Update from the Field
As the Spring tide flows and the sun waxes high, the
landscape dons a greener mantle, giggling pink, purple,
yellow and white flower-shaped secrets. Red and yellow
buds burst from the stalks of willows, aspens finally
begin to show signs of red life. All the ice is gone,
driven away by rain. These past few days have been very
wet, cool and windy and today on this mid-May morning,
we awoke to a surprising light cover of wet snow. It
is still falling as I write.
Out on Horse Butte where the vernal dance comes alive
from beneath and between the quartz and lava rock, brand
new baby buffalo take their first steps. These are the
last wild buffalo's chosen calving grounds. Perhaps
there are certain plants to aid childbirth that only
grow there, that only buffalo-wisdom can pick out to
ease labor or offer succulent nutrition. Perhaps it
is simply the huge south-facing slope, the first to
be touched by the sun. As water falls from the sky,
we wonder to each other if the grass tastes sweeter
all wet with rain. Some try it and say "yes."
All around us, buffalo grunt and breathe, munching the
sweet grass, while tiny red buffalo suckle their mothers,
dance around and get to know their new legs, each other
and their amazing surroundings. It is good to be alive!
Even better to be a wild buffalo on Horse Butte in the
height of Spring!
But, after yesterday's nefarious government activities,
nearly all the buffalo are gone. The Butte is sadly
empty. Haunted, too, are the surrounding forests and
willows that lead to this sacred site. The landscape
holds large and tiny footprints, fertilizing droppings,
some hairs caught on branches, but nothing else. The
buffalo are gone. Mothers, babies, and bulls--all run
off of their chosen land. Their absence is heavily felt.
They have been pushed back. Forced away. Hazed. Chased.
Hounded to exhaustion. Walked and run and kicked off
their ancestral landscape in sad humiliation and with
utter disrespect. Helicopter, horses, ATVs, and trucks
roared through here and created a sick void where once
the gentle, shaggy giants and the little red babies
played. Slightly to the north and east lay the empty
spaces of Fir Ridge, Duck Creek, and Cougar Creek. Favorite
haunts of gigantic bull buffalo, magnificent in their
masculinity. Accompanying crazy young bulls seem to
make a dangerous game of crossing the road and challenging
semis, giving BFC volunteers who warn motorists of their
crossings anxiety attacks. Unpredictable in their awesome
wildness, we catch our breath as they graze and then
dance across the road that bisects the land, back and
forth and back again. They were making their way to…
to wherever it is they would go if they were simply
allowed to be buffalo.
In Montana, however, it is a crime to be a buffalo.
The penalties are harsh and severe. It doesn't matter
if you are weeks old, pregnant, in labor, unable to
transmit cattle diseases, and never have anyway. Being
a wild buffalo in Montana is against the law. And it
doesn't even matter that there are no cattle around.
No matter that this is native buffalo habitat. The empty
landscape cries out loud in it's need for wild buffalo.
Everywhere we feel their absence and wish to catch a
glimpse of their dark, mountainous shapes. The buffalo's
rightful landscape has been stolen for (invisible) European
Instead of celebrating the magical, sacred, native buffalo,
the livestock industry of Montana lashes out in fear
and takes a violent, offensive position. They say they
fear the transmission of a disease called brucellosis;
a disease given to native wildlife by European cattle.
A disease buffalo have developed immunities to. The
buffalo are the targets of a centuries-old range war
that manifests itself in the form of disease eradication.
Intolerance. Control. Greed. Fear. DOL agents mock cowboys
and with the financial and active support of the United
States Government, drive the native buffalo off of their
habitat, which consists primarily of National Forest
lands. They sent out a helicopter again yesterday to
scare up moms, babies, and bulls. It chased them down
like a monster, blades cut the air, terrorizing the
ecosystem and surrounding neighborhoods. DOL agents
dress to the nine in cowboy attire, mount their horses,
and smile as they forcefully drive the country's last
wild buffalo across state lines, federal lines, pushing
them into an arbitrary man-made box: Yellowstone National
Park. Take out a map of the country. The buffalo once
roamed nearly the entire space of it. Now take a look
at Yellowstone National Park.
Comparatively, it's a small dot on the map. This is
currently the only place where state and federal officials
will let wild buffalo be. When wild buffalo migrate,
when they choose to cross these invisible lines, they
are hazed, captured, quarantined, or slaughtered. They
"threaten" macho livestock interests with
a disease domestic cattle gave them, one that wild buffalo
have never spread. Native buffalo have been displaced
by European cattle, and if they dare set foot onto the
lands they lost, well… there's hell to pay.
This is the way it is, but it doesn't have to remain
so. There are solutions. Cattle can be contained, public
lands grazing allotments can be relocated off of wild
buffalo habitat, stronger fences can be built for cattle
on private lands, better vaccines can be developed and
administered to cattle. Let us protect migratory corridors
that allow buffalo to be buffalo and reclaim their native
lands and restore the prairies. Let the Department of
Livestock hold authority over cattle. Let the wolves
manage the wild buffalo. Let Montana celebrate the buffalo
as a valued and respected native wildlife species. Let
the state's wildlife agency - not livestock interests
- resume management authority. The cattle industry in
Montana boasts $1 billion annually; the tourism industry
boasts over $3 billion. Tourists come to see the wilds
of Montana, not it's cattle. Cattle are everywhere in
America. The last wild buffalo are now only here. Let
them roam! Restore the grasses. End public lands cattle
grazing! Bring the landscape back to life. Bring back
the wild buffalo! Visualize it. Demand it. Speak up.
Take action. It will happen if you want it to.
For the Last Wild Buffalo,
* Call Montana's Governor
Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer has the power to get
the ball rolling for wild buffalo in Montana. He has
the power to remove management authority from the Department
of Livestock. He has the power to secure critical habitat
for wild buffalo in the state. He has the power to respect
buffalo as a valued, native wildlife species. He has
the power, but he will only act on it if he hears from
you. A great friend of wildlife, Brock Evans, says "endless
pressure, endlessly applied" is what it will take.
So be it. For the last wild buffalo, please call Montana
Governor Brian Schweitzer today!
* Prayer Ceremony for the Buffalo This Saturday,
This Saturday, May 14, we will gather here in West Yellowstone
and throughout the world in prayer for the Yellowstone
buffalo. Clem, a dedicated supporter of the buffalo,
has generously arranged to pay for flights for he and
Keith, a Dakota Sioux and Ojibway medicine man who will
lead our volunteers in ceremony for the buffalo. We
have been busy gathering the items necessary for the
ceremony and are looking forward to the weekend.
If you live in the area and would like to join us, please
contact us for more information. If you live afar and
would like to gather with friends and others who care
about the buffalo, please join us in prayer late Saturday
Please write to dan"at"wildrockies.org
with any questions.
* BFC Volunteer Takes the Buffalo's Story Home
Stuart Tedrick, BFC coordinator and volunteer extraordinaire
recently returned home to Maine for a spell. While he
was there he was busy spreading the word in his hometown
community about the country's last wild buffalo. Here's
a news article that his former school ran:
Nice work, Stu! Thanks for your hard work and dedication
all in the name of the last wild buffalo!
*Tonight @ 7:30: Montana PBS Documentary on
Montanans, if you have television, consider watching
this PBS documentary, "Bison of Yellowstone: Managing
an American Icon." Airing at 7:30 pm Thursday,
then again at 11:00 on Monday morning, the documentary
aims to demonstrate that the buffalo's story is a conservation
success, and that the American bison now flourishes.
However, with all due respect, we beg to differ. It
is true that there are approximately 500,000 buffalo
in the country, yet the vast majority of these have
been domesticated as livestock and polluted with cattle
genes. The Yellowstone herd is the only continuously
wild and genetically pure herd left in the country,
and their nubers have been diminished from 60 million
to a mere 4,200. If they leave Yellowstone and enter
Montana, they are systematically hazed, captured, quarantined
and slaughtered by state and federal agencies. They
are treated by Montana as an animal "in need of
disease control" and are not allowed to migrate,
as is the buffalo's nature. They are not respected as
wildlife, even though they are a native wildlife species
and an integral part of the country's grassland ecosystems.
The last wild buffalo are radio-collared, tagged, shaved,
and striped with black dye, vaccinated with an ineffective
livestock vaccine, and females are being fitted with
invasive vaginal transmitters. They are repeatedly run
off of their native habitat, and prevented from their
instinctual migration. Their story can hardly be considered
a conservation success. We have a long way to go. Please
consider watching the program, and based on the information
given and what you know, write to PBS and thank them
for running a story about buffalo. If it's not covered,
let them know the truth about what is happening to the
country's last wild buffalo and urge them to do a story
that tells it from the buffalo's perspective.
For more information on the program, visit http://www.montanapbs.org/Terra/episode102/.
To contact PBS, call or email them at (800) 426-8243
P.S. We don't have TV here. If you can record it, would
you send us a copy? Thanks!
* Last Words
Why the Buffalo are Important
The buffalo are important to me because at one point
they gave their lives to the people. The people loved
the buffalo and the buffalo loved the people. The people
used every part of the buffalo; hides for tipis, hooves
for glue, bladder for water skins, food from its body,
tools from its bones, cups from the horns, rope from
its hair, even sleds from its ribs. The people needed
the buffalo and the buffalo needed the people. Now,
200 years later, the buffalo are being killed off by
the hundreds by the thousands. Right now the buffalo
are important to me because they're gentle creatures
and they wouldn't hurt a fly. Unless of course they
had to protect themselves. They're beautiful creatures.
All they ask for is their freedom. What else would you
ask for if you were being hazed, harassed, penned up
in cages, being poked and prodded and shot?
Think about that.
I want to see the buffalo roam free. I want to see the
babies play peacefully in the sage. And I want to see
mother buffalo being able to calve on their traditional
By Japhy Ryder Sanchez
Age 8 (okay, he's almost 9)