Update from the Field
Everyone awoke this morning to a light dusting of snow,
powerful, gusting winds, cool temperatures and hot sun.
Winter and Spring are battling it out, and at times
it seems the former will again take control, but each
day with the waxing of the Sun, Spring grows ever stronger.
Monday started out with a taste for things to come.
Four buffalo who were heading to Horse Butte via the
Madison River were quickly hazed back into the Park
by Department of Livestock (DOL) agents when they were
spotted trying to cross the road. On Tuesday a few agents
conducted a reconnaissance of the area looking for "lawless"
buffalo, but otherwise things were quiet. On Wednesday,
however, everything hit the fan; DOL, Forest Service,
Park Service, and Fish, Wildlife and Parks agents were
in town. They straddled their noisy snowmobiles and
headed to Horse Butte where nearly fifty buffalo were
enjoying the day. Eight agents revved up their engines
and their cowboy attitude and ran the buffalo off the
Butte - their traditional calving grounds - for several
miles through the woods, along the bluffs, through the
river, across the highway, firing off cracker-rounds
to frighten the buffalo (and everything else), finally
"shooing" them into Yellowstone National Park.
Right at the edge of the Park the agents stopped their
snowmobiles and the buffalo stopped their running. Pushing
them into the park this way is so ridiculous, so fruitless.
Buffalo are migratory animals, they move with the seasons
and availability of forage and they know where they
need to be. They will soon be on their way to Horse
Butte again where it is their natural right to be. There
are no cattle there - stop this wasteful madness and
give them the room to roam!
BFC hosted a group of high school students from Lawrence
Academy in Massachusetts on Sunday, and we enjoyed the
day discussing the buffalo, and trekking out to Duck
Creek and Horse Butte to meet volunteers and see the
buffalo. On Wednesday we were visited by students from
the University of Minnesota who are taking a field course
on ecosystem management. Their field trip wasn't so
peaceful. When they arrived, the haze was underway and
we took them to it, wanting them to see first hand what
the buffalo go through, and the meanness of the agents.
Unfortunately, they never got to see the buffalo being
hazed. As we made our way to the bluffs next to the
Madison River and the highway, two Forest Service law
enforcement officers on snowmobiles zoomed toward us
shouting orders. They pushed us back and told us to
get in our vehicles, that it was a lawful order "for
our safety." We refused to return to our vehicles.
We were threatened with arrest. They were completely
blocking our vision, and our ability and right to document
the harmful government actions against wild buffalo,
taking place on public lands. The whole incident begs
the question: if what they are doing to the buffalo
isn't so horrible, why do they work so hard to hide
it from the public?
Back at the Butte, 11 female buffalo were ignored by
agents and left to graze. One of them, an older, lead
buffalo, has a badly injured leg from being struck by
a vehicle a couple of weeks ago. We are thankful that
this group was left in peace, but if the agents are
so concerned about the "threat" of brucellosis
to the cattle (that are never there), why would they
leave these buffalo behind? Is it because they know
there is no justification for their activities? Just
another day on the job, boys. A lot of cowboy-agent
"fun" at the expense of wildlife, wild lands,
taxpayers, and the people who deeply care.
The pull of the vernal tide is upon us. The coming heat
and growing grasses quicken the buffalo's movements.
A closer look reveals the beautifully swollen bellies
of many female buffalo; the next generation is on its
way. What life will they be born into? What will their
first steps entail? Will they live their lives out in
peace and freedom, fearing only four-legged predators
with teeth and fur? Or will they come to know the greed
and hatred of man? Will they be repeatedly chased by
machines, torn from their mother's sides, put in quarantine
facilities and injected with cattle disease vaccines?
Growing in captivity apart from the herd, surrounded
by electric fences, unable to migrate and no mother-wit
to guide them, they will know nothing of their ancestor's
ways but they will feel the pull of what it means to
be a wild buffalo deeper in their instinctual memory,
unable to live it out.
Returning wild buffalo to tribal lands is a high priority,
but it must be done with respect to the buffalo and
tribal members. There are better ways than capture,
test, and quarantine. The solution does not lie in rounding
buffalo up and treating them like cattle, caging them
in until they reach maturity, pumping them full of livestock
vaccines, putting them through testing procedures, and
and finally trucking the survivors off like livestock
to the feedlot. The solution lies in giving wildlife
precedence on public lands, and in the creation of wildlife
corridors ...not quarantine.
For the Buffalo,
* Corridors not Quarantine
The way to the Northern Range, on the way to Gardiner,
takes you through the beauty of Paradise Valley. Miles
and miles of endless grasslands, willows, cottonwoods,
streams, juniper and sagebrush, gigantic snow-capped
mountains on either side. If state and federal agencies
have their way, this area could soon host a bison quarantine
facility. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) proposes
the construction of a 500-acre pen to hold yearling
buffalo who have been taken from their mother's side,
taken from the herd, and left to the experimentation
of scientists. These orphans would go through extensive
repeated tests and likely half will be slaughtered.
BFC is still analyzing this latest sugar-coated proposal,
but we know where we stand and that's against it. The
agents are trying to sell quarantine as a benefit to
tribes, but aside from the Intertribal Bison Cooperative
(ITBC), there are few who support it. FWP will be accepting
public comments through April 15, 2005, so please stay
tuned for an action alert next week, and in the meantime,
please educate yourself and others about the harm of
quarantining wild buffalo: http://www.buffalofieldcampaign.org/legislative/bisonquarantine.html
Read the article in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and
consider writing a letter to the editor:
Please contact Josh Osher with questions and comments
regarding quarantining buffalo. Josh can be reached
* The Buffalo Neuter Bill
Last Thursday BFC volunteers and other wild buffalo
advocates headed to Helena again. This time, we stood
before the House Agriculture Committee to oppose SB
353, a bill that would allow the Montana Department
of Livestock to neuter and quarantine captured wild
buffalo in an effort to start herds on tribal lands.
In attendance were two members of the Inter-Tribal Bison
Cooperative (ITBC). We all spoke against the neutering
of buffalo, and all but two - the ITBC members - spoke
against quarantine. With all due respect, the ITBC does
not represent all tribal interests, especially not for
the many Indians who hold traditional values and would
like to see buffalo given the respect and freedom to
roam, re-inhabiting their native range on their own.
The Committee Chair made the decision to hold off on
any executive decision, encouraging the bill's sponsor,
Senator Pease, to consult with tribal members and others
on language they could agree on. The neuter language
will very likely be removed from the bill, but the aspect
of quarantine (already in "the plan") unfortunately
remains. It is likely that no other action will be taken
during this legislative session.
* Last Words
"If I could learn that every buffalo in the northern
herd were killed I would be glad. The destruction of
this herd would do more to keep the Indians quiet than
anything else that could happen."
~General Phil Sheridan, 1881
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