Update from the Field
Yesterday morning we woke at 5am, gathered in the cabin
for a warm breakfast, and headed into the field to find
the buffalo. Earlier in the week we'd watched a herd
of 18 follow the Madison River out of the park, cross
highway 191, and graze on the ecologically-rich flats
below the Madison Bluffs. All week our patrols had been
blessed with the sight of the beautiful herd of buffalo
mothers, young bulls and cows, and yearling calves.
As we headed out in the dawn to find the buffalo our
hearts raced. Tuesday afternoon's patrols had watched
wave after wave of Department of Livestock (DOL) agents
pour into town, and we knew they'd be out to harass
the buffalo in the morning.
Our Duck Creek patrol kept us apprised of the situation
at the DOL's local headquarters as agents from the DOL,
Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, The National Park Service,
the U.S. Forest Service, Montana Highway Patrol, and
the Gallatin County Sheriff's Department began to gather.
Stephany and I were skiing along the Madison bluffs
when the transmission came across our two-way radio:
"Twelve snowmobiles are leaving Duck Creek and
heading toward the Madison." We found a good spot
between the herd and the highway, set up the camera,
and waited for the operation to begin. Whether they
intended to chase the buffalo back to the park or capture
and slaughter them we didn't know.
But both options were bad. The stretch of Madison between
the park and Horse Butte is prime buffalo habitat. Never,
at any time of the year, do cattle graze there. Why
the DOL insists on keeping the area free of buffalo
has long been a mystery. The agency claims its actions
protect Montana's livestock from brucellosis, but there
has never been a documented transmission of this European
livestock disease from wild buffalo to cattle. Further,
the fact that there are never cattle anywhere near that
stretch of river belies the fact that Montana's prejudice
against buffalo is irrational and needs to be abandoned.
A patrol further out the bluffs radioed to let us know
the operation had begun, and in the same instant a young
bald eagle, frightened by the noise from the twelve
snowmobiles, took to the air. A moment later a pair
of trumpeter swans took sudden flight to avoid the chaos.
As we captured these disruptions on video we were joined
by two Park Rangers, a Forest Service officer, and a
DOL agent who ordered us to "stay behind us at
all times!" We asked the park rangers why they
were taking part in an operation to harm the buffalo
they were supposed to protect, and told them they don't
deserve to wear buffalo on their badges.
Then the buffalo came into view, trudging through the
deep and heavy snow, tongues hanging, harangued by an
armada of snowmobiles. I stared through the camera lens
and watched the buffalo run, frantically searching for
a way away from the hounding machines. They'd get ahead
of the snowmobiles and circle back only to be cut off
at each attempt. The herd split into two groups of nine
and the agents were relentless, pushing them toward
the highway. We skied along the bluffs documenting the
operation, then dropped down to the highway and filmed
the crossing. We were relieved when they stayed by the
river rather than heading north toward the trap. This
meant the agents planned to haze them back to the park
and that the buffalo would live at least another week.
The operation ended with local DOL agent Shane Grube
pushing the 18 buffalo across the park boundary, and
the rest of the agents gathered on the bluffs to share
stories from the haze. We heard them refer to us as
"eco-terrorists" and thought it ironic that
a group of men who had spent the last two hours disrupting
one of the most pristine ecosystems in the lower 48
states should refer to us in those terms.
As if to illustrate the point the agents mounted their
machines again and sped off to Cougar Creek, where all
twelve snowmobiles went to work hazing a lone bull across
the boundary and back to the park.
Unfortunately such scenes will become commonplace in
the coming weeks, and they won't end with such results.
We are gearing up for a heavy slaughter. With buffalo
on the move on the west and north sides of the park,
we are in the process of setting up a second camp in
Gardiner and our need for volunteers and supplies is
about to double. Please support us in any way that you
can. Join us in the field as a volunteer, send a monetary
donation, or send us some of the items listed on the
wish list pasted below. We need your support now more
With the Buffalo,
Thank you for supporting the BFC!
* BFC Wish List
-- Volunteers in the Field to Defend the Buffalo
-- Waterproof Gators
-- Wool Pants (available right now through Cabellas)
-- Warm Waterproof Gloves
-- Polypropylene Long-john Bottoms
-- Ski Boots with Three-Pin Bindings
-- Snow Shoes
-- Warm Winter Boots
-- Cross Country Skis
Thank you for your support. If you have any questions
about a gear donation, please contact Amy at (406) 646-0070
Donations may be sent to:
BFC, PO Box 957,
West Yellowstone, MT 59758.
* The Yellowstone Buffalo Preservation Act -
Has YOUR Rep signed on?
Thanks to U.S. Representatives Hinchey and Bass we are
one step closer to realizing a future of truly wild
and free buffalo herds, once again roaming the western
landscape unmolested. The first bill of its kind, H.R.
3446, calls for a three-year moratorium on the hazing,
capturing and killing of Yellowstone's buffalo; expanding
the areas to the north and west of Yellowstone in which
buffalo will be allowed undisturbed access; dismantling
the in-Park Stephen's Creek Capture Facility; taking
away management authority from the Montana Department
of Livestock and giving it back to the Park Service.
Please write your representative and urge them to support
For more information on the bill and for a list of the
* Last Words
The fear of wilderness, the fear of indigenous people,
and the fear of not having control are all the same