We sat waiting by the Park border, the wind howling, snow blowing. Several trucks with state and tribal hunters sat in waiting as well, only a few hundred yards from the northern border of Yellowstone National Park. Fourteen wild buffalo-- seven moms and seven calves--faced the storm, grazing and milling about. We waited, the hunters waited. Then suddenly, inexplicably, the buffalo turned and ran away from the border, away from the hunters, away from the gut piles of their brothers and sisters killed over the previous weeks. They ran more than a mile deeper into the Park where they rested, grazed, and slowly moved further away from the killing fields of Beattie Gulch.
This scene, which we gratefully observed, repeated itself several more times over the past week. Buffalo approached the border with hunters at the ready only hundreds of yards away only to turn back and head further into the Park leaving behind frustrated hunters who would go home empty handed. Unfortunately, not all of the hunters were foiled this week. Four young bulls and the lead female of their family group were taken by “harvesters” from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) just outside the Park border. Another CKST harvester also killed an old bull that had been wandering alone in the Eagle Creek area.
While I am glad to report that only a handful of buffalo were killed this past week, I am sad to say that it was probably only a small reprieve for these most persecuted of North American wildlife species. The Nez Perce, the Confederated Umatilla Tribes, and the Shoshone-Bannock tribes have yet to begin their harvest season in earnest. Many wild buffalo are now moving, as they follow their ancient instincts from the deeper snows of Yellowstone's interior to the banana belt of the region, the Gardiner Basin. Here they will find the grasses easier to reach, the landscape easier to move through. They make the obvious decision to go to areas where they will expend less energy and increase their chances of surviving the harsh Yellowstone winter.
This post was modified from its original form on 06 Feb, 14:57
The buffalo may be learning where is safe to go and where the harvesters wait for them to cross the imaginary line with rifles at the ready. But as winter deepens and more buffalo enter the basin, they will inevitably cross that line in search of more grass and more room to roam. They will be killed and when the tribal harvesters have taken their fill, the National Park Service, at the behest of the Montana Department of Livestock and the industry elites they represent, will capture the remaining wild buffalo. Many will be trucked to slaughterhouses by the very same tribes that have already taken too much from this last herd of wild buffalo. Some will be given to the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to become subjects of cruel and inhumane experiments.
Even in the midst of this tragic tale, beauty and hope abound. There is hardly a place in North America that is more spectacular and teeming with wildlife than the Gardiner basin. Eventually, wild buffalo will enjoy the freedom already shared by the multitudes of deer, elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, eagles, ravens, and coyotes. Eventually, enough people will come to realize that wild buffalo deserve a home and deserve respect. Eventually, we will overcome the oppression of the livestock industry's stranglehold on the land and its wild inhabitants. Our victory is as inevitable as the changing of the seasons, as inevitable as the migration of wild buffalo.
For now, we take solace in small victories, the buffalo that survived today, the ones that will live to pass on their knowledge to their kin. We do our part and pass on what we see and experience. We bear witness both to the ugly and the beautiful, knowing, deep in our hearts, that it does matter. Knowing that we must continue this work until wild buffalo roam free.
In solidarity with the wild buffalo,
Buffalo Field Campaign
This post was modified from its original form on 06 Feb, 14:59
Now what I want to know is WHY do the ELK get to enjoy freedom, when it has been proven that THEY give brucelliosis to the cattle? There is NOT one proven incident that bison have given cattle brucellosis. It's not that I don't want the elk to enjoy freedom, it's just that I want the poor innocent bison to be allowed to enjoy it safely, too.