* Update from the Field: Born and Hazed in Montana
BFC witnessed the birth of this baby on Saturday. On Monday, the DOL hazed it down Highway 287. Click here for a larger image. BFC file photo.
How do you begin to write about a time such as buffalo have had this week? We have witnessed--and the buffalo have endured--so much this week: a wild buffalo being born the day before Mother's Day, wildlife coming into the world between a fence and a highway; being graced with the gift of a bull buffalo migrating through our yard. Before the week is over, a total of 600 buffalo will have been needlessly and aggressively forced off of their chosen ground in Montana, and hundreds more buffalo deep inside Yellowstone are being harassed to make room for those forced to leave the state. Welcome to West Yellowstone: it is that time of year when the appeasement of cattle interests attempts to overpower ancient natural law, the approach of the nonsensical May 15th deadline when the Montana Department of Livestock demands that no more wild buffalo exist in Montana.
This lone bull had been grazing peacefully just west of our cabin on Sunday, and was hazed down Highway 287 by the DOL the next day. BFC file photo. Click here for a larger image.
Federal, state and county law enforcement, deputized Montana livestock inspectors, Yellowstone park rangers, and the local game warden arrived on Monday to begin the week's operations with the haze of a lone bull buffalo. He was run off of private property just a half mile west of BFC's cabin onto Highway 287, where agents on horses, an ATV and trucks pursued him for miles on and off the asphalt until they encountered a family group of buffalo with numerous tiny calves and still-pregnant females. One of the calves was the very baby we saw being born just two days earlier. Ruthless in their efforts, the agents chased the buffalo east down the highway, hounding them until they finally called off the haze near the field by Duck Creek where we did our first fence removal project.
After the agents were done there, they headed towards the Madison River corridor of Gallatin National Forest where they proceeded to haze more buffalo including scores of newly born calves. In the past two weeks, agents have hazed buffalo along this southern side of the Madison numerous times, pushing them back into areas that the buffalo already grazed, demonstrating that they have no understanding of the natural movements and grazing habits of buffalo. Unlike cattle, buffalo are native and wise with the land they evolved with. They don't overgraze but gently clip the grasses and move along. Buffalo have a respectful relationship with the grass they are built from and depend upon, so hazing them back into habitat where they have recently been is a foolish, futile act.
On Tuesday, more agents arrived to West Yellowstone. Numerous agents from the Montana Department of Livestock, Yellowstone National Park, Gallatin National Forest, Gallatin County Sheriff's department, and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks began showing up at the private residence of the Koelzer family, the headquarters for western boundary bison harassment operations and site of the Duck Creek bison trap. We knew that this was going to be a really bad day for the buffalo. The agents returned to the south side of the Madison River most riding horses, many in trucks, assisted by the infamous helicopter that DOL agent Rob Tierney uses to direct agents and scare up buffalo. Over our radios we could hear one agent tell Tierney that he was hazing a mom with a newborn calf that was too young, but Tierney insisted the tiny buffalo be forced to flee. Another agent reported he had a female who's water had just broken. He left her, but her family was chased away. She was left alone to give birth and vulnerable to predators without protection of the herd. The haze proceeded.
All told, the agents hazed close to 200 buffalo from that part of Gallatin National Forest, and at least a third of them were newborn calves. Group after group fled from the horsemen and horsewomen. A small group of about ten buffalo with four moms with calves was trailing the larger haze and began to slow down and resist hazing. They were exhausted. The little calves were having a very difficult time, and mothers were bluff charging the agents trying to defend their calves. An impatient DOL agent began to fire off cracker-rounds (explosives fired from rifles) but the buffalo were too tired to move. Tierney brought in his helicopter and flew low to try and scare them, but that didn't work either. Eventually, they walked slowly, their calves trying to stop and bed down, but determined to keep up with their mothers who continued to bluff-charge the agents, and as they moved onto the road, three of the four calves collapsed from exhaustion and the fourth immediately began to nurse, then it too collapsed. BFC asked a Park Ranger to help, to call these agents off, and he did. The riders left that small group for the day, only to return the next. The rest of the buffalo weren't so lucky. The haze continued off of Gallatin National Forest. By the time it reached Highway 191, most had been driven 10-12 miles. Relentless in their efforts, agents continued the haze deep into Yellowstone National Park, with the helicopter containing the mean and arrogant livestock agent Rob Tierney flying close, low to the ground, chasing buffalo inside the world's first National Park. These poor tired buffalo, with exhausted babies on their brand new little legs were forced to move yet another 7 miles. You can read a separate account from one of our patrols that witnessed this heartbreaking experience.
DOL helicopter violates the Galanis family's private property rights by hazing buffalo with a helicopter. BFC file photo. Click here for a larger image.
Yesterday, Horse Butte was attacked by the agents, and, of course, it wasn't just the buffalo that got caught in the haze. Shane Grube and MT Board of Livestock executive director Christian Mackay arrived first with horses, to meet up with Tierney and the helicopter that the DOL also uses to slyly "avoid" trespassing on the private property of the Galanis family who love and welcome the buffalo. Their tactic is to use the helicopter to scare buffalo off the private land, onto the public land, where horsemen pick them up and further haze them. As the cowboys waited, the helicopter began to haze buffalo on The Narrows Peninsula of Horse Butte, where we documented them scaring up a grizzly bear! BFC immediately called the Forest Service, and within an hour, the Forest Service initiated a month-long closure of the area to protect the bear, who had been feeding on a buffalo carcass before he was so rudely interrupted. Check our web site for a video of this grizzly getting caught in the haze. The helicopter then flew low over the Galanis property, at times right over our heads, and scared about fifty moms and babies onto the public land where the horsemen picked them up. As the horsemen proceeded to haze buffalo off of Horse Butte, the helicopter flew back towards Yellowstone National Park where it further hazed the buffalo that had been chased for nearly 18 miles the day before. This was to "make room" for the buffalo that would be moved off of Horse Butte and all points along the Madison River corridor. It was a veritable war zone throughout the ecosystem. Filmmakers from National Geographic, who were in the area working on a documentary about spring in Yellowstone, also witnessed and filmed this harassment of America's last wild buffalo.
DOL helicopter and horsemen chase buffalo off cattle-free public land near Duck Creek. BFC file photo. Click here for a larger image.
Today, agents arrived to harass wild buffalo that had migrated back onto lands within the Duck Creek corridor. And today, there was a lot of media to witness it. And they certainly got an eye-full. Our friends at the Natural Resources Defense Council brought regional and national media to join BFC on the front lines to bear witness firsthand. High Country News, Montana's Helena Independent Record and Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Wyoming's Powell Tribune, and the L.A. Times all saw for themselves the aggressive actions of government-funded livestock interests harassing wild buffalo. At the beginning of the haze the agents were chasing five adult bull bison along highway 287, and while they were busy telling us to position ourselves where we couldn't document, they neglected to warn a bicyclist - who is an area resident and business owner - that wild bull bison were running right at her. Lucky for her, the buffalo were more interested in escaping the agents than running into her. The media had run-ins with law enforcement, and got to see about 130 wild buffalo hazed off of cattle-free pubic land, into Yellowstone National Park by cowboys and the DOL helicopter. Today, we witnessed as Sandhill cranes and a moose were caught up in the haze, as the helicopter and horsemen chased wild buffalo out of Montana and into the ecologically meaningless boundaries of Yellowstone National Park. If there is a silver lining in the whole event, it's that the buffalo did not get run through barbed wire fences, because BFC and NRDC had taken it all down.
The haze continues inside Yellowstone National Park this afternoon. We expect that agents will be out nearly every day to gather up the buffalo they lost, or those who are certain to migrate back out of Yellowstone since there's not enough spring grass for them to eat yet. Volunteers are exhausted, but staying the course and determined to the core to stick with the buffalo, bear witness and tell their story. Our hearts ache for our friends as the landscape is emptied.
We have noticed something change the past couple of weeks. Some of the non-hazing agents that monitor these operations - mostly with the Park Service - are becoming visibly fed up with the arrogant, unnecessary and unsustainable actions of the Montana Department of Livestock. Attitudes are changing, and because you, dear friends of the buffalo, are with us helping to keep the pressure on, the pendulum will swing and the buffalo will roam and the Montana Department of Livestock will soon lose their corrupted power over these gentle giants.
* "The Beast"
NOTE: Scores of baby buffalo, like this little guy, have been terrorized by the DOL's helicopter and people young and old have painfully borne witness. BFC file photo by Dru.
POW!!! A circular shot from a predator's defense mechanism. My tribe ran forward. Our hooves trampled brown weeds and the giant bird in the sky sounded us forward in fear. The bird's wings spun fast. I was confused. I had just learned to walk and now I was being chased by dangerous beasts. I kept running in the direction of the forest. As I was running, I saw a fallen tree lay out in our trail. But I saw all of my fellow buffalo jumping it so I took their encouragement. I ran forward, ready to jump it. I squinted my eyes and focused on the jump. There I went; my two front legs flung into the air followed by my back set. My front legs landed safely along with my left back one. My right back leg didn't quite make it. It smacked into the fallen tree, then all I could feel was pain slash... nothing. I looked up and saw my tribe running away, not noticing my injury. POW!!!! The sound echoed in my head. I didn't want to move but I knew I had to if I wanted my own life. I did want my own life, so I moved on dragging my disabled right back leg with me. The beast bird started flying faster, making me trudge faster. POW!!! POW!!! POW!!! My predator appeared to be angry. Dear Reader, you're not going to believe me but one thing I can do that no other buffalo can is read. Yeah, yeah, that's right: read signs, read badges, and all. And when I read my predator's badge it said "D.O.L." D=Department. O=of. L=Livestock. They were the beast.
By Brodie, Age 9
* Summer Volunteers Needed to Spread the Word!
Buffalo Field Campaign still has a few openings for summer education and outreach volunteers. If you can commit to spending three weeks with us, most of which will be spent inside Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, to help educate Park visitors about what's happening to America's last wild buffalo, please get in touch! Drop a line to volunteer"at"buffalofieldcampaign.org or call 406-646-0070 with questions or to apply. Thank you!
* Last Words
Birth of a Buffalo: Wildness Born Between a Fence and a Highway
BFC volunteers were blessed to witness the very rare chance to see a wild buffalo being born. Click here to see a touching photo of a mother buffalo nuzzling her new born calf for the first time. You can also visit our FaceBook page to view more!
When we got the call from our fellow Mothers Day event volunteers saying that they were watching a buffalo cow give birth, I felt a familiar and unpleasant twinge of jealousy and tension; I had been coming to BFC since 1999 and had never seen a bison birth, although I had met people who were here for two days who had, along with various tourists and truck drivers I had conversed with. Wasn't I as entitled as them to witness the incredible beauty of nature's miracles? Hmph. Laughing at the persistence of infantile feelings, my partner and I loaded up our 2 year old twin boys into our embattled pickup truck and set out west on Hwy 287, planning to rendezvous with our friends and hopefully catch some of the
excitement. "It'll probably be over by the time we get there," I thought. Hmph.
We came around the curve towards Red Canyon and saw a stretch of vehicles and camouflage-clad volunteers scattered along the north side of the road. As we stopped and approached on foot we also noticed there were at least a few unfamiliar faces - passerby's with nice cars and makeup who had joined the special event.
I was delighted when I spotted the cow and saw the first section of the amniotic sac protruding from her vulva. I had witnessed many of my goats giving birth and this looked very familiar - I knew we had arrived at the perfect moment for spectation.
The cow paced for a bit and then dropped loudly to her haunches, grunting and snorting as she then reclined to the customary position on her side. As we watched her sides begin to undulate I was flooded with a visceral memory of my own labor: the heat, the tension, the urgency. We all fell silent.
Except for the kids of course, all 5 of them, who were playing and screeching in the culvert ditch behind us, adding the particular brand of poignancy that kids do to any somber or reverent moment. Soon the feet of a new baby buffalo began to show, and then the hind legs slid into view all at once. "Nice," I found myself whispering. "You got that far."
Of course, I knew that animal births tend to be much quicker and simpler by far than humans, but I couldn't help but marvel as the little creature began to emerge section by section. "It takes about 20 minutes," someone said. 20 minutes!
With each stage of the birth process and each accompanying gasp, "ooh," "aah," or other commentary from the bleachers, I began to feel closer to the individuals around me. Many of them were people I have known and gallivanted in these valleys with for many years but hadn't seen much of since my new incarnation as mother. The synchronicity was not lost on us; we had gathered here for the annual Mothers Day "Free Coffee, Free Cookies, Free the Buffalo" event, a roadside outreach effort aimed at drawing attention to the bison calving season now in full swing, and the outrageous harassment the mothers and newborns face before, during, and directly after birth. There had also been a BFC board meeting earlier in the week which had brought some old friends back around.
So here we were, returning from our various busy lives, bringing kids and partners, as well as memories that have forged their place in our hearts forever. We had met and bonded in a place of immense power, these valleys on the outskirts of the Yellowstone caldera, and we continue to draw power form it and from each other.
Soon the whole tiny buffalo package lay wrapped on the ground , and we were cheering and the cow was taking her due rest. In moments we could see little feet twitching inside the sac, trying to break out and reach ground.
I had noticed that the other bison in the group had given the laboring mother a lot of space - it had struck me as lonely, as I remembered being surrounded by no less than seven women plus my partner throughout most of my twins' birth. But now that the new buffalo had arrived, the herd began to take notice, and slowly made their way over to inspect and, it seemed, to greet the newest member of the herd. I was particularly struck by the behavior of several bulls who had been resting a little ways down the road. I had heard that they left the area as soon as the cow began to show signs of birthing.
Now, as the baby broke out of its sac and kicked its mother for the first time, they all arose as if on cue. Once the baby was totally free of the sac, the mother rose, licked her baby in warm greeting, and then turned to the birthing material and ate the entire placenta! The bulls walked over with singular purpose, and stood in line to take their turns licking the little one.
I was reminded of this tribe - like ritual when, in the ensuing days, we witnessed countless pregnant cows and mother-baby pairs separated from their herd, and their protection, in cruel hazing operations organized by the very government agencies designated to preserve them.
As for our roadside baby, it, like all healthy newborn bison, was ready to try out its legs within 10 minutes. There were many humorous and almost painfully cute moments as the wobbly creature took nose dives and fell on its haunches repeatedly.
But suddenly we noticed that something was wrong; as the calf fumbled it was getting closer and closer to a high tension wire livestock fence. We feared that it would tumble through the wires and get separated from its mother, which is exactly what happened after several minutes.
We gasped communally again, but this time with fear rather than excitement.
The pair quickly realized their predicament and the cow began frantically licking her baby through the fence, trying in vain to nudge it back to her. The baby was adept enough to put its head through the wires, but the finagling that would have been necessary to squeeze through the wires proved too much for its newborn body.
In the next 20 minutes or so, almost all of the bison in the immediate vicinity came over at some point to offer their help to the distressed pair. There was plenty of nudging, licking, and grunting from the buffalo, and nervous commentary ("Go through that one! Right there - you can do it!") from the human crowd.
At one point two volunteers walked around the herd and opened a gate to the paddock where the calf was, in the off chance the cow may discover it. We all agreed we should not attempt to intervene further unless it went on for many hours or seemed desperate.
Underneath our nervousness I guess we must all have shared a faith, based on experience, in the brilliance and resiliency of these
animals. And indeed the calf did eventually figure out how to wriggle its slinky body trough the wire and was soon plopped down
where it should be, pressed against its mothers side.
As we all cheered and hugged for the second victory, I knew we had experienced an incredible story and an incredible lesson. Once again the synchronicity was overwhelming: 8 of the volunteers present that day were on their way to the final phase of the fence removal project BFC has been working on since January. By the end of that day there was one less fence to ensnare newborn buffalo, or any other wildlife, on Hwy 287. And so it goes, I guess, when you are privileged enough to spend your time with America's last truly wild bison: the lessons barrel through all barriers and cannot be denied.
P.S. You can view a photo album from this amazing day on BFC's FaceBook page.
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: 6
2009-2010 Slaughter: 0
2009-2010 Hunt: 4
2009-2010 Quarantine: 0
2009-2010 Shot by Agents: 2
2009-2010 Highway Mortality: 0
2008-2009 Total: 22
2007-2008 Total: 1,631
Total Since 2000: 3,706*
*includes lethal government action, quarantine, hunts, highway mortality