Update from the Field
The beauty of sunrise at Horse Butte is difficult to
convey. Vibrant hues of violet and red paint cloud-whisps
on the eastern sky. The snow-covered peaks to the west
are lit in warm pink, as if from within. Roman and I
stood on the Butte yesterday at dawn, shifting our gaze
from the painted sky to the mists rising above the Madison
Valley. Groups of buffalo dotted the Butte's south-facing
slopes. Mixed herds of pregnant females and their young
grazed fresh green grass, groups of yearlings and calves
kicked up their legs in play, and small herds of bulls
moved slowly along the hillside. In all we counted more
than 200 buffalo in the day's first light.
We enjoyed the beauty of the buffalo and the breaking
day, even as we braced ourselves for what would come.
Unfortunately the livestock industry runs Montana and
buffalo are tolerated nowhere in the state. Shortly
after 8am two snowmobiles sped swiftly along the road
at the base of the Butte, far below. They were driven
by agents of the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL),
scouting the area for buffalo. The DOL has no tolerance
for buffalo in Montana, even on the Butte, National
Forest land owned by all Americans.
We positioned ourselves to document the hazing operation,
out of view of the agents. At ten o'clock three horse-mounted
agents arrived along with four on snowmobile. They headed
out along the lower road and cut up the Butte, behind
the great herds of buffalo. I filmed as the operation
began, the agents shouting, "Haw! Haw! Git up!
Git up!" disrupting the grazing buffalo and starting
them down the hill. Soon the scattered herds were congregated
in a large group at the base of the hill. The agents
went after this group with a vengeance, revving their
engines and barking at the herd. Suddenly the herd broke,
and like water from a broken dam, buffalo poured off
the Butte. Braced against a rock I filmed them as they
sprinted along the bluffs of the Madison River, away
from their birthing grounds.
When the last buffalo had passed from eyesight Roman
and I took to our feet and headed down the hill. Weaving
our way between sagebrush we sprinted down the steep
slopes, reaching the bottom just as the operation disappeared
to the east. We were relieved to find 35 buffalo on
the eastern flanks of the Butte, inside a bald-eagle
sanctuary off-limits to the agents. The rest of the
herd wasn't so lucky. They were run relentlessly for
more than five miles to Yellowstone National Park, on
the other side of Highway 191. Because the Butte is
their birthing ground, where they need to be at this
time of year, the buffalo turned around and headed back
Why the DOL insists on chasing them so relentlessly
is a great mystery. There are never, at any time of
year, cattle on any of the public lands on Horse Butte.
By repeatedly pushing the buffalo across the highway,
the agents are interrupting the natural migration and
endangering the public and the buffalo in the process.
Instead of crossing the highway twice, the buffalo are
forced to cross dozens of times. Already this year seven
have been hit by trucks as a result.
While Roman and I documented the haze, our fellow volunteers,
on patrol at Duck Creek, watched livestock agents handling
and harassing 24 buffalo in the Duck Creek trap. Captured
on Tuesday, the buffalo were being tested for antibodies
to brucellosis. As I type the update this morning eight
buffalo, stuffed in a livestock trailer, are on their
way to the slaughterhouse. Three buffalo calves will
be shipped to a quarantine facility where they will
be held for up to four years, victims of a science experiment
that will erode the wildness that makes them unique.
Spring is our busiest time. With more than ten volunteers
in the field during all daylight hours and our media
coordinators working 12 hour days to share the plight
of the buffalo with the world, we are extremely busy.
The Buffalo Field Campaign is a volunteer-driven organization
and we rely on contributions from people like you to
keep our volunteers well-fed, housed, and equipped to
document every action taken against the buffalo and
to build a movement to protect the buffalo forever.
If you care about the buffalo and want to ensure our
continued presence in the field, please make a donation
today. Five and ten dollar donations are our bread and
butter, so if you can, please send a tax-deductible
donation. We are a grassroots group and every penny
goes directly to the front-lines defense of the buffalo.
If you can't afford to make a financial contribution,
you can help in other ways. Below you will find information
on writing public comments in opposition to the quarantine
facility and letters you can write to Montana's governor,
urging him to provide habitat for buffalo in Montana.
Together we are making great strides for the buffalo,
please take action today!
Read about this week's actions in the papers.
Click here for recent press coverage:
* Comment Against Quarantining Baby Buffalo!
The DOL now has six buffalo calves for their quarantine
"feasibility study." Calves are under a year
old, and they are very dependent upon their mothers.
All buffalo are very closely connected to one another,
and these young calves are now alone, without moms,
elders, or other family members. They will be held in
captivity for upwards of five years, being injected
with diseases and vaccines over and over. Any buffalo
that don't "pass" the scientists' tests will
be sent to slaughter - at least half.
The government is now accepting public comments on their
"Bison Quarantine Feasibility Study" and they
need to hear from you. Please read over the quarantine
information on our web site and speak from your heart
as to why quarantining buffalo is a very bad idea. Comments
are needed by April 15, 2005.
*Urge Montana's Governor to Stop the Slaughter!
When Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer took office,
he assured us that it would be a "new Montana."
We think that new Montana should include wild, free-roaming
buffalo. Think about it: Montana could be the only state
in the nation to boast a herd of the country's last
wild buffalo. Instead of fretting what the DOL will
do to the buffalo next, we could be celebrating the
current spring migration, the coming of the next buffalo
generation. The presence of wild buffalo would help
with the recovery of native grasslands and prairies.
They would help repair much of the damage that has bee
done by cattle over the centuries. Buffalo belong here.
People would come from far and wide to be in their presence.
There would be an awakening within the earth, to have
upon it the beating and drumming of the buffalo's hoof-beats.
The hearts, minds, and spirits of the Indian people
would rejoice at the return of the buffalo. Wild buffalo
can be a reality and Governor Schweitzer can help make
Governor Schweitzer must hear from you. He needs to
feel the pressure from Montanans and the rest of the
nation, insisting that he do everything in his power
to stop the slaughter of America's last wild buffalo.
Encourage him to hold true to his words that buffalo
will enjoy more tolerance in Montana. In his campaign
statements, Schweitzer said that management of buffalo
and the protection of Montana's brucellosis-free status
should be determined by "science, not hyperbole,"
and that the DOL is "ill-equipped" to manage
wild buffalo for the State of Montana." So - what
is he waiting for? Montana shouldn't be the state known
for the senseless murder of the last wild buffalo -
the time for change is now.
TAKE ACTION! Governor Schweitzer
has demonstrated that he is willing to listen, but we've
got to make sure he hears what we're saying. Give Schweitzer
more than your two-cents, give him five! If you are
the carrier of any buffalo nickels, please send them
to Schweitzer and tell him to stop the buffalo slaughter
now, hold true to his own words that buffalo will enjoy
more tolerance in Montana, and urge him to put these
nickels towards the purchase of habitat for wild buffalo
Send your five-cents to:
Governor Brian Schweitzer
Helena, MT 59620-0801
Fax: 1-406-444 5529
* Beautiful Poem from a Buffalo Warrior
We were blessed this week with the return of the Sanchez
family: Japhy, Justine, and Roman. These beautiful buffalo
warriors have been part of the BFC family since 2000
and they will be with us in person until June. Roman
is a talented poet. The following poem, "Why I
am Here," was inspired by his return to the BFC.
Read it here:
* Letters to the Editor
Easter took a new meaning for me this year. At sunset
on highway 191 just north of the Madison River 20 buffalo
meandered in and out of the road for three hours. At
dusk drivers could still see the buffalo on the highway
but for two hours after sunset buffalo are too dark
to be seen. I stood on the side of the highway wearing
an orange vest and holding a buffalo crossing sign,
slowing all vehicles that would pay heed to the warning.
It is rewarding to warn travelers of a waiting danger.
The sad thing is the risks of public safety could be
significantly reduced if the actions of the Montana
Department of Livestock (DOL) were kept in check. Every
week the DOL comes to town and chaotically runs all
the buffalo from their calving grounds on Horse Butte,
five miles outside the park, back to the border of Yellowstone
National Park, on the other side of 191. Within hours
the buffalo head straight back to Horse Butte crossing
191 yet again.
There is not a single cow within 40 miles of Horse Butte
and there will not be until June 15 at the earliest.
Montana's brucellosis free status is not jeopardized
by the presence of buffalo on our public land when there
are no cows in the area. If we could just let the buffalo
go have their babies and then go back they would cross
191 only twice. Instead the DOL endangers the lives
of motorists and buffalo every day. The Horse Butte
grazing allotments have not been used in three years.
Where is the logic? Your tax dollars are putting your
life at risk.
Five buffalo have already been hit this spring alone.
The Buffalo Field Campaign has been trying to get more
buffalo or wildlife crossing signs in areas where wildlife
actually cross. This process is also filled with bureaucratic
red tape. Canada has had tremendous success with wildlife
bridges in migration corridors. Please let us all work
together to make 191 a safer place for our community
and all of our guests and then maybe next Easter I can
spend it with my family.
Buffalo Field Campaign
* Last Words
"The persecution of the buffalo should be considered
a crime against humanity because such persecution and
mindless government policy is forcing some Americans,
against their will, to accept the plight to cause the
extinction of the Yellowstone buffalo, destroying a
valuable cultural feature of Native Americans which
will eventually destroy them, and not least -- it is
dulling the minds of the authorities that make and carry
out policy that poses a danger to both buffalo and other
wildlife and also to human life. It is making it easier
to eliminate humans if they happen to get in the way."
~ Marilyn Dinger