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Weekly Update from the Field August 23, 2007
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* Update from the Field - ESA Comment Period!
* TAKE ACTION: Send Comments to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
* BFC Ready to Launch the West Coast Road Show!
* Last Words

* Update from the Field
Dear Buffalo Friends,
Things in the field have been relatively quiet these past few weeks. We are busy gathering the firewood that will keep us warm throughout West Yellowstone's long and serious winter. A lot of hard work and heavy lifting goes into wood-gathering for the BFC family and we are so grateful to everyone who has put their back into keeping the fires lit! Tabling inside Yellowstone National Park continues for the next couple of weeks, with volunteers talking to hundreds of park visitors about the wild buffalo and braving the heat and the smoke of countless fires. Coordinators are busy around BFC headquarters, working on the vehicles that will convey us on our field patrols, keeping the office and administrative functions going strong, tending to the garden and gathering wild foods and medicines. While summer is a relatively quiet time in the field, it is still a busy one. Many thanks to everyone who keeps the campaign going, and especially to all of you - the buffalo's faithful friends - who help keep us in the field, working in defense of the last wild buffalo.

We have very important news to share with you:
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) has recently issued a notice, inviting the public to submit any information concerning the Yellowstone wild buffalo herd, and threats to them and their habitat. Now is the time to make a strong case to the FWS that this special herd and their *historic* native range should be considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

This notice comes in response to a letter submitted by a citizen from Minnesota, Mr. James Horsley, who filed a petition on January 5, 1999, urging the government to protect the Yellowstone herd - the last wild buffalo left in America - under the ESA. Mr. Horsley, if you are reading these words, THANK YOU! Never underestimate the power of an individual!

With the FWS notice comes both good news and bad news:
The good news is that FWS recognizes that the wild population of American buffalo currently living in and around Yellowstone National Park meets the criteria of a Distinct Population Segment (DPS). As you know, BFC has been circulating a petition for years to bolster support for protecting the Yellowstone herd - America's last wild buffalo - as a Distinct Population Segment. Further, FWS also recognizes that Yellowstone National Park is the *only* place in the U.S. where wild bison have continuously existed since prehistoric times.

The bad news is that FWS has failed to adequately research and address the wild buffalo's historic range, which covered hundreds of millions, of acres across North America. They didn't even bother to identify the historic range of the last wild Yellowstone herd. The FWS is only considering the interior of Yellowstone National Park and the Gardiner Basin (north of Yellowstone) to be significant habitat in their native range, and in that context - which is based on grossly insubstantial and incomplete research - they do not feel that the last wild buffalo are at risk of extinction.

But there's more good news: we have an opportunity to help FWS change their minds and reconsider their decision. The task before us now is to urge FWS to conduct substantial, thorough research to establish what has been lost and what can be recovered. We must - and we can - clearly demonstrate that the so-called Yellowstone bison population - and its historic native range - is endangered and warrants full protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The fact is, the so-called Yellowstone buffalo are the last continuously wild American buffalo left in the United States. Once numbering an estimated 25 to 50 million, and present from Florida to Alaska, Canada to Mexico, today wild buffalo are ecologically extinct throughout nearly all their native range, and cut off from all of their historic migration routes. Yellowstone is the last stronghold for the wild American buffalo, who follow their nomadic instincts and are still genetically pure buffalo. This remnant herd represents the last of the nation's wild buffalo, not simply inhabitants of the Yellowstone region. Yellowstone just happened to be the place where 23 individual buffalo escaped the horrendous 19th century slaughter, and they haven't migrated out of there because the government and cattle industry will not let them. We are all too familiar with this ongoing part of the buffalo's story.

This is a great opportunity for us to set the record straight and help gain strong protection for America's last wild buffalo! BFC has read through FWS's findings, and has pulled out some major points that must be addressed. Please see the action item below, read through the talking points, backed up by some of the supporting scientific evidence. Contact information for submitting your comments to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is below. Please pass this on to everyone you know. This is an opportunity of unbelievable proportions to make a real and lasting difference for America's last wild buffalo and their native habitat!

Roam Free!
* TAKE ACTION: Send Comments to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service!
Everyone who cares about wild buffalo should write, email, and make calls to the USFWS asking that they reconsider their decision. You may use the following talking points (starting with the *). We will keep you posted and provide more information as we move forward.

To read the FWS notice please visit http://www.fws.gov/mountain%2Dprairie/species/mammals/yellowstonebison/.

To read Mr. Horsley's petition to FWS please visit http://www.fws.gov/mountain%2Dprairie/species/mammals/yellowstonebison/petition.pdf

1. Please strongly urge the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to reconsider their decision not to protect America's last wild buffalo under the Endangered Species Act. FWS must fully research and explore the bison's historic native range, migratory corridors, and the Yellowstone herd's genetic significance.

2. Use the talking points below to help you formulate your comments. Use our talking points as guidelines ONLY, putting them into your own words, making them your own. Decision-makers will not count comments that all look the same.

3. Add your own personal thoughts, sentiments, stories, books, maps, songs and more about wild buffalo, and tell the FWS what wild buffalo in North America mean to you and the living landscape.

~*~ Help us fill in the story-lines of yesterday! Many Americans have only a contemporary understanding of the buffalo's historic range. Tribal members from the Indigenous Cultures who evolved and coexisted with the buffalo can contribute significantly, helping to fill in the many gaps that still exist, by sharing stories, songs, and indigenous knowledge of the buffalo's ancestral landscape and significance, what the people and the land have suffered in their absence, and what their return would mean.

4. Spread the word to save the herd! Get every individual and group you can to submit similar comments on the herd and its native habitat.

Assistant Regional Director, Ecological Services
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Suite 645
Lakewood, CO 80228
Telephone 303-236-4253
Facsimile 303-236-0027

* The USFWS finding makes no mention of how bison came to occupy the Yellowstone Plateau. This is an important discussion - missing from their finding - about the bison's historic and native range within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Without this discussion, the public has no way to judge whether bison are threatened or endangered within all or a significant portion of their native range.

Dr. Mary Meagher, retired bison ecologist for YNP, believes the Yellowstone bison migrated from the surrounding river valleys following plant green up into the mountain ecosystem and were able to establish an indigenous herd because Yellowstone's unique geothermal features provide bison winter range.

Paradise Valley, along the Yellowstone River, is just one of the river valleys with documented bison jumps, and other archaeological evidence of bison inhabiting habitat that the USFWS did not consider in its finding.

"The Lamar Valley and the Yellowstone River Valley north of the park (Figure 4.1) to Livingston and beyond was an important area for bison and Native peoples throughout the Holocene. This system can be considered the original Northern Range for Yellowstone bison, functioning as an ecological continuum of grasslands that likely supported seasonal migrations by bison as far south as the high elevation ranges in the Upper Lamar Valley. Davis and Zeier (1978:224) described the lower Yellowstone Valley as an exceptional area for Native people to gather, drive and kill bison. Eight bison jumps and three kill sites have been documented south of Livingston. The closest jump site to YNP is 25 km north of the park boundary. It was used during the late prehistoric period between 1,700 and 200 b.p. (Cannon 1992). There is evidence of a human use corridor from the Gallatin and Madison River drainages into the interior Yellowstone National Park. Several major bison kill sites are located in the Gallatin Valley outside of Bozeman Montana." C. Cormack Gates et al, THE ECOLOGY OF BISON MOVEMENTS AND DISTRIBUTION IN AND BEYOND YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, A Critical Review With Implications for Winter Use and Transboundary Population Management, April 2005.

* The USFWS finding also make no mention of migratory corridors, an important biological consideration for maintaining the bison's habitat and genetic fitness, and making a sound determination on the extant of the bison's native range.

Long distance migration, a characteristic that defines wild bison as a nomadic, herd animal that once thundered across the plains, is gone. In The Last Mile: How to Sustain Long-Distance Migration in Mammals, (Conservation Biology, Pages 320-331, Volume 18, No. 2, April 2004) Joel Berger examined the "ecological phenomena" of accentuated treks of ungulates and found that 100% of historic and current routes for bison are lost.

* The USFWS also fails to consider that wild bison as a native wildlife species are at risk of genomic extinction. A vast number of the 500,000 bison you see on the land have been bred with cattle. Conservatively, wild pure bison managed as a wildlife species number around 4,000 in the United States: 450 bison in Wind Cave and 3,600 bison in Yellowstone.

The extensive prevalence of cattle genes in public and private bison herds, habitat fragmentation, limited range and herd sizes, isolated populations, artificial selection, intensive management and fenced ranges, and non-native disease are just some of the risk factors of ecological extinction that the USFWS failed to consider in its finding.

Curtis Freese along with several scientists writes in the Second chance for the plains bison, (Biol. Conserv. (2007),): "Small herd size, artificial selection, cattle-gene introgression, and other factors threaten the diversity and integrity of the bison genome. In addition, the bison is for all practical purposes ecologically extinct across its former range, with multiple consequences for grassland biodiversity. Urgent measures are needed to conserve the wild bison genome and to restore the ecological role of bison in grassland ecosystems."

"Today, the plains bison is for all practical purposes ecologically extinct within its original range."

* USFWS utterly failed to discuss the ecological importance of bison and the vital, keystone role they play in maintaining ecosystem health and function. The Endangered Species Act is one sense an endangered ecosystems law. Extirpation of bison from their native range is also an indication that the prairie ecosystem they played a part in forming is also at risk of extinction.
"Bison were a keystone species of the prairie ecosystem; significantly affecting the way the prairie grassland ecosystem evolved and playing an important role in maintaining it. Wild bison remain ecologically extinct in Montana. The State of Montana Department of Livestock has prevented the natural dispersal of wild bison into Montana from Yellowstone National Park because of disease issues while no attempts are underway to restore the species outside of this controversial region. Current management of private, state and Federal bison herds is leading towards domestication of bison that threatens their wild character and limits important natural selection processes." Position Statement of the Montana Chapter of The Wildlife Society on Wild Bison in Montana, signed by the Executive Board of The Montana Chapter of The Wildlife Society, and adopted April 11, 2000.

* The USFWS puts great faith in the "contingency measures" of the Interagency Bison Management Plan and its "successful management" to prevent the loss of the bison population.
Continued removals of large numbers of wild bison under the interagency plan may threaten the genetic viability and integrity of the Yellowstone bison herd's subpopulation structure. Scientists have identified two distinct breeding grounds that help maintain genetic diversity within the herd. However, there is no evidence that the interagency plan has considered subpopulation structure in its management decisions and actions.

"The current practice of culling bison without regard to possible subpopulation structure has potentially negative consequences of reduced genetic diversity and alteration of current genetic constitution both within individual subpopulations and the overall YNP bison population.
Since bison are known to naturally assemble in matriarchal groups including several generations of related females and the most recent calf crop (Seton 1937; Haines 1995), it is possible that the culling of bison at the YNP boundaries is non-random with respect to family groups, a practice that over sufficient time may lead to systematic loss of genetic variation.

The caveat, however, is that caution must be practiced in the management of populations with substructure to ensure the maintenance of both subpopulation and total population variation. The YNP bison population has not previously been managed with this consideration in mind. For example, 1,084 bison were removed from YNP in the winter of 1996-97, representing a 31.5% decrease in total population size. Even more troubling, however, is the inequality in the reductions across the Northern and Central herds. While the Northern herd suffered a loss of approximately 83.9% (726/825), the Central herd was reduced by only around 13.9% (358/2,571; Peter Gogan pers. comm.). If in fact the Yellowstone bison population is represented by 2 or 3 different subpopulations, disproportionate removals of bison from various subpopulations might have detrimental long-term genetic consequences." Natalie Dierschke Halbert, The Utilization of Genetic Markers to Resolve Modern Management Issues in Historic Bison Populations: Implications for Species Conservation, December 2003.

THANK YOU for taking action for the last wild buffalo! Remember to spread the word and save this herd!
* BFC West Coast Road Show Schedule
It's that time of year again, when Buffalo Field Campaign takes the wild buffalo's story to the streets! BFC's co-founder Mike Mease and BFC family Fishburne and Chris will be heading to the West Coast with events beginning on September 5 in Reno, Nevada. BFC has presentations scheduled in various locations throughout Nevada and California, including the ever-exciting Power to the Peaceful, where Mike Mease will take the stage!

Learn about the current threats to America's last wild buffalo and the solutions that will ensure them a place in this world. Watch exclusive BFC footage from the field, hear first-hand accounts about what BFC witnesses and learns being in the company of wild buffalo, discover volunteer opportunities, and take action to defend this unique wild population.

Please visit http://www.buffalofieldcampaign.org/aboutus/roadshowswest2007.html to find out about when Buffalo Field Campaign will be near you, and encourage your friends and family to come out and learn about what's happening to the last wild buffalo, and how you can help! If you can't make it in person, you can still make a difference. As a volunteer-based, grassroots organization BFC always appreciates your monetary support, which is what keeps us in the field and on the front lines. Visit http://www.buffalofieldcampaign.org to help support these critical outreach efforts and the the daily operations of the only group working in the field every day in defense of the last wild buffalo!

For more information about BFC's West Coast Road Show contact Mike Mease at mease"at"wildrockies.org through the end of August. Starting in September, please contact buffaloatwildrockies.org or 406-646-0070.
* Last Words
"Half [of] the [Yellowstone] herd is now gone due to their slaughter, their destruction, attempting to interrupt their migratory movement. At present, they are stopped at the Park border by state officials using rifles, trucks and helicopters. Some are shot. Some are hazed back into the Park. Due to the stress, some of the females abort. The animals were headed toward grasslands both public and private located at lower altitudes, grasslands occupied by non-native, Old World cattle. We, as a Nation, are exercising a preference for a world-wide abundant domestic species over the last wild herd of native buffalo in existence today in the United States. Some scientists believe that if more slaughter occurs and if another severe winter comes, this herd will collapse, that is, cease to exist."

~ James Horsley, from his petition to the Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, urging the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to protect the wild buffalo of the Yellowstone region as an endangered species. His petition is dated January 5, 1999. The USFWS responded to it on August 15, 2007.

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