On Wednesday morning, under the cover of darkness, the first fifteen of hundreds of Yellowstone buffalo — all young females and members of our country’s only continuously wild, migratory herds — were crammed onto a slaughterhouse-bound livestock trailer by the agency entrusted with their protection: Yellowstone National Park.
Many people were led to believe when American buffalo were honored with the designation as our country’s National Mammal, that this celebrated sacred species would finally get their deserved protection. Unfortunately, they were wrong. Not even in Yellowstone National Park has National Mammal status sheltered the world’s most beloved buffalo from harm.
This season’s government-led slaughter is part of a deal struck between Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk and Montana Governor Steve Bullock to either kill or domesticate forty buffalo held in confinement at Stephens Creek for the past year. The government deal calls for fifteen females to be slaughtered while twenty-four bulls – one bull suffered a broken leg and was killed – to be transported to Corwin Springs, just a few miles from where they were captured as wildlife inside Yellowstone. The buffalo will be confined behind fences and under quarantine at Corwin Springs until they are transported to another quarantine facility at Ft. Peck, to live out their lives behind fences like domestic livestock.
Another four hundred wild buffalo remain in Yellowstone’s Stephens Creek buffalo trap. By the time you read this Update from the Field more livestock trailers will have carted more of our country’s most important buffalo to slaughterhouses.
As winter weather and the instinct for survival drives them on, hundreds more wild buffalo are migrating into the Gardiner Basin. Most will be trapped and slaughtered. The government may let a few more pass the Stephen’s Creek trap to be available for hunters along Yellowstone’s boundary.
Having survived the Ice Ages and systematic human-driven extermination across North America, these wild buffalo carry the wisdom of their ancestors and continue to outwit those who seek to stop them.
In 2011, all the government signatories to the Interagency Bison Management Plan agreed upon a “tool of tolerance” and built what we call the buffalo’s "Berlin Wall": a huge fence at Yankee Jim Canyon to stop wild buffalo from migrating north beyond Gardiner Basin into Paradise Valley where livestock interests fear the gentle giants recovering their ancestral homelands. But the buffalo continue to teach the government that such walls can be negotiated by intelligent beings.
Last week the government learned that lesson again with at least fifty-five buffalo breaching the "Berlin Wall." Montana Department of Livestock agents were beside themselves in fury, threatening to kill them all, but couldn’t because the agency didn’t know how they had gotten through or where they had gone. These beautiful buffalo busted out – making their way to freedom to roam their ancestral land. But they were discovered and livestock inspectors hazed them into the Gardiner Basin Wednesday morning.
These buffalo had found their own way. True restoration was in progress on the buffalo’s terms, as it should be. One of these days the buffalo will find their way back again and their freedom to roam will be recognized. We hold those days in our hearts, keeping our vision strong, as we fight for it on all fronts with everything we have. Let the buffalo lead the way!
You can help the buffalo roam free again. Contact Montana legislators and Governor Bullock and urge them to repeal MCA 81-2-120 – the horrible law under which all of this madness and absurdity continues. Political leadership is needed to change the law in a manner that respects wild buffalo like wild elk in Montana. Please continue to call Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk at 307-344-2002 and urge him to halt further capture operations and to release all buffalo trapped inside Yellowstone National Park. And please continue to apply endless pressure on Montana, urging the state to repeal MCA 81-2-120 and to respect wild buffalo like wild elk in Montana.