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
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
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
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
* Support the Yellowstone Buffalo Preservation
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
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
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: email@example.com.
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;
3) 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
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
We look forward to hearing from you!
* Last Words
"The government does listen when they get enough
~ Michael Garrity, Alliance for the Wild Rockies