After four women from Buffalo Field Campaign disrupted the last IBMP meeting, the meeting facilitator warns “the audience” about appropriate behavior. Photo by Markos Wolf, Buffalo Field Campaign.
Buffalo Field Campaign’s small summer crew attended the summer meeting of the Interagency Bison Management Plan on Wednesday August 1st, 2018. We’d like to fill everyone in on the events and important information of the day.
The meeting started with talk of encouraging buffalo to use some of the year-round habitat that we have gained for them in Montana, specifically the area around Taylor Fork to the North of the Hebgen Basin, about 30 miles from West Yellowstone. With the assumption that less hunting in the area would cause buffalo to migrate in the desired direction, Montana’s Fish, Wildlife, and Parks agency indicated that they would be willing to close some portion of the Hebgen Basin to state hunting. Then, Tribes who hunt under treaty right were asked if they would be willing to curtail hunting in some areas on the west side of Yellowstone National Park. Most were open to the idea. However, the Taylor Fork area is not currently habitat that the buffalo choose to use. Rick Wallen, biologist for Yellowstone, clearly stated that it will take a substantially increased population and many years to possibly see bison move into the Taylor Fork. Over two decades ago, the Montana Department of Livestock killed so many of the buffalo who had the migratory instincts to move into the Taylor Fork, that no buffalo go there now. And, now that the Central herd — the only ones who migrate into the Hebgen Basin, and could move north to the Taylor Fork — are in such dire straights, it will take a complete cease-fire and a lot of time to see what the buffalo will chose to do.
The next piece of news was that Yellowstone’s Stephens Creek buffalo trap — located within Yellowstone National Park — is now also being operated as a quarantine facility with the goal of moving brucellosis-free buffalo to “other places.” Dan Wenk, superintendent of Yellowstone, revealed that buffalo from quarantine will not be going Ft. Peck — home to Assiniboine and Sioux Peoples in the North of Montana — by the end of the year as previously promised and celebrated in the media. The move is being blocked by the USDA’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) due to some "possible negligible risk” of brucellosis transmission, between buffalo and cattle. From our perspective, if there’s a threat, remove the cattle, remove the problem. The Ft. Peck tribes’ lawyer, Majel Russell, spoke strongly to APHIS’s Becky Frey and Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk condemning the lack of communication and hypocrisy in the way that the Ft. Peck tribes have been treated. We fully concur. As much as we oppose quarantine (domestication), it has become the government’s promise of another broken Treaty. While this debate rages on, there are wild buffalo who are being held captive and run through terrorizing testing procedures — often resulting in death — who are the true victims of this bureaucracy and manipulation.
Former Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk (center), USDA-APHIS’s Becky Frey (right), and former senior bison biologist for Yellowstone, Rick Wallen (background). Photo by Markos Wolf, Buffalo Field Campaign.
The process of “quarantine” consists of wild buffalo being captured, separated from their families, put into small pens, run through a squeeze chute, subjected to invasive medical procedures and then kept in captivity for the rest of their lives. All of these actions result in injury and sometimes death for these precious animals and lead to the domestication of America’s last wild buffalo. Buffalo Field Campaign opposes quarantine for these reasons.
Yellowstone National Park is pushing for placing a temporary buffalo trap to capture buffalo both for slaughter and quarantine outside of the park, on lands north, in the Gardiner Basin. The state of Montana would be responsible to operate the trap. The Montana Department of Livestock — the agency driving all these management schemes against wild buffalo — did not seem at all interested in this option. Tribes hunting under treaty rights liked the idea very much, as it would reduce the issue of Yellowstone trapping buffalo before they can reach the park boundary, and, consequently, the firing line of the hunt zones. There was no decision on this topic, but it looks unlikely that it will move forward due to opposition from the Montana Department of Livestock. For the people responsible for the “management” of America’s last wild bison, to see a trap as a “tool" to allow for buffalo to move more freely over the landscape shows how misguided and counter productive the efforts of the Interagency Bison Management Plan are.
What is not said at the IBMP meetings is sometimes more important than what is said. This was the last meeting for Dan Wenk, Yellowstone's Superintendent, and also for Rick Wallen, Yellowstone's senior bison biologist, both of whom are leaving their positions. As these two men were given heartfelt goodbyes and much gratitude for their years of service, the fact is, under their tenure as buffalo “managers”, thousands of buffalo needlessly died in service to Montana’s cattle industry. With all the applause for their efforts, the fact that their hands are covered in buffalo blood, of course, was not mentioned.
The most interesting thing at this meeting was the afternoon’s discussion of population goals. Initially, native wildlife experts talked about setting aside population numbers and managing for lack of human conflict. Bison biologists from Yellowstone then introduced three important numbers: 3,000 which is the population goal listed in the current IBMP; 4,200 which is the estimated current population of bison in the ecosystem; and 6,000 which is the low end of an estimated carrying capacity for Yellowstone alone (surrounding habitat can sustain thousands more). Park representatives seemed to be suggesting that a population number of 4,200 is optimum to avoid conflict with cattle and possibly allow for greater distribution. The acceptance of this number would mean the difference between managing for a decreasing population and managing for a sustainable population. Montana’s DOL stated that they are not attached to any one population number as long as no conflict occurs. This statement seemed to lend itself to the perspective of native wildlife experts to manage population to avoid conflicts. Conflicts can be managed more easily and honorably by not harming wild buffalo, but by removing the cattle who are invading their habitat as buffalo restore themselves on their native home lands.
The ability of the world’s most important buffalo — the last wild, migratory herds -- to expand herd size is crucial to their long-term survival, as well as the survival of many other species. To hear significant discussion that seems to be moving in the direction of allowing for a higher population is encouraging, and that’s because you have been raising your voice for wild buffalo. We must keep up the pressure on policy makers to ensure a long-term sustainable and healthy population for generations to come. Wild and free, migration is the key! We were heartened to hear reference to the “thousands of emails” Dan Wenk, YNP superintendent receives every year from buffalo supporters opposed to the park’s involvement in the annual winter slaughter of America’s last wild buffalo. That is YOU! Thank you! We are making an impact but the pressure must continue.
TAKE ACTION: Now is the time to flood the phones and emails of YNP’s new Superintendent, Cameron “Cam” Sholly. Let’s show Yellowstone that wild bison have many strong allies and advocates and that we will hold this agency responsible for irresponsible and destructive actions against the country’s national mammal.
The next IBMP meeting will be held at Chico Hot Springs in Pray, MT on November 28, 2018. At that time the winter season kill goals will be developed and confirmed. Please attend if you are able. Until then, keep the pressure on! As the buffalo teach us, we must continue with persistence, resistance, and endurance until they roam free again!
For the Buffalo,
Members of the BFC Family
~ Lara, Marko, Toe, and Geddy