* Update from the Field
Buffalo near Yellowstone's north boundary. BFC file photo.
Montana's buffalo "hunt" ends at sunset on February 15. All hunters but one have failed to take buffalo, simply because the shaggy giants are not here. Over the weekend, Nez Perce tribal members - who hold treaty rights to hunt buffalo - were in the area, but they had to return home empty-handed because no buffalo were accessible. Temperatures have been unseasonably warm, and snow accumulation relatively minimal, which can ease the buffalo's drive to seek lower elevation habitat. In truth, it is more than likely that buffalo are also still trying to recover from the horrible slaughter during the winter of 2007-2008, when Yellowstone and Montana killed more than 1,600 wild buffalo. Every spring the Montana Department of Livestock leads aggressive management actions that force wild buffalo out of the state, even from areas where there are no cattle. When tribal and state hunters come to Montana hoping--and failing--to find buffalo, the failings of the livestock industry-driven Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) become starkly clear.
But things could soon be changing. The Nez Perce, Confederated Salish-Kootenai, and the InterTribal Bison Cooperative are finally active participants in IBMP decision-making, and we expect that their much-needed participation will help guide a more respectful future for wild buffalo. This has the Department of Livestock and their ranching constituency feeling very uncomfortable, to say the least. As you will read below, the Department of Livestock appears to be feeling the coming pressure and is reacting much like a cornered animal, snarling and striking. Hard times are ahead for the buffalo, it seems, but people grow more tired of the cattle industry's hegemony and the buffalo's champions are gaining strength and numbers. They say the darkest time is just before the dawn, and so it may come to pass this season. Rest assured that BFC together with tribes and other bison advocates are going to turn the dark into light and realize some positive change.
* IBMP Agencies Hold Secret "Public" Meeting
BFC recognizes serious flaws in the public process, but we take every opportunity to actively engage and make every attempt to attend all public meetings that affect the Yellowstone buffalo population. BFC has never missed an Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) meeting ... until this week. We were shocked to learn that the Interagency Bison Management Plan partners held a secret "public" meeting on Tuesday, February 2nd, with agenda items up for discussion that affect the buffalo and BFC greatly. Interestingly, none of the regular participants at these meetings were aware that it was taking place. Nor was the press. Montana's Madison and Park County commissioners, however, were invited to the meeting, yet somehow it was kept hidden from the general public until after it was underway. The Montana Department of Livestock is currently the lead agency responsible for organizing meetings, and they failed to adequately notify the public that this meeting was happening, which violates Montana's Open Meeting Law. It also goes against the recommendations from the U.S. Congress General Accountability Office, who suggested IBMP partners hold meetings in public in order to be transparent and accountable. BFC is taking action to ensure that these secret "public" meetings never happen again. Clearly the DOL didn't want BFC or any of the buffalo's strong allies to attend, and we now know why:
* Good-Bye Tolerance: DOL & Park Service Battle Over Adaptive Management
While we may have been intentionally excluded from attending the meeting, BFC was on the phone with the Department of Livestock (DOL) and Yellowstone National Park officials and we've learned that extreme changes are being planned by the DOL.
At this IBMP "public" meeting on February 2, Yellowstone National Park and Gallatin National Forest went head-to-head with the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) and consensus among the agencies was thrown out the window. The DOL "intends to make changes," huge, backwards changes and strike out at the buffalo by removing the minimal tolerance all IBMP partners agreed to just last winter. According to Montana State Vet Marty Zaluski, who represents the DOL, "last year's Adaptive Management Changes won't be repeated." The DOL intends to withdraw the minimal tolerance all IBMP agencies agreed to in December 2008. Under this Adaptive Management Plan, last spring unlimited numbers of buffalo were allowed to access public lands habitat on cattle-free Horse Butte until May 15, while smaller numbers of buffalo were given some access to critical winter range and spring calving grounds along the south side regions of the Madison River (Madison Arm). It was really the least the agencies could do, but still represented a few months of respite for the buffalo. Apparently, the DOL felt that the buffalo were afforded too much "tolerance" last year, and now they want to take it all back. Montana lost its brucellosis-free status, and it had nothing to do with the buffalo, so why do they insist on taking these drastic actions against them when the IBMP is clearly failing on both of its goals: to maintain a viable free-ranging population of bison and to protect Montana's brucellosis-free status?
The specifics of DOL's intended actions this coming season are still unclear, but we do know that they want to begin hazing and capturing buffalo if more than 100 migrate out of the Park's western boundaries between February 15 and April 10. This means that right after the hunt, and while tribal treaty hunts are still underway, we could see disgusting repeats of DOL actions from winters past, where agents on snowmobiles chase buffalo through deep snow, forcing them to use energy stores that they need to survive the winter. The DOL also said they will seek to erect the Horse Butte buffalo trap, and they fully intend to slaughter. When BFC asked if IBMP partners would need to come to consensus on these drastic management changes, Marty Zaluski said no. Montana, apparently, can do whatever it wants; as horrible as the IBMP is, the DOL can make things worse. But, if that's the path they choose, it will be all on Montana, especially if the Park Service and Forest Service have the courage to uphold their opposition.
At this secret "public" meeting, like at the November IBMP public meeting, tribal representatives, Gallatin National Forest and Yellowstone National Park disagreed with the DOL's stringent and backwards suggestions. Yellowstone stated that they feel strongly about continuing operations as outlined in the Adaptive Management Plan, and will continue to seek more tolerance for buffalo outside Yellowstone's boundaries. Tribes, Gallatin NF and Yellowstone NP all agreed that they need more time with the existing Adaptive Management Plan to evaluate its effectiveness before proposing any amendments to it. You can read through a series of interesting documents, including powerful letters from Yellowstone National Park and the InterTribal Bison Cooperative here.
These renegade actions by the DOL could initiate the dissolving of the Interagency Bison Management Plan. We still don't know if Yellowstone and Gallatin will refuse to assist the DOL, but they should be encouraged to refrain from participating. Please take a minute to contact Yellowstone Superintendent Suzanne Lewis and Gallatin National Forest Supervisor Mary Ericson and thank them for taking a stand for the buffalo and encourage them to drop out of the failing Interagency Bison Management Plan!
BFC will be there do document and challenge the DOL's devolution every step of the way, and we will continue to show the world what these cowboys are doing to the last wild population of American buffalo. These actions by the DOL demonstrate that they know their time harassing and killing buffalo is coming to an end.
* Quarantine: FWP Decides to Send 88 Yellowstone Buffalo to Turner
It is worse than we feared: Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has decided to send all 88 quarantined Yellowstone buffalo to the private lands of billionaire Ted Turner. Turner will get to keep 75% of the Yellowstone buffalo's offspring for his commercial gains. Montana has just set a horrible precedent of privatizing public wildlife and they have shown great disregard to Native American tribes who for years have wanted to bring the buffalo home.
Read BFC's press release.
Read FWP's decison notice.
* Wild Buffalo: What Does this Mean to You?
This is a question that is going to be asked throughout Montana over the next few years, and we want to hear what you think. What does WILD buffalo, truly free-living wild buffalo, mean to you? How do you see their return taking shape on the landscape? What challenges can you think of, and the ways to overcome them? Think big, think practical, dream the buffalo back. Let us know ~ send your thoughts to bfc-media"at"wildrockies.org.
* Last Words
Tell the bison not to go
where they have always been,
instruct the elephants to read
and yield their ancient memories
of where the water is.
Force wolves and bears to learn
the boundaries that have never been-
the ink that lies unseeable
between this tree, that blade of grass.
Teach them all to read the maps
that are invisible. Make them know
what is not real, does not exist
to moon or stars, and stubborn as they are
kill them for not learning
what we will not share.
...for the bison and wolves of the Yellowstone ecosystem and Northern Rockies, for the trees and plants and rocks, for the elephants and orangutans, for the bees and the gorillas, the butterflies and birds, for the voles and nematodes, for the frogs and salamanders and the bats, for the otters, dolphins, whales, and polar bears, for the turtles and the coral and the krill, for the plankton and the leopard, for the beetles and the worms, for the waters, earth, and air...
© February 3, 2010 Carol Snyder Halberstadt
Do you have submissions for Last Words? Send them to bfc-media"at"wildrockies.org. Thank you all for the poems, songs and stories you have been sending; you'll see them here!
* Kill Tally
AMERICAN BISON ELIMINATED from the last wild population in the U.S.
2009-2010 Total: 1
2009-2010 Slaughter: 0
2009-2010 Hunt: 1
2009-2010 Quarantine: 0
2009-2010 Shot by Agents: 0
2009-2010 Highway Mortality: 0
2008-2009 Total: 22
2007-2008 Total: 1,631
Total Since 2000: 3,703*
*includes lethal government action, quarantine, hunts, highway mortalities