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Weekly Update from the Field March 17, 2005
* Update from the Field
* Corridors Not Quarantine
* The Buffalo Neuter Bill
* Last Words

* 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 at bfc-advocate"at"wildrockies.org.
* 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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