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Weekly Update from the Field February 19, 2004
* Update from the Field
* Park Service Hazes 90 buffalo near Gardiner
* Support the Yellowstone Buffalo Preservation Act
*  Comments Needed in Opposition to Proposed Buffalo Hunt
* Why are the Yellowstone buffalo important to you?
* Last Words

* Update from the Field
The past three days have been the hardest of the season.  Ten of our buffalo friends were trucked off to slaughter this morning after spending more than forty hours in captivity in the hands of the Montana Department of Livestock.  Another eight members of the same family group--mostly yearlings and two-year-olds--spent thirty hours in the same complex of traps and trucks before being released on Horse Butte and hounded by snowmobiles.
Those of you who have been following these updates will be familiar with this small herd that we first spotted in mid-January as they approached the park boundary.  We have spent the past four weeks in their presence, watching them peacefully graze by the riverside.  We documented each week as the DOL, Park Service, Forest Service, and other agencies came out to try to chase them back to the park.  The first time they tried in earnest, relentlessly herding the animals through deep snow, across highway 191, and back into the park.  The second two attempts were half-hearted endeavors, betraying the DOL's true intentions of slaughtering the buffalo.  Last week they came out to haze at 2:30 pm and gave up by 3:00, when the law prohibits such activity beside the Madison River.  In statements to the press the DOL declared the animals "unhazeable," clearing the way for this week's capture and slaughter.
It all began Tuesday morning at 10:00, when ten agency snowmobiles descended on Houdini's Meadow by the Madison River, one of the most beautiful places on the Gallatin National Forest.  Never, during any time of the year, do cattle graze there.  The agents were armed with shotguns, which they used to fire cracker rounds (explosive shells), frightening the herd of 20 buffalo across the river and up the bluffs on the north side.  Almost at once two bulls ducked off into the woods and escaped.  The rest of the herd wasn't so lucky.
For the next two hours they were hounded incessantly, driven away from the park in a series of explosive blasts that echoed throughout the valley, frightening the buffalo and all other wildlife in the area.  I heard the shots from the top of the tree by the Horse Butte trap, where I waited with a video camera.  I've witnessed capture operations at Horse Butte more times than I care to remember, and it never gets easier.  I heard the snowmobiles, then saw the buffalo, and I willed them away, knowing all the while what was coming.  They had them on the road, hemmed in between nearly vertical snowbanks, and there would be no escape.
I watched through the camera lens, trying to hold still as the tree swayed in the wind.  18 buffalo, tongue-hanging-tired, trudged toward me and the trap.  Each time one of them tried to turn away and escape a noisy snowmobile was there to cut off the retreat.  When they rounded the final corner and saw the open jaws of the trap the herd stopped in its tracks, only to push on as the agents closed in from behind.  I cursed under my breath as 18 buffalo ran into the trap and an agent jumped off his snow machine to slam the steel door shut behind them.
DOL agents loaded the 18 captured buffalo onto a livestock trailer and hauled them to a separate trap at Duck Creek, where they were unloaded and tested for brucellosis antibodies.  The test, which determines exposure to brucellosis rather than actual infection, is an unreliable indicator.  It's like trying to eradicate chickenpox by killing everyone who has ever been exposed to them.  There has never been a documented case of brucellosis transmission from wild bison to livestock.
Ten buffalo (a bull and 9 cows) tested positive and were shipped to slaughter this morning.  Eight (2 bulls, a cow, and 5 yearlings) tested negative and were shaved, colored with dye, tagged, and loaded back onto a trailer, driven to Horse Butte, and released.  Upon release one of the buffalo, having been injured in confinement, repeatedly fell to the ground, leaving a trail of blood.  BFC volunteers videotaped the release.
In a separate operation conducted Tuesday, the DOL attempted to capture a lone bull who has been grazing beside highway 191 on Cougar Creek since November.  The agents, who closed down the highway three separate times as they chased the bull toward the trap, were unable to capture him.
The bull's escape, along with that of the two bulls who eluded capture earlier in the day, was a bright spot in an otherwise very difficult day.
With the slaughter underway, your support is more crucial than ever.  We will need volunteers in the field from now until June.  Please make plans to come to Yellowstone in the coming weeks and months and help us protect the buffalo. 
* Park Service Hazes 90 buffalo near Gardiner
Shortly after the ten buffalo were shipped to slaughter from West Yellowstone this morning we received word from our volunteers in Gardiner that a herd of 69 buffalo was less than 200 feet from the Stephens Creek Trap, where last March the Park Service captured and slaughtered 231 buffalo.  Fortunately the Park Rangers decided to haze rather than capture, and the buffalo were moved further back into the park.  Along the way, they picked up another 21 buffalo, and the herd of 90 are currently grazing safely inside Yellowstone National Park.
*  Support the Yellowstone Buffalo Preservation Act
The Yellowstone Buffalo Preservation Act, H.R. 3446, is the first step toward realizing a future of truly wild and free buffalo herds once again roaming the western landscape.  The bill calls for a three-year moratorium on the hazing, capturing and killing of Yellowstone bison.  It expands the boundary in which bison will be allowed undisturbed access on both the west and north sides of Yellowstone National Park.  The bill also requires the dismantling of the Stephen's Creek Capture Facility located inside Yellowstone National Park and re-establishes the Park Service as having sole jurisdiction over bison within the Park.
The bill is currently sitting in the House Resources Committee waiting for enough co-sponsors to call for hearings.  We currently have 57 co-sponsors signed on to the bill.  Please check to see if your representative is a co-sponsor of H.R. 3446 on our website at: www.buffalofieldcampaign.org/Legislative/buffpreservation.html.
If they have not already joined in defense of the last wild buffalo, please encourage them to do so by calling or sending an email.  Also, letters to the editor in your local paper are a good way to encourage support for the bill and to spread the word.
* Comments Needed in Opposition to Buffalo Hunt Proposal
Can We Expect More State-Sanctioned Buffalo Slaughter?
Not if you act now.  Your comments are needed by March 12 to help stave off the "sport hunting" of Yellowstone's last, wild buffalo.  In 2003, the Montana Legislature passed a bill - written and initiated by the MT Stockgrowers Association - to allow buffalo to be hunted as they migrate out of Yellowstone National Park into Montana.  The environmental review process pertaining to the proposed hunt is currently underway by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), who are accepting public comments until March 12, 2004.  It is critical that FWP hears from you; the buffalo need your voice.  Once all comments are reviewed - likely by late spring or early summer - FWP will publish an environmental assessment (EA).
There are serious concerns about the impact such a hunt - overseen by the infamous Montana Department of Livestock - would have on Yellowstone buffalo.  The hunt, according to FWP, is intended to allow so-called sport hunters to kill America's last wild buffalo under "fair chase" conditions in order to minimize alleged damage to private property. Hardly "fair" chase; shooting a buffalo is like shooting a parked car, and not a single local hunting organization supports this proposal. It appears that the DOL wants to use hunters as yet another means to slaughter buffalo.  Moreover, the hunt would be in addition to the hazing, capture and slaughter the buffalo already suffer under the Interagency Bison Management Plan. 
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP BUFFALO:  Submit your comments by March 12, 2004, and ask your friends to do the same!  In your own words, please let FWP know you are strongly opposed to the proposed hunt and why. Below are some suggested talking points.  Send your comments to:  Attn: Bison Hunt Issues, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, 1400 S. 19th Ave., Bozeman, MT, 59718.  Send them by email to: fwpbison@state.mt.us.  

Suggested points to make in your comments:
1) Only 4,200 wild, free-ranging buffalo remain in America and a hunt would endanger the viability of buffalo everywhere;
2) There's nothing "fair" about hunting gentle buffalo as these animals don't give fair chase like deer or elk;
A buffalo hunt could have severe social, economic and environmental impacts on the state of Montana and Yellowstone National Park - the last time Montana authorized a buffalo hunt they received a "black eye" from the public. A repeat of this blunder would damage Montana's tourism industry, which is the fastest growing sector of the state's economy and is dependent upon wildlife, not cattle.;
4) Not a single hunting group supports the bill as written;
5) The bill was devised and written by Montana livestock interests, seeking to shift public blame for killing over to hunters;
6) The absurdity that the DOL - the agency that carries out the buffalo slaughter - would also retain authority over the hunt, and the final proposal must have their blessing;
7) This hunt is packaged as part of a brucellosis management plan but the random hunting of bison that have not been tested can hardly be considered a solution to the brucellosis issue.  In fact, allowing hunters to handle potentially infected carcasses increases the chance of both transmission to humans;
8) The current Interagency Bison Management Plan is specifically a "no hunt" alternative, therefore the state would be in violation of federal law if hunting of bison were to commence; and
9) Treaty rights and hunting agreements with tribes in the Yellowstone Area must be recognized before a public hunt should even be considered. 
More information can be found at http://www.wildrockies.org/buffalo 
Read FWP's news release at http://fwp.state.mt.us/news/article_2775.aspx
You can view the full text of the bill at http://data.opi.state.mt.us/bills/2003/billhtml/SB0395.htm.
* Why are the Yellowstone buffalo important to you? 
The Buffalo Field Campaign is interested in knowing what draws you to the buffalo.  What is it about them that you find so special, so sacred?  How did you become interested in the plight of this last wild herd?  What drew you to them in the first place, and what is it about the buffalo that makes you want to act on their behalf?  The answers to these questions will help us immensely with our outreach efforts as we continue to gain public support for America's last herd of wild, free-roaming buffalo.  With more and more people speaking out for the buffalo we will stop the slaughter.  Thank you so much for your continued support. Please send your thoughts to stephany@wildrockies.org.  We look forward to hearing from you!
* Last Words
"The government does listen when they get enough pressure."
~ Michael Garrity, Alliance for the Wild Rockies

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