* Update from the Field: Frigid Weather, Empty-handed
Once again, the West Yellowstone area has claimed the
title of the coldest place in the lower 48 states.
This morning's frosty low temperature is 20 below zero.
Monday's low temperature reached way down to -32ƒF.
Throughout the week, BFC volunteers have been bundled
up and out in the field keeping an eye on four magnificent
bull buffalo in Horse Butte's Yellowstone Village housing
area. These buffalo have chosen their location
wisely as the residents of Yellowstone Village have
strictly prohibited buffalo harassment in their neighborhood,
including hunting. Nevertheless, several groups
of prospective hunters continue to watch the buffalo
in this protected area hoping they might move to an
area where one might get a legal shot. These buffalo,
however, seem content to conserve their energy and thus
far, have stayed well within this safe zone.
The first period of Montana's ill-conceived, and poorly
planned buffalo hunt comes to a close on Dec. 31st.
So far, four bull buffalo have been shot in the Gardiner
area where only five permits were issued for the first
period. In the West Yellowstone area, where twenty
permits were issued for the first period, only four
buffalo have been killed. With only the four bulls
in Yellowstone Village out of the Park and no other
buffalo close to the border, the chances are growing
that some hunters will get skunked. Unlike other hunts
where hunters often can't find an animal, in the buffalo
hunt, hunters get skunked because there simply are not
buffalo in the state.
A combination of factors seems to be causing the relative
dearth of buffalo beyond the border. Although it is
cold, there has been relatively little snowfall.
According to one report, no more than 14 inches of snow
are on the ground well into the Park's interior.
The Park Service recently released a report stating
that the vast majority of buffalo are still on their
summer ranges. Weather is one of the greatest
factors determining when and how many buffalo will move
out of the Park. Last year the buffalo moved in
response to an early snowfall. This year, the
migration is delayed. The second factor, of course,
is that there are over 1000 less buffalo in Yellowstone
this year due to the Park Service and DOL's massive
slaughter last winter and spring. With less buffalo
in the Park, there is less pressure for buffalo to move
and more unoccupied spaces to move into before leaving
the Park's boundaries.
So as the hunters go home steaming mad, with no buffalo,
a lot less money, and a distasteful feeling for the
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission and their
decision to issue too many permits given the current
management circumstances, BFC volunteers are enjoying
this quiet time in the winter cold with our four large
friends in Yellowstone Village. But our minds
and hearts are not quiet. Our thoughts often turn
to the 47 buffalo calves held hostage at the quarantine
facility in Corwin Springs, Montana. How do we stop
this from continuing? How can we prevent them
from getting their greedy hands on 100 more innocent
buffalo calves? What can we do to protect the
47 calves if the experiment is stopped? Will they
just slaughter them anyway? That threat has already
been made. Will they keep them and use them as
"research animals" for some other ghastly
Twice a week now, we meet to discuss the quarantine
and make plans to bring attention to this atrocity.
In the meantime, letters to newspapers are being written,
video footage is being edited, contacts with buffalo
advocates are being renewed and revitalized around the
issue, and events are being planned for the near and
more distant future. This issue is crucial to
the future of the buffalo and is so much a telltale
sign of how the agencies view the buffalo and wildlife
in general. To them, the buffalo are "seeds"
to be harvested from a tainted source, cleaned up, and
domesticated so as to be more easily manipulated, and
replanted elsewhere. The source, one of the most
unique wildlife populations in the world, the spiritual
center of North America, is to them a dirty place.
In their minds, it is a cesspool, a reservoir of disease.
It must be "disinfected" at any cost.
But if they can extract some of the buffalo genes and
replant them somewhere else, then at least all is not
lost. What a valiant effort! Why don't we
understand? How can we oppose quarantine?
It's the only way.
Ah, the mind of the scientist, bureaucrat, and manager.
Always looking for the complex solution. Missing
what's right in front of their noses. Assigning
blame to the subject, rather then examining the overall
picture. So willing to sacrifice, as long as the
hardship is borne by the other. The buffalo don't
have any problems of their own. They are one of
the most well-adapted species on the planet. Yet
they are always the subject of the harshest management
decisions. Experiments are conducted as if the
buffalo need help, need science and technology. What
they really need is to be allowed to be buffalo.
They need the scientists, the bureaucrats, and the managers
to leave them alone. They are the wild and we
are their advocates, speaking the words that we see
in their eyes and feel in our hearts; LET US BE!
* Potential Changes to the Interagency Bison
Management Plan (IBMP)
The efforts of buffalo advocates from throughout Montana,
across the country, and around the world are beginning
to bear fruit. Buffalo Field Campaign has recently
learned that the five agencies that "manage"
Yellowstone's wild buffalo have come to agreement on
several "adaptive" changes to the Interagency
Bison Management Plan (IBMP). The agencies met
several times during the summer as result of Montana
Governor Brian Schweitzer's request that the agencies
agree on some changes to the Plan that allow for more
tolerance of buffalo. Whether these changes are
all the Governor has in mind is unknown. Certainly,
there is still a long way to go for the Governor to
fulfill his campaign promises of two years ago.
Hopefully, this is merely the first step toward substantive
change that truly benefits buffalo for future generations.
The adaptive changes to the IBMP are as follows:
1. Strategic Hazing: This applies to
all buffalo out of the Park but within Zone 2 of the
IBMP from October 15 through May 15. At the discretion
of the State Veterinarian, buffalo will be hazed from
"higher risk" areas to "lower risk"
areas outside the Park. Risk is defined in terms
of brucellosis transmission and property damage. The
logic here is that buffalo may be hazed to public lands
outside the Park from private property instead of hazing
them all the way back into the Park.
2. Tolerance for Bulls: Single or small
groups of bull buffalo may be tolerated, at the discretion
of the State Veterinarian, within Zone 2 from October
15 through May 15, if the risk of brucellosis transmission
and property damage is deemed low. The logic here
is that bulls present a lower risk of brucellosis transmission
than female buffalo and therefore should be allowed
greater tolerance. The difference between this
and strategic hazing as described above is that the
determination of risk will be based more on the individual
buffalo than on the particular space they occupy.
3. 3000 Population: All agencies admit
that 3000 is NOT a target population or population goal
for the Yellowstone buffalo herd. The agencies
agree that 3000 is to be viewed only as a trigger point
for additional management options. This change
is more symbolic than practical in terms of agency actions.
The agencies will still use the 3000 number to justify
the slaughter of buffalo without brucellosis testing.
However, the agencies, particularly the Montana Department
of Livestock, will no longer publicly state that the
herd is above population objectives when it numbers
more than 3000.
As you can tell, these "adaptive changes"
are no panacea for the buffalo, who will continue to
be hazed, captured, and slaughtered based on the perceived
risk of brucellosis transmission. The Montana
State Veterinarian still has the ultimate authority
to determine if buffalo will live or die in Montana.
The truth is that there are NO high risk areas or high
risk buffalo. There has never been a documented
transmission of brucellosis from wild buffalo to domestic
cattle. The agencies are still focused on managing the
buffalo rather than managing the cattle, a more easily
However, these are steps in the right direction and
the agencies promise more to come. There is currently
an IBMP meeting scheduled for January 31st from 4 to
8 PM in Bozeman where the agencies will announce these
changes and accept public comment. Stay tuned
for more details, including the meeting location, which
has yet to be announced. Buffalo Field Campaign
will be there to participate and document and we encourage
anyone in the area to attend and advocate for the buffalo.
* Mourning Buffalo: a BFC Patrol Journal
Friday Will and I hiked down to Koelzer's gate. Two
nights before, away from our watchful eyes at dusk,
a bull buffalo was shot on the property. The bull had
had a younger bull in his company. We were now searching
for this younger, surviving, bull. We saw the
blood stains of his fallen companion and feared that
he would return to the kill site to seek his friend.
We saw no sign of him, so we trekked through the snow
to find him or his sign. The day was warm and
the snow too sticky to ski. We trudged along Duck
Creek and into the Park, seeing no buffalo. As
we approached a stand of willows Will spotted tracks
and a dropping and we knew a buffalo had recently been
there. We started heading north for Sandy Butte
when suddenly a frisky bull buffalo came crashing through
the trees, heading in our direction.
We were startled and the buffalo seemed less than thrilled
with our presence. His friend and mentor had just
been killed by members of our species. The bull
sparred with the trees and danced around and we knew
we should get out of his way. I have never held
any fear for the buffalo, but this one was pained and
clearly did not appreciate our presence. We moved
out of his way, knowing he was stressed at the loss
of his fellow bison.
The wind was howling, adding energy to the bull's dance.
We stood aside and watched from a respectful distance.
Will climbed a nearby tree and watched the bull dancing,
sparring, running, and making his way west, toward the
kill-site. We followed at a distance, respecting his
confusion and observing his anger and grief. When he
got to a thicket of firs, he stopped to graze and we
watched him. When he moved we moved too, fearing
he was heading to Koelzer's and not knowing what other
buffalo killers might await him there, as we knew there
were other gunners in town.
We watched him walk through the gate and head straight
for the bloody snow that was all that was left of his
companion. He sniffed, then licked, the blood.
Just as he did this, the weather changed dramatically.
The wind picked up a notch and the temperature dropped.
The bull continued to sniff and lick the buffalo blood-stained
snow. Snow started falling, pelting us in the
wild wind. Will continued to shoot video though
his hands and eyes were freezing. The bull kept
at his ritual. He would stop and lift up
his head and open his mouth as if in wonder and sudden
understanding. He licked more blood, eating the
red snow, and turned in slow circles. Where was
his friend? This was the spot where he had last
seen him alive. Heard the fire sticks crack...
he bolted only to find himself alone.
The bull stood in the storm, tail lifted, a look in
his eyes belonging only to the persecuted buffalo...
He was in his mourning ritual. He swayed in that
gory spot for what seemed years. I sang a song to let
the buffalo know that they are loved and that we wish
them well and will continue to fight like hell for them
to be wild and free. I sang a song for the fallen
buffalo to help him on his way.
And the young bull mourned. He circled, sniffed,
licked, ate the snow, and lifted his head high and opened
his mouth. Will videotaped in awe as I sang too
softly for human ears. The and bull walked on,
down the bloody trail marking where his friend's body
was dragged by the gunners. On toward the trap
that has tortured too many of his sacred relatives.
The storm intensified. Will and I donned another
layer of clothes and moved up the hill along the fence-line,
watching the buffalo search for his friend. To
the North of the trap he paused, stopped by a locked
metal gate. Suddenly he bolted as if under pursuit;
but nothing visible chased him. Did he find his
friend's heart and the stomach full of all the good
grass they had grazed together? The storm pressed
on, pinging us with ice and wind so strong we had to
turn away from our vigil four times. The buffalo
broke to a slow walk and back toward the kill site to
pay one last respect before carrying his great young
bulk into a dense thicket of trees in the relative shelter
The next day I went back with Brock. We didn't
find the buffalo but we did find his lonely trail and
we only can hope the bull's loneliness brought him back
to the company of his own.
We pour our hearts out and send love and strength to
him and all his kind with the passion of great dreamers
who will see buffalo roaming wild and free.
* Last Words
An Earth Prayer
I think I could turn and live with animals, they are
I stand and look at them long and long
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived
of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth