The Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council is invoking its trust responsibility to try to get Montana and the U.S. government to protect wild buffalo.
The last wild buffalo live in Yellowstone National Park. Heavy snows will force them to lower elevations beyond park boundaries to forage. They seasonally migrate, as do elk, into parts of southwestern Montana.
They are being shot because the buffalo are at the Park’s carrying capacity and because they are seen as competing with cattle and putting them at risk of the disease brucellosis when they migrate.
According to the Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC), 6,927 buffalo have been slaughtered since 1985. Usually they are hazed but, in a first, 27 were rounded up and trucked back to Yellowstone at the end of May. BFC say that the last hazing of the buffalo included stampeding them through housing areas, disrupting wildlife and shooting paintballs in the butt of a bull buffalo (see video).
BFC say that no cattle are in the wild buffalo winter range and no one is slaughtering elk, even though they also carry the disease.
James (Jimmy) St. Goddard, hereditary chief of the Blackfeet Nations, said:
Montana’s ranchers and farmers, they’re all Republican. Nobody wants to stand up to them. There’s so much they don’t understand about our culture.
In March, 63 bison from Yellowstone National Park were relocated to the Fort Peck reservation in northern Montana, but a livestock and property rights collective immediately sued and further transfers have been stopped.
According to Montana’s governor, Brian Schweitzer, the collective behind the lawsuit just wants “the cheap grass” on public land.
The lawsuit has also halted plans to move bison to other public and tribal lands, including Fort Belknap in Montana and Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, where they would populate America’s first tribal park.
Tribes deliberately rounded up the last remaining wild buffalo to save them after 30 million were slaughtered in the 19th century. Yellowstone’s 3,500 are the last with no cattle genes and a migration instinct.
St. Goddard said; “Our treaties are older than the U.S. Our rights are older than the country.” The Leaders Council, which represents Salish & Kootenai, Little Shell, Shoshone-Bannock, Eastern Shoshone, Blackfeet, Chippewa Cree, Fort Belknap, Fort Peck, Northern Cheyenne, Northern Arapaho, and Crow, are testing the treaties, first with a letter to Schweitzer asking him to stop harassment of buffalo.
Video of buffalo hazing:
Listen to Jimmy St. Goddard, a Sacred Paint Gatherer for the Blackfeet Nation, as he talks about the importance of the buffalo:
Picture by oregon ducatisti