Update from the Field
Dear Buffalo Friends,
The snow around West Yellowstone is now belly-deep to
adult buffalo. It is amazing to watch them crater their
massive heads through the snow, humps supporting the
side to side motion that pushes snow aside like an ancient
plow; using head and hoof they clear the many feet of
winter's blanket that covers the life-giving grasses.
Buffalo look up from their grazing with snowy faces,
ghost-like and dreamy, but with the most serious task
at hand. Surviving winter is no small effort. It takes
a lot of time and energy for them to get to just enough
vegetation to make it through another frigid day.
Some of the buffalo won't see another day. Ten more
have been killed in the hunt, bringing the total to
51 as of this writing. We also lost another female buffalo
to a collision with a tractor trailer truck. Winter,
though beautiful, is a season of death and sleeping
and in the lives of wild buffalo that migrate into Montana
it is an extremely dark and poignant time of year.
As we reported last week, three buffalo were hit by
the sheriff's vehicle on New Year's Eve, one being killed
instantly, and two wandering off injured and disappearing
in the woods. A few days later, BFC patrols found one
of those injured buffalo. She was bedded down in the
willows, just a few yards off the side of the highway
near the Madison River. She was so still that patrols
nearly walked right up on her before they saw her. She
was still alive but made no effort to take notice of
them or move away. Knowing her injury was human-caused,
patrols struggled with what to do. Should we leave her
there to die, possibly agonizing from internal injuries?
Or should we call the game warden to end her suffering?
We knew if the game warden was called, her body would
be hauled to the dump, and nobody wanted to see that
disrespectful thing happen to this beautiful buffalo.
Nor did we want to leave her there knowing she was suffering.
But how could we know what she was feeling? How could
we be sure of anything going on inside her body and
mind? One of our elders reminded us that we cannot know,
the buffalo and all animals have ways and knowledge
far more intuitive and in tune with the rhythms of the
universe for our human arrogance to comprehend. Perhaps
she was taking the time to rest, to heal herself, or
to meditate upon her approaching release from this world.
For that day, patrols decided to let her alone. At that
night's meeting, we discussed her at length and decided
to check on her again the next morning.
When we returned, she had not moved. Her condition had
not seemed to change. Patrols radioed in to ask for
everyone's input. There was a variety of responses.
If the game warden came, could we talk him into letting
her body rest there in the willows, to be food for the
ravens, wolves, coyotes and bears? They would never
allow it. But this buffalo was in a bad way. Folks at
camp decided to trust the judgement of those in the
field. They had been with her for two days. The game
warden was called. As it turned out, there were hunters
in town as well. The game warden approached some hunters
and let them know about this buffalo. So instead of
going to the dump and being incinerated with the trash,
she became sustenance. Her life was not wasted.
Hopefully she did not have a calf. There have been too
many hunters killing in ignorance or haste, who have
not paid attention to the family dynamics of the various
buffalo groups and consequently have orphaned at least
three calves, possibly more. One of the buffalo recently
killed on Horse Butte had a calf, but the hunters who
shot her didn't notice. And a few days after this buffalo
was killed, her calf was seen wandering alone, down
Cougar Creek trail just a few miles from where this
baby lost it's mother. A lone calf will not survive
Another of the orphaned calves was shot on the north
bluffs of the Madison River on Friday, by Salish-Kootenai
hunters. They had been paying attention and knew that
this baby bull did not have a mother or any surrogate,
and hence hardly a chance at survival. So, instead of
killing a big "trophy" bull or a cow, they
shot the calf. One by one, the buffalo go down by the
There is too much death. We've all seen too much, and
yet in our own heartache we constantly remind ourselves
that it is the buffalo who are going through this, not
us. We are bearing witness so that their story is told
and the call of the last wild buffalo will be heard
by the people who will come to their defense. It is
the buffalo who are simply trying to exist as they have
forever, bombarded by human politics, ignorance, and
greed. In the face of it all, they press on as they
always have. These strong survivors call us to task
to champion their right to live free, and our freedom
to choose to live right. Heed the call of the last wild
buffalo, join us on the front-lines and tell everyone
you know that the shaggy beings who can make the earth
shake are waiting for us all to help set them free.
* For the Love of Buffalo ~ Valentine's Day
With Valentine's Day on the horizon, BFC is once again
offering you the opportunity to send an original, hand-crafted
card to the special people in your life. Our card is
appropriate for all relationships, it lets the recipient(s)
know that you are a person of compassion and good heart,
and most importantly, it raises critical funds for Buffalo
Field Campaign, allowing us to continue the important
work of defending America's last free-roaming, wild
For a minimum donation of $15.00 we will send a special
4-1/4" x 5-1/2" Valentine featuring a photo
to your special someone. The cards contain brief information
on BFC and our work and a special love-inspired inscription.
Card orders must be received by Monday, February 4;
please order early. We'll time the mailing to arrive
by Valentine's Day. To order, just click on this link:
donate a minimum of $15, scroll down to "Valentine
Card," then move below to the "Valentine Info
Box" and write the recipient's name and address
as well as how you would like the card signed.
To complete, scroll down and fill in general and credit
card info into the secure server.
If you'd rather pay through the mail, send a check along
with the name and address of your Valentine and how
you'd like the card signed to: BFC, PO Box 957, West
Yellowstone, MT 59758.
* Volunteer on the Front Lines with BFC
People always look at me a bit strangely when they hear
that I'm headed out for Montana, in the middle of winter,
once again. "Doesn't it get cold out there?"
they ask, and I assure them it does. But West Yellowstone
in the wintertime is a lot more than just the consistently
coldest spot in the continental US (a fact that I was
rather proud of noting last year as I experienced the
first "real" winter of my life). It is also
scenic snowcapped vistas, heartbreakingly beautiful
sunrises and sunsets, the warmth and coziness of the
BFC cabins and clothes, the love and camaraderie of
friends old and new--all brothers and sisters in our
stand for our buffalo cousins. Most of all winter is
the time of year when weather and instinct push animals,
large and small, out of the high places and into lower
elevations to forage. For most animals in the park this
means crossing a line that was carved through the trees
less than 150 years ago. For the buffalo this line often
means death, for on the other side hunters wait with
guns and knives to take the lives of our noble cousins.
We need more people to stand on the front lines with
the buffalo. We run full patrols everyday, no matter
the weather, and often volunteers will stay in the field
all day, or go out day after day without a day off.
It can be easy to get burned out and that is why it
is important to have enough volunteers to give everyone
the time to rest that they need. It is an exciting time
to be out here whether it be skiing, snowshoeing and
standing with the buffalo, or helping keep the cabin
running and getting the word out about the BFC and a
native bison population.
For more information on volunteering, please visit our
web site http://www.buffalofieldcampaign.org
or contact Kasi, our Volunteer Coordinator at volunteer"at"buffalofieldcampaign.org
or call 406-646-0070.
Hope to see you all in the field,
* Photo of the Week
A beautiful young bull buffalo makes his way through
snow that is belly-deep. The grass he and his relatives
needs to get to is many feet below. Photo by Stephany.
* Last Words
"People are equal partners with the plants and
animals, not their masters who exploit them."
~ Haida Gwaii, Traditional Circle of Elders