* Update from the Field
Dear Buffalo Friends,
This morning I woke with a memory and I lay in my bunk
contemplating the immense goals of a campaign fighting
an uphill battle against the livestock industry's
hell-bent crusade to keep any and all buffalo inside
Yellowstone Park. Really it's just a symptom of
a greater disease: the will to control and destroy
all that can't be controlled. But as I lay awake this
morning, wrapped up in blankets and awaiting the
day, I remembered a road trip through Idaho several
years ago, returning from the BFC benefit concert
put on by the musical group Built to Spill.
It was a beautiful early summer day; the grass was still
green, the sky blue, and my fellow volunteers were still reeling
from an amazing night spent dancing and laughing, celebrating the
buffalo. We drove over a pass and beheld a gigantic
sloping valley, almost devoid of human habitation.
My friend Stephany and I both immediately knew
what was missing. We could almost see a thousand
buffalo (or more!) grazing on the succulent green grass, each
one individual, each with the individual thoughts and
feelings that we humans often deny them, each buffalo
forming an ancient relationship with the land and
everything that depends on them. And then I realized:
this is the goal. So often the frontline BFC volunteers
here in West Yellowstone and Gardiner, Montana don't
allow ourselves to think that far into the future of
Things are bad enough here, within a few miles of the
National Park we are blessed to live near.
I have seen day-old buffalo calves hazed 10 miles
and I have watched helpless as twelve buffalo who were hazed
through ice tried desperately to climb out of a frozen
Hebgen Lake. It's hard to envision real buffalo
restoration when we see so many awful things on
a daily basis.
And these buffalo fight for every blade of grass; every
day spent grazing outside of the Park boundary
is a hard won victory. Every buffalo calf
on Horse Butte is a miracle born of a mother's love.
It was a gorgeous afternoon in mid-November, the perfect
day to be on patrol. We were searching for a bull that
had been around the Duck Creek area, when we noticed
bison tracks in the mud heading toward the Vista.
We followed the tracks to the edge of the hill, a place
where patrols often watch bison interact with the land
in Stubby's Meadow. The three of us stood
for a silent minute, unable to see the missing
bull, taking in the sun. Suddenly, I saw something
move out of the corner of my right eye, and turning
my head, there he was. We
watched him walk up the hill, no more than thirty feet
away. He looked at us for a while, and we
looked at him; it was electrical, overwhelming,
mutual. But then he broke the exchange and continued on
his way, eventually disappearing from sight.
The Vista is arguably already one of the most picturesque
spots in the area, but as the buffalo walked away,
an awareness of how beautiful this scene we just
experienced overtook me.
"It's crazy," I said, "just how perfect
the buffalo look here. I don't know how to
explain it, but you look out at the willows, the mountains,
the creek, you take in the color palate of the area,
and, well, yeah, you should see a bison walk across
it." It was inarticulate, but my patrol
partners understood what I meant. There is
just something-in the composition, in the colors, in
the contrast between the dark brown of their bodies
and the fiery colors of the land-something so fitting,
as though they co-evolved to create art as scenery.
Perhaps it was in this moment that I realized it was
not just that we wanted the buffalo to roam free
in this area, but that they are supposed to be
here; that the earth needs them to eat its grass, to walk
across its plains, to complete itself. Without
the buffalo, the land still may resemble a landscape
painting, but it seems a subject-less one.
The terrain in this area calls and yearns for the bison,
but the status quo policies and management plans inhibit
The winter of '07-'08 brought the third season of buffalo
hunting here to Montana. Though it is heartbreaking
to watch buffalo that we strive to protect gunned
down, it has been interesting and exciting to watch
the complex interactions of the different non-humans
of this special ecosystem. Ravens descend
from the sky to devour gut piles left by buffalo
hunters. A buffalo's stomach is, not surprisingly, immense.
It and other organs deemed inedible or unpalatable by civilized
humans provide a huge source of nutrients to scavengers like
ravens and coyotes, those remarkable animals so well
adapted to the destruction of our species.
I can't help but feel that the land is remembering
the buffalo, that ravens are rejoicing and the coyotes singing.
In fact, we are seeing glimpses of the relationship
buffalo used to have with the land, with its inhabitants,
with homo sapiens. To the indigenous people
of this continent, the buffalo provided almost everything
they needed. Obviously, their muscles were food,
but nearly every other part of the buffalo was
usable, too. Hides were turned into clothes
and lodge coverings, hooves made into glue, and bones
transformed into tools and weapons. The people
who depended on
the buffalo honored them by making ornaments out of
inedible parts of the animal.
And I've been thinking a lot about our culture's relationships
with the environment. It seems we don't honor
the earth so much as gloat over its destruction.
Giant "trophy" bull buffalo are sought, seemingly
only because a bigger head on a den wall is more impressive.
In our society bigger is better, and if the hunter killed the
biggest bull they could find, well that must reflect
well on its owner. Obviously, not all hunters
have this mind set, hopefully not most. But
all things are related. The sort of thinking that
deems the biggest stuffed buffalo head as an accomplishment
is the same thinking that sees a buffalo hunt without
habitat as a step forward.
Humans could once again respectfully play a role in
the great cycle of life. We once again could
depend on the gifts that the buffalo bring, as
they give back to their surroundings, enriching the
plains where only their ghosts or livestock now
range. But that cannot happen until we allow
them to migrate where they need and want to go.
me, the issue isn't so much about humans hunting buffalo
as about not allowing them any habitat to be their
wild and free selves. The hunt period is an interesting
time for the campaign, as the issues and situations
that arise are no longer completely black and white.
Some volunteers and BFC-supporters are against hunting,
but for others, a diatribe against hunting buffalo
might seem hypocritical, as they hunt other animals
(however, those animals have
year-round habitat and healthy populations). Yet,
the key point that unifies all of us during this
time is our desire for buffalo habitat.
We all want a healthy population of buffalo to be permitted
outside of Yellowstone National Park. We
want a restoration of the reciprocal relationship
between buffalo and this ecosystem. We all have
reverence for the incredulity of buffalo, and we each
have so much to learn from them.
And just as our feelings about hunting are not necessarily
black and white, so too are the labels "them"
and "us" difficult to assign. In this
past week the relationship between hunters and the campaign
grew stronger. At first glance, it may seem
a strange alliance, but hunters are critical to
the buffalo issue. Hunter lobbies are powerful
and integral in the protection of wildlife and the preservation
of wildlife habitat. BFC volunteers worked diligently this
past weekend to converse with hunters. We explained
our cause and our vision for bison, and in most
cases, we were received positively. Our discussions
worked to break down barriers and dispel our image
as "enemy," while also reminding many of us
at the campaign that buffalo hunters are people,
not just folks with guns. Patrols dispensed
BFC newsletters and information, with promises from
some hunters to check out our website and press
the appropriate people for greater tolerance and
habitat for the buffalo.
Though these buffalo are temporarily allowed outside
of the Park, once February 15 arrives and the hunting
season ends, so too will this tolerance for them.
Hazing, capture and slaughter operations will resume
with promises of an egregious spring season. (We'd
like to take this opportunity to encourage hunters
and conservationists to push for expanded year-round
habitat for buffalo.)
While we don't want to overshadow these promising interactions,
it was a difficult week, as hunters killed eleven
buffalo. All but one were killed on Horse
Butte, reminding those at campaign of the mixed blessing
a buffalo presence on Horse Butte brings this time of
Not all of Horse Butte peninsula is open to buffalo
hunting, something we are discovering many hunters
have not been made aware of. On Sunday, a
series of hunting parties with mislabeled maps set their
sights on a group of buffalo, peacefully grazing in
a 75 acre Forest Service eagle closure on the peninsula.
BFC patrols were there, ready to inform the hunters
of the closure. It was a reminder of the
important role our presence in the field can play during
this hunt period.
All in all, this was a difficult weekend-so many buffalo
were killed in such a condensed period of time.
But we want to end this update by noting that the
death of a buffalo is not only a negative. With
a consecutive presence in the field, volunteers
were able to witness the cycle of life. It
was an incredible lesson, arguably even a gift,
to watch a fresh gut pile feed hundreds of ravens.
It was a lesson in the complexities of nature and
of bodies. We experienced the puzzle-like
structure of internal organs, able to then watch them be
disassembled and eventually disappear. We are
not just out in the field counting gut piles; we
are also out in the field witnessing a microcosm
of life itself.
Miriam and Dru
* BFC Needs Gear & Volunteers
Hey Buffalo Supporters! So here we are again in the
middle of a beautiful Montana winter. The
winter brings extreme cold and snow. Volunteers
here at the Campaign are blessed to be able to spend
our days in the field with the Bison. But
not all that time is so joyful. The winter
also brings the hunt and the hunt is in full swing.
It seems as if Bison are being shot everyday.
We are out here though, to monitor, document and
educate to the best of our ability. This
can lead to very long and cold days for volunteers.
While volunteers are in short supply, like right now,
people often need to stay out all day to fill patrols.
We are lucky enough to be fairly well stocked with
cold weather gear but over the years some of these
supplies have worn out or just plain fallen apart. Some
of the less abundant items we all share on a daily basis.
We have less than ten pairs of skis for our current
volunteers. We have only one pair of ski boots
for volunteers with size twelve feet. So
those people (myself included) share those boots
and they are worn constantly. Buffalo Field Campaign
is in serious need of: compatible cross-country
ski and boot sets (boot sizes 11- 13 needed), ski
poles (various sizes), heavy-weight wool pants
(sizes 38-42 need), extreme cold weather mittens and
mitten shells. If you have any of these things
and are not using them, or
if you have connections to companies or stores that
make or sell these products, anything you can do
will help us to further maintain our presence in
the field. These things make an average winter day in Montana
so much easier for a volunteer.
Another thing we are in desperate need of at camp is
PEOPLE!! If you have the time and desire
get a hold of our volunteer coordinator at volunteer"at"buffalofieldcampaign.org. Talk
to her about coming out, then get yourself to Bozeman
and come down to help us defend our nation's last
population of wild bison. As always, thank you
so much for your continuing support and concern
for the Buffalo.
Inquiries about gear can be sent to email@example.com and
any donations of gear can be mailed to
P.O. Box 957,
West Yellowstone, MT 5975.
Hope to hear from and see you all soon.
Lots of Buffa-luv!!!
* Send Your Valentine(s) Some BuffaLove
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 bison.
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
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
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
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.
* Proposed Bison Plan for Wyoming - A recipe
In mid-December, after 222 bison had been killed by
hunters, the first and most deadly bison hunt in
nearly twenty years came to a close on the National
Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The hunt was
initiated based on a long-term elk and bison management
plan developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
and National Park Service. The plan calls
for the reduction in the Jackson Hole bison population
from nearly 1,200 to 500 through hunting to reduce bison population
densities, decrease the potential for disease transmission,
and to ostensibly improve habitat conditions - benefits that
will not be realized under the current federal plan.
Though the federal agencies are quick to publicly blame
bison for causing impacts to native vegetation,
their plan fails to provide evidence to match their
rhetoric. Despite this and a woeful analysis of
the impacts of their management plan on bison and other
wildlife, the federal agencies have made bison
the scapegoat for decades of mismanagement whereby
the bison and elk were supplementally fed on the
refuge allowing the herds to grow.
Instead of phasing out feeding - as most scientists,
conservation organizations, and even the U.S. Department
of Agriculture recommended - to reduce the threat
of disease transmission and to subject the populations
to more natural conditions, the federal agencies
selected an alternative that may allow feeding to continue indefinitely.
This decision was entirely politically motivated for the
purpose of placating the State of Wyoming which has
steadfastly objected to any phase out of supplemental
feeding (on the refuge or on its state elk feedgrounds)
despite the significant wildlife disease threats
posed by Wyoming's feeding operations.
Though the National Elk Refuge bison hunt ended over
a month ago, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department
(Department) is now proposing to decide in February
its management objective for the size of the Jackson
bison herd. This determination should have been
the bison hunt began. In its haste to initiate
a hunt, however, the Department, which cooperated
in the development of the federal plan, elected
to delay such a decision until now. To justify
its decision, the Department published a Draft
Brucellosis Management Action Plan
for the Jackson Bison Herd in December 2007. Its
plan describes what actions will be taken to address
the risk of brucellosis transmission from Jackson
bison to cattle including setting the bison herd objective
at 500 animals, maintaining separation between bison
and cattle, initiating a trial bison vaccination
program, and implementing habitat enhancement projects.
Wyoming's plan is tiered to the same failures in the
federal plan. Not surprisingly, just as the federal
plan is deficient in its analysis, Wyoming's plan
suffers similar inadequacies. For example, the
federal plan recommended that the Jackson bison herd
objective should be 500 animals without engaging
in any substantive analysis of bison herd genetics
and despite the agencies conceding that a separate
evaluation of the genetic diversity of the Jackson herd
suggested an objective of 1,000 bison. In fact,
according to Gross and Wang "a moderate bison
population size - about 1000 animals - is necessary
to meet a long-term goal of achieving a 90% probability
of retaining 90% of allelic diversity for 200 years."
Wyoming's plan simply accepts the 500 target without
engaging in an independent analysis as to whether
the available habitat can sustain more bison or
of the genetic consequences of such a small herd. Wyoming's
plan also advocates the trial vaccination of bison with RB51,
a brucellosis vaccine, claiming that the vaccine is
both safe and effective in bison while, in a complete
contradiction, conceding that there is no scientific
consensus on whether the vaccine is
effective. In fact, many scientists have likened
the effectiveness of RB51 in bison to that of vaccinating
the bison with soda; that is no measurable benefit.
Until and unless the science demonstrates a vaccine
is effective, it should not be used on refuge bison.
Finally, though the Department has rarely subjected
one of its elk or bison brucellosis plans to public
comment, it was required to do as reflected in
the federal plan. However, this public comment opportunity
appears to be a makework exercise as Wyoming's plan suggests
that its decision has already been made. For example,
the plan indicates that the Department "will
propose a bison population objective of 500 in
February 2008" to its wildlife commission,
suggesting that any evidence presented questioning the
500 target is useless and won't change Wyoming's
decision. This is blatantly inconsistent
with the federal plan which intended for Wyoming to engage
in a meaningful public process to ensure that a genetically viable
bison herd is conserved in the Jackson Hole and Grand
Buffalo Field Campaign and the Animal Welfare Institute
urge you to take a few minutes to support Yellowstone's
cousins in the Jackson bison herd. Your personal
letters to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department
are urgently needed to demand that, at a minimum, the Department
set the Jackson bison herd objective at a minimum of
1,000 wild bison, that it terminate its bison hunt
on the National Elk Refuge, that it drop any plans
to vaccinate bison, and that it allow
the Jackson bison herd to occupy and use all public
lands in northwestern Wyoming.
Send your comments to:
Wyoming Game and Fish Department,
ATTN: John Henningsen,
P.O. Box 67,
Jackson, WY 83001;
Telefax: (307) 733-2276;
The deadline for public comments is Friday, January
18, 2008 so please act today to help protect the
Jackson bison herd.
For more information contact D.J. at DJ@awionline.org.
Thanks for helping the buffalo!
* Photo of the Week
Wild buffalo on Horse Butte. Photo by Jesse Crocker,
the Merlyn of BFC.
* Last Words
"In this place that i call home
My brain's the cliff, and my heart's the bitter buffalo
My heart's the bitter buffalo..."
~ Isaac Brock, Modest Mouse