Last Thursday, BFC attended, documented, and represented the buffalo at the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) meeting, where state, federal, and tribal representatives gathered to discuss their winter management plans for our national mammal, the country’s last wild buffalo herds. Setting the stage for what could be the largest buffalo slaughter since 2008, Yellowstone biologists claim they have underestimated the buffalo population count — somehow missing over a thousand bison in previous counts — and insist they now “need” to kill between 900 and 1,300 of the gentle giants to “stabilize” the population. In truth, what they are doing is the usual catering to Montana livestock political agendas, sacrificing ecologically extinct wild buffalo to appease the unfounded fears and deeply rooted prejudices of ranchers. Livestock interests demand that the Yellowstone buffalo herds be reduced to a mere 3,000 individuals. There are already four Indigenous Nations hunting buffalo under treaty right, and three others — the Yakima, Blackfeet, and Ft. Belknap (Aaniihi and Nakoda) — will begin to hunt buffalo from this population as well. There are at least 26 tribes who are recognized as holding cultural ties to Yellowstone, so we should expect more tribes to join the hunt in the future. If Montana livestock interests have their way with reducing the buffalo to just 3,000, the population won’t stand a chance in the face of this increased hunting pressure, especially coupled with Yellowstone’s capture-for-slaughter plans. The already crowded landscape where buffalo are literally gunned down at Yellowstone’s boundary will become even more of a brutal than it already is. Tribal representatives recognize this and are challenging Yellowstone’s trap, while some are demanding that the herds be allowed to flourish and grow to at least 20,000.
The IBMP’s federal and state agencies are facing intense scrutiny and criticism from tribes on other fronts as well. The USDA-Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced their plans to do more science experiments on three hundred female buffalo from the highly vulnerable Central Herd, which has never recovered from the slaughter of 2008. APHIS wants to capture 150 females and inject them with the chemical sterilization pesticide, GonaCon, as well as the brucellosis cattle vaccine RB-51, which has been proven ineffective for it’s intended use in livestock, and has never been approved as safe nor effective for wildlife. Then they want to use bio-bullets — bullets containing the chemical and vaccine fired from a gun — on an additional 150 buffalo. This plan is being strongly objected to by nearly all the IBMP agencies and tribes, and, of course, Buffalo Field Campaign will oppose it every step of the way.
Tribes are discouraged with Yellowstone, APHIS, and the Montana Department of Livestock over quarantine as well. BFC has always opposed quarantine, but we share the tribe’s frustrations with the government who have force-fed quarantine as the only option for tribes returning Yellowstone buffalo to tribal lands: the tribes of Ft. Peck in northern Montana were led to believe that if they built a quarantine facility — which they did, costing about half a million dollars — they would be granted captured buffalo from Yellowstone. Now, after the facility has been built, the state and federal agencies are making an about face, saying that the buffalo may not be transported to Ft. Peck due to brucellosis concerns. The government agencies claim that it is illegal for brucellosis exposed buffalo to leave the state's brucellosis Designated Surveillance Area unless they are being shipped to slaughter. Once again, the government is breaking their word in dealing with tribes. Tribal representatives called foul on this “rule” reminding APHIS that they have transported brucellosis-exposed buffalo from Yellowstone all the way down to Colorado for research purposes. APHIS choked on their excuses and offered thin, meaningless apologies.
With the never-ending lack of respect for treaty rights and with state and federal agencies dictating how tribes are involved with their relatives the buffalo, this management plan only ensures the buffalo will never be able to take care of the people again. The government continues to impose enormously oppressive rules, conditions, and restrictions on tribes who want to restore their relationship with wild buffalo on the landscape around Yellowstone, and throughout all tribal lands. Our prayers and actions are with the tribes to stand up and take over this ridiculous management scheme and restore buffalo on the land again, with meaning and respect as only they can do.