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Weekly Update from the Field January 17, 2008
Subscribe to our email list and receive our weekly Update from the Field
* Update from the Field
* BFC Needs Gear & Volunteers
* Send Your Valentine(s) Some BuffaLove!
* Proposed Bison Plan for Wyoming - A recipe for Mismanagement
* Photo of the Week
* Last Words

* 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 buffalo restoration.

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. -Dru

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 their 
response. -Miriam

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. 

For 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 year.
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.

Roam Free!
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 seventeen 
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 gear@buffalofieldcampaign.org 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 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: https://secure.groundspring.org/dn/index.php?id=1807, 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.
* Proposed Bison Plan for Wyoming - A recipe for Mismanagement
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 made before 
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 Teton region.

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;
E-mail: john.henningsen@wgf.state.wy.us

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

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