Sage in the snow. Photo by Kurt Rowe, BFC Volunteer.
During this season of thanksgiving, I am very grateful for the opportunity to be here at Buffalo Field Campaign’s basecamp along Hebgen Lake and among such a wonderful group of staff and other volunteers. It has been almost a week since I arrived after finishing my long road trip here from southwestern Virginia to offer my presence and skills in support of wild bison.
Like many American’s I knew that bison had barely survived their extirpation from most of their original habitat after westward expansion in the 1800’s, but I had no idea that a small number of genetically pure bison had survived the mass slaughter and had made a comeback. Nor did I know of the many challenges they now face to just survive. With the great work of BFC, these majestic animals will hopefully someday flourish in and around Yellowstone National Park as a truly wild and free national mammal.
From the moment I rolled up the drive to basecamp I felt welcome. I was greeted warmly and given a tour of the main cabin and allowed to settle in. After gaining my bearings, I located a bunk and settled in.
The daily routine is quite varied and the many necessary tasks to live and work in community are assigned during the nightly meeting where I could volunteer for a task as I felt able to and comfortable doing so. The organization and structure of the BFC team allows for a quick integration that allowed me as a volunteer to quickly become an active participant in the daily flow here at camp.
Trumpeter swans are the heaviest living bird native to North America and their wing spans can exceed ten feet. Photo by Kurt Row, BFC Volunteer
In the first two days I received training on various jobs that need staffed each day including: meal prep, kitchen cleanup, and other daily and weekly chores. I was also trained on the shift responsibilities in the radio room: monitoring the BFC phone lines; taking messages; and the use of radios and communication protocols with our field patrols as well as given a field patrol (rookie rove) tour of the areas where field patrols go out to monitor locations of bison, state and tribal hunters, and various agencies represented locally.
Living in community can be challenging, but I have found that everyone here at BFC is courteous, respectful of each other, and always willing to lend a hand to help new volunteers with questions or concerns.
My two shifts out in the field have exposed me to a landscape that I know very little about. Getting oriented to the land and knowing my bearings, locations, and being able to describe what I am seeing is essential for performing the duties as a member of a field patrol. Seeing my first group of bison was so exciting and gave me clarity that my time here in the West Yellowstone area is really important work. Knowing that my small part in field patrols helps to expose and document the destructive and harmful state and national policies regarding buffalo is a very satisfying feeling.
While out in the field, I’ve also had a chance to see wildlife as well as amazing scenery and stunning views. Ravens circling above the ridgeline, near the ox bow of the Madison River, two trumpeter swans in flight out beyond the vista along Duck Creek inside Yellowstone National Park, a pinnated grouse foraging in the new burn area south of Horse Butte, elk tracks in the newly fallen snow, and, of course, bison bedded down and grazing in many different areas including the buffalo-friendly Yellowstone Village, Stubby’s meadow and Sandy Butte. All of this set in spectacular plant communities of the sagebrush steppe, lodgepole pine and Douglas-fir forests.
Kurt knitting an Icelandic pattern sweater. BFC photo.
Besides the work of protecting buffalo, there is time for socializing, playing games, and story telling. Getting to know the staff and other volunteers makes for a rich and pleasant community life. And as is my tradition for the winter season, I’ve had time to begin my knitting projects - making wool socks and a sweater.
The days are full and exciting. Volunteering here at BFC for two months this winter is what I came to do and I am so thankful for this opportunity. Thanks to everyone here for making me feel so welcome and allowing me to experience this amazing and very important work. I am feeling humbled in the midst of bison and blessed to be here!
With the Buffalo,
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