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Weekly Update from the Field May 12, 2005
* Update from the Field
* Call Montana's Governor
* Prayer Ceremony for the Buffalo this Saturday
* BFC Volunteer Takes the Buffalo's Story Home
* Tonight @ 7:30: Montana PBS Documentary on Buffalo
* Last Words (by Japhy Ryder Sanchez)

* 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 cows.

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, May 14
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 afternoon.

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 Buffalo
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 or feedback@montanapbs.org.

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 calving grounds.

By Japhy Ryder Sanchez
Age 8 (okay, he's almost 9)

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