have? Like one time, I've got this neighbor. He's like a half block away from me. And on hot summer days, he'd blast his music really loud. And it was always Alice in Chains, a band that I used to love before this.

Anyway, my daughter Addie, she was less than two, 18 months, and she was a light sleeper. And it was already hard to get her down for naps. And then Alice in Chains would start rattling the neighborhood.

Addie starts crying, so I run to the neighbor's house and pound on the door. The guy doesn't answer, so I call the cops. They show up and shut the neighbor down.

Next day, same thing. It happened like six more times. Eventually the cops stopped responding. Nobody else seemed to care.

And the sound blasting out of the neighbor's stereo made something come loose inside me. I went to my bedroom and unlocked my gun case and I loaded a revolver. And I walked out in my backyard to the corner closest to the music and bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! I fired four shots into the dirt.

My wife is screaming at me. And it hits me like all at once-- I'm the guy who's terrorizing the neighborhood. My wife didn't speak to me for a week. So I get it. Everybody has their limits-- all of us.

James Spring

Tell me about the stun gun.

Bryan Pease

Well, I'm happy to talk about that. I'm so sick of talking about it that I didn't bring it up. But you guys have turned over every rock in this.

James Spring

Yep, even our animal protecting, confrontation avoiding attorney, Bryan Pease. One of his fellow seal activists, a woman, had been raking seaweed one day at the children's pool trying to create a mound or a barrier so she could tell visitors to stay behind it. And there was this 55-year-old shared use guy who was kicking away the seaweed line and just being a jerk.

Bryan Pease

She called me and told me that he's drunk. He's harassing the seals. He's harassing her. Can you do something? So I said, all right, I'm going to come down there. And I brought this thing for protection.

James Spring

"The thing" being the stun gun. Now, Bryan went out of his way to explain that it wasn't technically a stun gun. This point was really important to him. Says he had an expert witness declare it not a stun gun. But it says stun gun on the package, and that's how the newspapers reported it. In any case, when he got down to the beach, the seaweed kicker confronted him.

Bryan Pease

And then I'm standing kind of near where this kelp line is, and he's just going back and forth from the kelp and the dumping it in the water. And then he comes back, picks up another two handfuls full of kelp.

And he goes, oh, you want some of this? And he just slings it right in my face, just whips it right at me. So that's when I pulled out the device which I now know is not a stun gun, but it was a deterrent device. And I pushed him back with it. He admitted in the police report that he was not shocked through his thick sweatshirt.

James Spring

You brought this device down there. You had a reason, and then you felt emboldened enough to use it, right?

Bryan Pease

From my perspective, I was enforcing the law. I mean, he's harassing seals. He's harassing people. And he attacked me. And I was using reasonable force to defend myself.

James Spring

Anyway, the two men grappled and went to the ground.

Bryan Pease

And I think I pinned him down. And I was saying, call the police. He was drunk. He was agitated. I mean, he was just being belligerent.

Yeah, so I guess when you ask what would I have done over again, I probably would have just pinned him down again. But the stun gun would not have been-- I call it a stun gun, but it's really not. This zapping device would not have been involved.

James Spring

Bryan was the one who was arrested. He pled no contest to assault with a stun gun. Bryan's a smart guy and super thoughtful. But I think he got caught up in his herds mentality, and people here forgot that there are more options than just fight or flight.

Bryan Pease

They went right to their reptilian brain, and the prefrontal cortex kind of got shut off there. Is that what you're saying?

James Spring

Yeah, it feels that way. Like for me, personally, if somebody gets in my face, I don't think about the legal parts of it or whatever. I react from the animal part of me, right?

Bryan Pease

And that's what I did. And that's why I didn't want to go there anymore. It's almost like asking for trouble. So why do it? Why go there?

Kent Trego

The appropriate thing would be just to walk away from it and just be gone.

James Spring

This is Kent again. And on this point, both men agree.

Kent Trego

And that's what I should have done if I had been smart about it. I think that's what people need to do in conflicting situations-- walk away from them. I mean, I'll never be involved in anything like this again, period.

James Spring

In the summer of 2014, the California Coastal Commission voted to completely close the beach at Children's Pool to humans during pupping season from December 15th to May 15th. Bryan and Kent both support this decision. Anybody who wants to see the seals can still watch them from the sidewalk and the sea wall.

And it works. People aren't screaming at each other. Seals aren't being flushed from the beach. During the rest of the year, there's a permanent guideline rope down on the sand to provide a buffer between humans and harbor seals. It's not perfect, but it's a pretty good compromise.

Some of the seal activists are still patrolling the beach during the seven months when it's partially open to the public. And some of the shared use people are mounting a legal campaign to have the Coastal Commission decision overturned. But mostly, it's just nice now.

Girl

Daddy, I see him. Right there.

James Spring

The thing that you don't hear in all those YouTube videos is the sound of the place without the hate, when people are not screaming, and when the sun is shining and the seals are sprawled out across the white sand.

Girl

Look, he's rolling onto his stomach.

James Spring

Sometimes you'll see a mother nursing her pups. It feels like you're being let in on a secret. Like this is how the world is without us.

Girl

He's cute.

James Spring

We as a species are aggressive. We're predatory, territorial. We're pretty selfish.

And here at the Children's Pool, we've got the place surrounded. The seals keep coming back. Clearly, they like it here.

Father

Look, here comes another one up there on that little island.

James Spring

And even though I don't have any evidence or scientific data to prove it, I still think that the seals totally dig us, despite our natures.

Ira Glass

James Spring in San Diego. Final note on the story, a group of the shared use advocates are suing the city of San Diego trying to get the beach opened up again, year round, to humans. A California judge will hear their case later this month.

[MUSIC - "CRAZY" BY SEAL]

Coming up, the most successful animal outlaw the range country out west ever knew. And by that, I mean the animal itself was seen as a criminal. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio, when our program continues.

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today's program, "When the Beasts Come Marching In." We have stories of what happens when animals intrude on the world that we humans have constructed for ourselves. We have arrived at Act Two of our program.

Act Two. Hungry like a USDA Contract Employee.

Ira Glass

Act Two, Hungry Like a US Department of Agriculture Contract Employee.

OK, back in Act 1 of our show, we heard about modern people trying to accommodate the wild animals that just show up in their midst. But of course, back in the day, generally a wild animal showed up, we would just kill it. Take, for example, this press release that the federal government put out nearly 100 years ago.

Michael Chernus

"US Department of Agriculture press release. Monday, January 17, 1921. The Custer wolf is dead. He was the master criminal of the animal world.

For nine years, this wolf had lived as an outlaw. The cruelest. The most sagacious. The most successful animal outlaw that the range country had ever known. His cruelty was surpassed only by his cunning. Here tonight, tomorrow night he devastated a range half a hundred miles away."

Ira Glass

Yes, this is an actual press release from the federal government about the government hiring a guy to kill a wolf. Actor Michael Chernus read it for us.

And some context, wolves used to be common in the mountains out west. But when settlers arrived, we killed off the animals that wolves used to feed on-- bison, elk, deer. And so the wolves turned to livestock, our livestock, for food. We were not into that at all.

So ranchers and the federal government set out to exterminate the wolves. Between 1883 and 1930, more than 80,000 wolves were killed for bounties in Montana alone. And the government wanted everybody to know what a good job they were doing for the taxpayers. And so they put out press releases that include facts, but do not seem constrained by facts. Though it does seem true that this wolf was really good at being a wolf.

Michael Chernus

"He loped through every kind of danger and spurned them all. He sniffed at the subtlest poison and passed it by. And when he killed for food, he took only the choicest animals.

But sometimes he killed in atrocious ways for the mere sake of killing. Often he wounded cattle, breaking their legs, biting off their tails, mutilating them in unspeakable ways. And there was no man throughout that region who did not feel a shiver run down between his shoulder blades when alone or in the dark he thought of this gray devil of the desert.

Four years ago, his mate was killed. He never took another. And many people supposed that he devoted himself to revenge for her death.

Later on he attached to himself two coyotes-- not his equals, but his servants. He never permitted them to come near him. And they could feed from his kills only after he himself had finished. They traveled far out on his flanks, giving him warning of ambush or approaching danger and adding to the atmosphere of mystery that surrounded him."

Ira Glass

OK, I'm just going to jump in here again. This is the federal government sending this out, as a press release. And it says they took nine years to capture this wolf. The wolf operated around Custer, South Dakota. And the fact that they gave him a name, "The Custer Wolf," that was something they did with a lot of notorious wolves back then.

So how did it take nine years? Well, the press release explains the bounty started at $100. And trappers tried. Sportsmen tried.

They used poison. They used dogs. Nobody could kill this wolf.

They raised the bounty higher and higher, year after year, until it was $500. And eight years in, in March of 1920, USDA's Bureau of Biological Survey went to a hunter named H.P. Williams who, I'm picturing-- actually, I'm picturing the shark hunter in the movie Jaws, though I have no facts at all to support that.

Government goes to him with instructions to stay with the wolf until the wolf is killed, no matter how much time it takes. Williams went.

Michael Chernus

And since there is involved in this story the reputation of two geniuses, the criminal genius of the wolf and the protective genius of Williams, it may be just as well to let the account proceed in the language of the animal inspector who reported the facts to the biological survey. And like most outdoor men, he did not want to talk in heroics. Here's the story.

Quote, 'When Williams first went into the country where the wolf ranged he tried to find fresh tracks, but without success. And he asked some of the men who had lost stock just where the wolf made his headquarters in their section. Contrary to their advice, Williams went into the hills west of Pringle and found that the wolf was staying around some old dens in Pilger mountains.

Williams scented up the soles of his shoes and started stringing out his traps. The wolf got on his trail that night and showed signs of great excitement at what he thought to be the presence of a possible mate in his neighborhood.

On April 1st, Williams had his first glimpse of the wolf. He wasn't able to get a shot at him. The coyotes were acting as bodyguards, traveling from 100 to 200 yards on the flanks of their mother. They would warn him of danger by taking flight.

For a while, Williams did not shoot the coyotes, hoping that he would get a chance at the wolf without having to give him warning by the shots that would be necessary to dispatch his bodyguard. Finally, realizing there was no chance of getting at the wolf unless the coyotes were killed, William shot them, hoping that he then had a clear field. In this he was greatly mistaken.

The wolf played hide and seek with him. After making a kill, he would go on some distance, back trail for a few rounds to a point where he could keep under cover and watch the hunter on his trail. Though this is a common habit of a bear, I have never before known a wolf to do it.'"

Ira Glass

The press release continues with more detail about the hunt. My favorite scene in this whole thing is in August. The Custer wolf vanishes for over a month.

And then Williams trails him to a canyon and is right about to shoot him when two guys on horseback ride in at, quote, "breakneck speed," to inform Williams about another animal that was killed by the wolf. And Williams motions for them to go away, but they don't understand what he means. And so basically they make so much noise, they scare away the wolf and Williams loses the wolf again. A month later the wolf gets his foot caught in a trap, but not completely, and he pulls it out. This happens again in October.

Michael Chernus

Williams finally got the wolf on October 11th. Here is his own account of it. Quote, "He stepped into a trap in the morning and it got a good grip on him. He broke the swivel of the trap and ran on with it on his front foot. I trailed him three miles and got a shot at him, and got him. He's been so lucky that I expected the gun would fail to shoot, but it worked OK."

Ira Glass

The Custer wolf was smaller than the average male wolf. Weighed 98 pounds. Measured just six feet, tip to tip. He was an old wolf, with fur that was almost white. "His teeth," the press release notes, "would have been good for 15 years longer."

Thanks to Laurel Braitman who told us about this press release, which is kind of a famous one among wolf people, apparently. She's writing a book about animals outlaws.

[WOLF HOWLING]

[MUSIC - "BIG SCIENCE" BY LAURIE ANDERSON]

Act Three. Weeknight at Bernie's.

Rick Sinnott

Stop me if you've heard this one. A moose walks into a bar in the courtyard of Bernie's Bungalow Lounge. It's totally fenced off with just one or two little gates in it. And I guess they weren't used to seeing moose right there.

Jon Mooallem

That's Rick Sinnott. And that's the call he got late one night about a moose hanging out at a bar in downtown Anchorage; a martini lounge, actually. The moose was humongous. And it wasn't supposed to be at a martini lounge, because it was a moose.

Rick was the guy you'd call for problems like that. For 30 years, his official job description was Wildlife Biologist for the State Fish and Game Department, but really he saw himself as a referee. All around Anchorage, Rick says, you've got this endless scrimmage playing out between people and wild animals all trying to live in the same space. It was up to Rick to manage that coexistence.

And he'd get dozens of calls a day. 800 pound black bears on people's decks. Wolves eating dogs. Years ago, there was an infamous spate of attacks by a cantankerous great horned owl who kept dive bombing skiers with its steak knife talons. But lots of calls didn't really seem like problems Rick needed to rush out and solve.

Rick Sinnott

Someone will say, I need to get to work and there's a moose between me and my car and I can't go out the front door. I wouldn't go out for that unless someone was in a wheelchair or something where they really couldn't go out the back door.

Jon Mooallem

What is your advice?

Rick Sinnott

My advice would be call your boss and tell him you're going to be a few minutes late.

Jon Mooallem

Still, a moose at a bar is a higher order of moose problem. The animal could flip out.

Rick Sinnott

Every moose has sort of a bubble around them, conceptually, where they feel threatened. They also are potentially dangerous. And they don't use their antlers, really, when they attack you. They use their hooves in front, and they're very large and very heavy and very sharp. And they'll knock you down and do a little dance on you.

Jon Mooallem

So Rick got in his truck and headed over to Bernie's. The place isn't the least bit secluded. It's right in the heart of downtown Anchorage, across from the Nordstroms.

And yet, when Rick showed up, the moose was just standing there in the courtyard, stock still, unfazed, even with a crowd of people around it. It was strange. This moose seemed to require zero personal moose space.

Rick Sinnott

He was a big moose. He was probably 1,400 pounds, something like that. And his antlers were, I don't know, at least three feet across from tip to tip, maybe four feet. His knees are locked and he's got this thousand yard stare.

And the only way you can really tell he's alive is you see these great big gouts of steam coming out of his nostrils every time he breathes out. He's just sort of totally out of it. Just standing there, drunk, basically.

Jon Mooallem

Yeah, the moose was hammered.

Rick Sinnott

There's one or two very large crabapple trees in the courtyard. And the crabapples, most of them, had fallen off the trees and they were littering the courtyard, hundreds of them. And they were soft and squishy, definitely fermented.

Jon Mooallem

It's not uncommon, apparently. In winter when there's only twigs to eat, a thick carpet of fallen fruit, even rotting fruit, is a pretty big caloric bonanza for a moose, and they get plastered. A few years ago, reports surfaced from Sweden about a small gang of moose hoodlums, drunk on crabapples, terrorizing homeowners. Outside the bar, Rick and a local newspaper reporter named Julia O'Malley sized up the situation.

Rick Sinnott

And we kind of walked around him and looked at him. And Julia asked me what I was going to do about it. And I said, you know, he's too large to fit in a taxi so we're just going to leave him here until he sort of works it out. He wasn't dangerous. He was drunk, but not disorderly.

Jon Mooallem

Rick let the moose sleep it off. It was all he could do. Julia wrote up the incident in the Anchorage Daily News the next day, a page one story. She gave the moose a nickname.

Rick Sinnott

Buzzwinkle. And we both kind of giggled about that. Normally I don't name animals. But once she named him Buzzwinkle and it was in the paper and everyone started calling him Buzzwinkle, then he became Buzzwinkle and I used the word, too. It's the world's stupidest name for a moose, but that was his name at that point.

Jon Mooallem

The drunk moose instantly became a local celebrity in Anchorage. He was a kind of municipal spirit animal. People started calling Rick all the time, just to say they'd spotted Buzzwinkle clodding around Anchorage. Nothing Rick needed to do, they were just excited-- a star sighting.

As it turns out, though, Rick was into this moose before he was famous. At the bar that night, he'd noticed an orange tag on Buzzwinkle's ear, the kind Rick attaches every time he handles a wild animal. When he got back to his office, he looked up the tag number.

Rick Sinnott

So I realized that we'd dealt with this exact same moose three years before. And that was a case where someone had hung a child's plastic hollow swing. They'd hung it from a tree limb. And he'd been messing with it and gotten himself tangled up.

Jon Mooallem

It had happened in the dead of night. It sounds a bit pathetic. Rick remembered how the swing kept lazily knocking into Buzzwinkle's head as the moose lurched and shrugged, trying to unsnag himself.

Ultimately, Rick had to dart Buzzwinkle with a tranquilizer, then patiently unravel the whole tangle. It was like working through a pair of knotted up ear buds, but the problem was messier-- moosier. And Rick remembered bailing out Buzzwinkle one other time in the same neighborhood. He'd been hitting the crabapples that night, too.

Rick Sinnott

Eating crabapples. On someone's lawn there were several crabapple trees, and he had a bunch of white lights dangling off of him. I don't know, 30 feet or more of white lights dangling off of his antlers.

Jon Mooallem

Turns out this is another common moose problem. Rick saw it all the time. Moose wind up staggering around Anchorage with long trains of Christmas lights trailing behind them, or coaxial cable, or big yellow tether balls on ropes.

Gradually, Rick pieced together that Buzzwinkle was probably the same big Bull moose he'd been seeing around town for years. And the reality was, when he wasn't drunk, Buzzwinkle was actually a pretty canny animal. Street smart, Rick called him.

Rick Sinnott

Buzzwinkle was a really laid back moose. He was super tolerant of people. So that was one of the best things about him.

Jon Mooallem

He was an urban moose. He liked to spend time in the city. He'd come in for the weekend.

Rick Sinnott

He was. Some of our moose are in and out of the city. So they'll come in the winter time and then they'll go back into the mountains.

But this guy probably lived his whole life within a few mile radius of the downtown area. Just kind of walking around on the sidewalks and sometimes walking down the middle of the road. He was good, though, because if there wasn't much traffic, he would just assume the road was for him and he wouldn't walk on the sidewalk. But if there was a lot of traffic, he would use crosswalks.

He'd wait for the light. At least I saw him do this once, and I'm generalizing here a little bit. But he'd kind of stand on the sidewalk and watch the light. And when the car stopped, he'd walk across the crosswalk.

Jon Mooallem

Picture that for a second. The moose would walk across the crosswalk, with the light. It's a classic story. A guy from the sticks, learning the ways of the big city. Keeping his head down. Trying to fit in.

What kind of thing is a moose, anyway? Moose are the largest deer in the world. The big ones can stand six feet tall at the shoulder and weigh three-quarters of a ton. People like to call these animals distinguished and noble, but they make terrible moaning sounds like phlegmy old men with gout.

I don't know why, but I just think moose are super weird. Lots of people do. Go look at one. They have ridiculously huge heads with gawky antlers, almost flat in places sometimes, like broad, buckled sheets of plywood. It's insane. It's amazing the animals don't fall over.

And you know how big their brains are? The size of an orange. It just seems so odd that nature would make these hulking, vacant things and leave them standing around all over the place. And then, surprise, they can kill you, these dumb, agoraphobic vagrants with quick tempers and malfunctioning jackhammers for legs. In a way, it would be safer and easier just to shoot them all.

And to be totally clear, killing animals was part of Rick's job sometimes. But Anchorage is willing to put up with a lot more than most places before it draws that line. One in 10 residents in Anchorage have smacked into a moose with their car. And still, a survey Rick did found that most people, 87%, felt these animals, quote, "make life in Anchorage seem more interesting and special."

It's the same basic rules for animals as for people. As long as you don't hurt or threaten anyone, you can be as eccentric as you want; or even totally annoying, if that's your nature. You can stand on the sidewalk huffing and smelling gross and making upsetting noises.

You do you. Society will do its best to tolerate you. And sometimes even send out a caseworker in the middle of the night to help you if, say, you get your giant head stuck in a swing.

A couple of months after the night at the martini lounge, Rick started getting some calls from concerned residents that Buzzwinkle looked hurt. He was walking funny. So Rick went to check on the moose. He found him in a creek behind an industrial area in town.

Rick Sinnott

And he had been injured somehow. And I initially thought it was a car had hit him in one of his rear legs, because he had kind of a big gash and a big lump there, a little bit of blood. But it just looked like it was infected and he was kind of gimping around. And so what we do then is we just kind of watch and wait.

Jon Mooallem

Rick figured if Buzzwinkle could hang on 'til spring when there'd be more plants to eat, he'd have a shot at recovering. For the rest of the winter when people called in Buzzwinkle sightings, Rick always asked them, how does he look? How's he walking? But then someone reported a Bull moose crumpled on the ground. Rick found the animal in a vacant lot behind a printing business.

Rick Sinnott

I walked up and looked, and I could see the orange tag in his ear. I looked. I checked the number. It was definitely Buzzwinkle.

Well, you could actually still see the wound which had sort of closed up. But it was still kind of there on his back leg. He was lying on his side up against this wooden fence.

And he was so skinny. He was emaciated. At some point in the night, probably he had just sort of fallen over and he couldn't get up. You could see his chest was moving and his eyes were blinking a little bit, but he couldn't even raise his head.

Jon Mooallem

How did it affect you to see him like that?

Rick Sinnott

Well, it was sad. It was the last maybe hours of his life, certainly the last day or two. So I walked back to the truck and loaded the shotgun.

Jon Mooallem

Rick wrote an essay about Buzzwinkle in the Anchorage Daily News, a kind of eulogy. I asked him to read his description of what happened next.

Rick Sinnott

"T.S. Eliot could have been thinking of moose when he proclaimed April the cruelest month. With his reserves depleted, the larder empty and nothing green in sight, it's not uncommon for a moose to succumb during the slow transition from winter to spring. I couldn't leave Buzzwinkle helpless, feebly tracing arcs in the dirt with his hooves, to be worried by dogs, or to lose his eyes to a raven.

I shot him between the eyes. I don't believe he saw me or felt the impact of the 12-gauge shotgun slug. After euthanizing the bull, I patted his neck and ran my index finger over his molars. Worn to the gums. Buzzwinkle was a very old moose, the oldest bull I'd ever seen."

Jon Mooallem

He was at least 13, Rick says. That's how I first heard about Buzzwinkle, reading Rick's memorial to him in the paper. The emotion of it stuck with me. The deep humanity of their relationship, even though one of them was a moose.

You could almost imagine it as a buddy film, though with a pretty twisted turn. Rick was the wing man who'd spent years looking out for his wilder, fun-loving, inebriated bro. Until all that hard living caught up with the guy and Rick had to shoot him in the face.

Still, even that seemed like such a courageous act of mercy, of respect, performed with stoicism and a sense of duty. And when it was done, Rick wrote, he made special arrangements to use the moose's meat in a conservation research project. Buzzwinkle would be bait for trapping wolverines.

I thought about that image a lot. I loved the idea. Because in my mind, wolverines were the opposite of the caricature Buzzwinkle had become.

He was goofy and urban and out getting tipsy, closing down the bar. Whereas wolverines are nasty and elusive, and relentlessly wild. Carving up Buzzwinkle for those animals seemed like a way to restore his wildness, to release his energy from our crummy world and feed it back into his. And anyway, the only other option would have been to haul Buzzwinkle to a landfill, and that didn't sit right with Rick.

Rick Sinnott

I always hated to do that. I did that one time early in my career. I took a dead moose to the landfill and they charged me for it. It's like, wait a minute.

Jon Mooallem

Wait, so your objection to taking a moose to a landfill was financial?

Rick Sinnott

Well, yeah. Time and money, sure.

Jon Mooallem

I think I was just hoping for you having some kind of poetic philosophic conviction about the circle of life and that a moose should not be buried in a landfill when it could be redistributed into the natural cycle.

Rick Sinnott

Oh, I can get all poetic on you if you want me to. But no, it was practical. It'd be a two hour round trip. And I'd pull up at the little kiosk and they would say, $50 to drop the moose off.

Jon Mooallem

I kept pressing him, but he said it was a mistake to over romanticize this one moose just because it had a funny name. There were so many mooses Rick had known. He would come into contact with 20 different ones a day, easy. And I realized he seemed to see each of those animals the way I saw Buzzwinkle, as an individual. When Rick said Buzzwinkle was no different from other moose, it didn't cheapen Buzzwinkle, it elevated moose.

Ira Glass

Jon Mooallem is the author of the book Wild Ones, where, among other things, he writes about a moose that Thomas Jefferson felt a need to send to France.

[MUSIC - "ANIMAL-MARK RONSON REMIX" BY MIKE SNOW]

Credits.

Michael Chernus

Breaking their legs. Biting off their tails. Mutilating them in unspeakable ways.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of this American life.

[MUSIC - "TALK TO THE ANIMALS" BY WAYNE BRADY]