Update from the Field
Dear Buffalo Friends,
Long, long, long ago, in a land right under our feet,
our wild buffalo friends roamed the steppes and plains
with other, wooly giants. Buffalo and their larger
ancestors shared the land with wooly mammoths, wooly
rhinoceros, mastodons, giant deer, and predators of
enormous size like sabre-tooth cats and dire wolves.
Human encroachment, hunting, and climate change drove
nearly all of these animals to extinction. All
are gone except for the mighty bison. How lucky
we are to still share the land with these gentle giants.
In light of the way we treat them, "share"
is too optimistic a word.
The last continuously wild, genetically unique, migrating
buffalo, North America's largest land mammal and once
largest concentration of land mammal, are currently
confined to Yellowstone National Park. They are the
only wildlife species not allowed to leave the park.
Outside Yellowstone, wild buffalo are ecologically extinct.
Look at a map of the United States; Yellowstone is the
little square green dot where southwest Montana and
northwest Wyoming meet. Is this the best we can
do? Must the buffalo join the wooly mammoth in
being a creature encountered only in museums?
Must we suffocate them on an island? We know we
can do better. There is plenty of grass and room
for buffalo to roam free and thrive on this continent!
Montana, a vast state that likes to boast of being "the
last best place" and "big sky country,"
is one such place. Images of buffalo appear in
almost every town, on countless trinkets, post cards,
key chains, calendars; you name it and there's a buffalo
image on it. There is a magnet sitting on my desk that
Mike just picked up in Ennis in the shape of a buffalo
that says "Welcome to Montana." How
ironic for a state that also chose the bison skull for
its quarter and license plate and for a state that still
holds a zero-tolerance policy against wild buffalo.
Ironic because, if you're a living wild buffalo, you
are not allowed to be in Montana. Every single
buffalo that has entered Montana this year has been
killed by shooters in the state's so-called bison hunt.
Thankfully, the "hunt" ends one week from
today, but other dangers loom.
Once the hunt is over, Department of Livestock agents
will take the hunters' place, spending your federal
tax dollars, to haze, capture, quarantine, shoot, and
slaughter this last wild herd, disrupting the ecosystem
in the process. The Park Service has already been
steadily harassing buffalo along Yellowstone's northern
boundary and it's just a matter of time before they
open the Stephens Creek bison trap. Just down the road
from there, the state-federal bison quarantine feasibility
study is expanding its operation, making room for more
orphaned bison calves. On Saturday, twenty-three
bison calves were loaded up and transported to the "Phase
II facility," where they will continue to serve
as an experiment for government scientists in their
arrogant effort to "create a disease-free herd."
All of this because livestock interests refuse to do
what we were taught as little children to do: share.
And government agencies apparently lack the courage
and vision to move out of the box they've placed themselves
- and the buffalo - in. As the saying goes, if
the people lead the leaders will follow. We are
the ones we have been waiting for. The last wild
buffalo are depending on us and the spirit of the wooly
mammoth cheers us on.
* Sample of a Buffalo ~ by Marissa Landrigan
(Originally printed in "Off the Grind" January/February
2007. Reprinted by permission from the author.)
When we decided to start saving space, protecting wildlife
and cultivating natural beauty, we decided we could
only do it in small doses. We called them parks, built
roads through them, made brochures and wide shoulders
for panoramic views. We drew borders and shaded them
in green. Maybe, when it started, it was genuinely supposed
to be enough, but standing just inside the gates of
Yellowstone National Park, feeling like I had the official
approval of a bureaucracy but not much real wildness,
it began to feel a little bit like assuaging our collective
At the beginning, Yellowstone was designed as a safe
haven for wildlife; a refuge from the development that
had pushed these animals from their natural habitats.
In 1902, with only 23 free-ranging buffalo left in Yellowstone,
the National Park Service stepped in. 21 bison were
imported into the park like cattle; packed tightly into
rambling, dusty trucks, and penned at "Buffalo
Ranch", a farm within the borders of this wild
place-fences inside of fences. Watched, tagged and monitored
for 33 years, they were an experiment, locked in a training
ground meant to detect and weed out only those suitable
for life in the wild-that is, the inside of Yellowstone.
And when they were ready, the bison were herded up for
shipment. Their hooves kicking up dust, snorting and
shaking their enormous heads and dirt puffing out their
well-tested nostrils, they were crowded into those familiar
vehicles and distributed again.
This select group of sex-deprived bison was finally
allowed to mingle with the tiny native population that
desperately needed their genetic makeup. This
must have been like putting two 13-year-olds into a
locked closet. 20 years after the release, the
Park's population was over 1,400 and everyone cheered.
We had done it-single-handedly saved the buffalo population.
We took matters into our own hands, where nature was
clearly failing her mammalian children; we brought,
we bred, we conquered. We were the bison saviors.
It's true-without our intervention, the bison would
surely have died out entirely.
But without our intervention entirely, they would never
have dropped so severely in numbers to begin with.
Humans performed this exhaustive near-extinction, not
quickly, or without the chance to realize what might
have been happening-over a period of almost half a century.
The men were not just standing idly by-they were the
ones with the spears and the arrows, their faces sweaty,
thighs clinging to the horse beneath them, aiming carefully
and watching in the swelling pride of success as the
chipped stone sunk deeply into the shivering shoulder
blade, the swelled chest. They watched as the bison
fell, hundreds at a time, shaking the prairie ground
that their migration and diet had so carefully cultivated.
Back then, we didn't care how many died, how they died,
or how much of their bodies we left behind, rotting
on the ground they lived for, decaying, evaporating
into the air and into history, until the buffalo were
nothing more than bleached bone in the sun.
Back then, we didn't care how many died, and we can't
just pat ourselves on the back for fixing it now. Our
management of wildlife, just like our designation of
wild space, is not in harmony with nature. It's
a quick fix, an afterthought. We are doing little more
than covering up our initial mistake, which we desperately
need to remember if we are to have any hope of moving
forward in a more ethical way. And it gives us a dangerous
sense of power to imagine that we solved nature's problems.
Our future depends on our realization that we aren't
in charge in the wild world; we are a part of a system,
and our ignorance of the delicate balance of nature's
workings is what inevitably leads to our necessary interference
* Endless Pressure, Endlessly Applied ~ Take
BFC opposed the Interagency Bison Management Plan from
the start because we knew it would fail the buffalo,
and it has. The only ones benefiting from this
Plan are livestock interests. The agencies that
are signed on to the Plan have so far ignored pro-buffalo
constituencies, and, more importantly, they have failed
to maintain a free-roaming (key word) population of
wild buffalo. Countless meetings and discussions
with agency representatives reveal the finger-pointing
game and underscore the odd power wielded by the cattle
lords. Agencies place the blame on other agencies
and each throws up their hands at the power of Montana's
livestock producers. All it would take is for one agency
to pull out of the Plan and to refuse to participate
in this relentless persecution of the rightful occupants
of this land. Some of the agencies are practically
begging us to continue asking them to do just that.
So we will. We have something that the government
apparently lacks: vision. Call it eco-vision.
Call it co-existence. We envision a world in which
humans cease to dominate all other creatures; a world
in which wild buffalo are free to migrate, a world in
which producers of an invasive species (such as cattle)
take some responsibility and stop blaming everything
on everything but themselves. Such a world is
possible and we are here to make it happen.
TAKE ACTION FOR THE WILD BUFFALO! Please
contact the following decision-makers, and in your own
words, insist that they: pull out of the Interagency
Bison Management Plan now; design and implement a Montana
Bison Management Plan that respects the wild integrity
of bison, establishes and conserves a state-wide, year-round
resident herd; listen to their constituents and stop
caving to livestock interests.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
Attn: Pat Flowers, Supervisor Region 3
1400 S. 19th Street
Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer
Helena, MT 59620-0801
* Thank You Missoula & Gallatin Wildlife
THANK YOU MISSOULA!
Last Friday, BFC joined friends in Missoula for an incredible
evening of artistic outreach for the Yellowstone buffalo.
Long-time buffalo warriors did the buffalo justice with
a thought-provoking, informative and entertaining event
about the meaning of wildness and how it is being jeopardized
by our state and federal agencies. The purpose
of the event was to alert the public about the horrendously
misguided "quarantine feasibility study" involving
Yellowstone bison calves. The turnout was great
and a lot of people learned, for the first time, what
is happening to the Yellowstone bison. Dru and
Drea and all who participated and attended ~ thank you
for representing the wild buffalo!
THANK YOU GALLATIN WILDLIFE ASSOCIATION!
We'd like to thank and recognize Glenn Hockett and his
hard-working colleagues from the Gallatin Wildlife Association
for their stellar vision and action on behalf of wild
bison. On Tuesday, GWA hosted a proactive discussion,
"Charting a New Course for Wild Buffalo in Southwest
Montana." Glenn and GWA have time and again
demonstrated that there is existing habitat available
right now for wild buffalo, and that there is strong
support among the people to do the work that will begin
bringing wild buffalo back to Montana. Thank you
for always being such a strong and active voice for
the mighty bison!
* Last Words
"These are the days when men of all social disciplines
and all political faiths seek the comfortable and the
accepted; when the man of controversy is looked upon
as a disturbing influence; when originality is taken
to be a mark of instability; and when, in minor modification
of the original parable, the bland lead the bland."
From The Affluent Society, by economist John Kenneth