Light snow is falling as I gaze out across Yellowstone’s backcountry and watch a family group of 100+ buffalo meander peacefully across the meadow. I feel at peace. This is what inspires me, our sacred buffalo on the land. Sacred. I openly choose the word to describe wild migratory buffalo. If allowed to roam they would restore our soils and our souls.
It’s my 16th year in the field, with the buffalo. As Vice President of BFC’s Board of Directors, it is an honor to do so.
This past September I also had the honor of attending Patagonia’s Tools for Grassroots Activism conference. Every two years, Patagonia gathers its grantees together for a four day conference filled with lectures, workshops and break out groups designed to empower some of the most incredible and effective non-profits working today. I was bunked up with Michelle Uberuaga, Executive Director of Park County Environmental Council (PCEC), based out of Livingston, MT. We hit it off immediately and promised to make an event happen in Montana once we returned home. So, as direct action activists, we made it happen!
Standing room only! Elk River Books is packed for Dr. David Mattson’s brilliant presentation, The Epic Shared Journey of Bison and Grizzly Bears. Photo By Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.
BFC has an outstanding Advisory Board of which Louisa Wilcox is one of our members. At our 20th Anniversary celebration last may, her incredible husband, Dr. David Mattson, gave a rich and exciting presentation titled, The Epic Shared Journey of Bison and Grizzly Bears (Counterpunch). So, I reached out to Louisa to see if David would want to give that same talk in Livingston with PCEC as a way to reach out to a community of extreme importance to the buffalo due to their proximity to the north-entrance of Yellowstone National Park. She knew David was excited to do so and added that we should plan a round table discussion afterwards as both she and David were extremely concerned with the upcoming plan for capture, slaughter and quarantine of our last wild bison. Equally concerning is the recent delisting — removal of federal Endangered Species Act protections — of Yellowstone grizzly bears, who, contrary to the “science” serving politics, claims these bears have recovered, when, indeed, the opposite is true.
The morning after the presentation, we had a good turnout for our round table discussion. Things got a little heated at times, especially in regard to quarantine, but it is important to have these difficult conversations. What we all learned is that we do want the same thing: an end to the buffalo slaughter and wild, migratory buffalo roaming free! Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.
With PCEC and a local chapter of The Sierra Club, BFC joined the Livingston community at Elk River Books for a standing room only presentation on The Epic Shared Journey of Wild Bison & Grizzly Bears by Dr. Mattson. This amazing tale takes us back thousands of years and weaves an exciting story of survival, adaptation, power and majesty... the tale of two elder relatives who are vital to what is today the North American landscape. And where are we today with wild bison and grizzlies? We are with less than one percent of where we were at the time when Europeans landed on this continent. So, when folks say there are too many grizzlies or too many wild buffalo, just ask, “Is less than one percent too much?” The answer, spiritually, economically, practically, & morally, is no!
A map of the Northern Hemisphere during the Pleistocene, where both grizzly bears and buffalo shared enormous swaths of land. Map courtesy of Dr. David Mattson.
The following morning, as snow was falling, we gathered at PCEC’s board room in an old brick school building in downtown Livingston. Our intent was to facilitate a discussion or strategy session about what to do about this year’s plan to kill up to 900 wild bison, with another who-knows-how-many buffalo potentially heading to quarantine and domestication. Twenty people braved the weather including folks from Gardiner's Bear Creek Council, The Cottonwood Law Center in Bozeman, Gallatin Wildlife Association, PCEC, BFC, local and associated press, MT Bison Association, and concerned tax paying citizens. Using BFC’s facilitation style, one which we use at every nightly meeting to ensure that all agendas are heard and all have equal opportunity to give voice to their concerns, we vigorously discussed the fate of our sacred buffalo.
A map of the same Northern Hemisphere lands today, where, because of humans, bison and grizzly bears share less than 1/10 of their former range. And they want to tell us that 4,500 buffalo are too many, and 700 grizzly bears is enough? Map courtesy of Dr. David Mattson.
It’s not always easy to air differences of opinions or hear the difficult life our buffalo face under the IBMP. Mike and Stephany did a beautiful job of reminding the group to think about what the buffalo want, not what you, the human, want. The buffalo want to roam, to migrate, to live together as a family... to do what every other animal in the ecosystem does, move across that land without being captured and then sent to slaughter or quarantine by the thousands each year. We only have less that one percent left!
Quarantine reared it’s ugly head, as it does. Some folks felt that quarantine is the better option, “At least they are not killed!”, they exclaimed. This time, it was my turn to respond. Quarantine does not stop the slaughter. If you sign up for quarantine, that does not mean they are not going to slaughter. They are part of the same plan. They will continue to capture, slaughter and send a group into a domestication pathway. Quarantine is not a solution; it is more of the same, another tool of the oppressor, another mechanism of control that seeks to tame those who are wild.
We ended the round table discussion two and a half hours later with a list of strategies to move forward, as a collective, for the buffalo. We will launch the positive ‘Protect Our National Mammal’ campaign that BFC initiated last year with our billboard efforts. We will pursue signatories for our listing of wild bison as “species of conservation concern” in the Gallatin National Forest plan. BFC Habitat Coordinator, Darrell Geist has just about ready to roll out our statement. Educational took kits, community pot lucks with hunters in Gardiner, and mobilizing community groups together, for the buffalo, all made the list.
As I boarded my plane, returning to my home at 9,000 feet in Colorado’s Indian Peaks Wilderness, I felt pleased with the outcome. I felt tired at the energetic expense. And, I felt resolved... I will not stop! Endless pressure, endlessly applied... until the buffalo roam free!
This holiday season, consider making a gift that truly matters. Give a gift to our sacred buffalo, who is also the National Mammal and, more importantly, the hope for our combined futures. Join us in the field & become a member of Buffalo Field Campaign today! Donate~Educate~Activate!
For the buffalo,
Justine Sanchez, VP, BFC Board of Directors