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Weekly Update from the Field February 8, 2007
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* Update from the Field
* Sample of a Buffalo ~ by Marissa Landrigan
* Endless Pressure, Endlessly Applied - Take Action Now!
* Thank You Missoula & Gallatin Wildlife Association!
* Last Words

* 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.
Roam Free,
* 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 guilt.

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 with it.
* Endless Pressure, Endlessly Applied ~ Take Action Now!
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.

  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
Bozeman, Montana
Phone: 406-994-4050

Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer
State Capitol
Helena, MT  59620-0801
Phone:  406-444-3111
* Thank You Missoula & Gallatin Wildlife Association!
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!

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 Galbraith (1908-2006)

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