Last Thursday BFC had a strong presence at the Interagency Bison Management Plan meeting in West Yellowstone. We were anticipating a particularly heated meeting with all the the horrible things that happened to the buffalo this year, including multiple shameful hunting incidents and Yellowstone's decision to capture buffalo for slaughter during the treaty hunts. But the meeting turned out to be business as usual, with all government participants calmly discussing the various ways that buffalo were killed and harmed. There were a few points where positive things were discussed, such as shutting down Yellowstone’s trap and allowing more buffalo to access a wider landscape, but much of this was later contradicted. The buffalo’s perspective is rarely, if ever, considered by this group of people. Neither is the public’s, who continuously and strongly oppose the mismanagement of this sacred species. The one positive side of the meeting took place during the public comments with BFC strongly representing the buffalo. There were some great comments from other bison advocates as well. We brought handouts to share with the IBMP representatives, and other “audience” (as they like to call the public) members. One of the handouts was about a recent legislative audit of the Department of Livestock, which found that while the agency bears down relentlessly to kill buffalo under the guise of a brucellosis threat, they are flippant and irresponsible in how they manage brucellosis in their own livestock. The other handout was a series of photos showing many of the gruesome images of what these agencies’ decisions actually look like on the ground, including bloody calves with horns broken off from the squeeze chute, buffalo shot right at Yellowstone’s boundary, fully-formed buffalo calves left in their mother’s gut piles, hazing, quarantine, and mourning. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and since the IBMP representatives don’t listen to what we say, maybe these images will have an impact.
Back in the field, buffalo continue to make their spring migration to their favored calving grounds on and around Horse Butte. Some buffalo have made their way south along the Madison River and out to the South Fork/Denny Creek area, where Pat Povah, who is no friend to buffalo, has his hobby ranch. Buffalo were denied access to lands south of the Madison River in their newly gained year-round habitat, so herds who move through this area are vulnerable to being harassed or shot. This area is wonderful habitat for buffalo and other wildlife. Because the buffalo love it there so much, hazing is common. Sadly, Montana recently initiated a new “game damage hunt,” so that when buffalo arrive to this area, a hunter can be called to come shoot a bull. The “logic” behind this plan is that the other buffalo will be scared away, and conditioned not to return. On Saturday, a young bull in a family group fell victim to this scheme. Today, BFC patrols are observing a few bulls in the general area, and a hunter has shown up. As long as these buffalo don't enter Mr. Povah's land--and they haven't as of this writing--they remain relatively safe. As for the hunters who are successful in killing these innocent bulls, we hope they don't get sick from eating the meat of these incredibly skinny animals who have barely survived the winter.
On the bright side, spring is waxing strong, buffalo are accessing nutritious grass that is greening up swiftly, and BFC patrols continue to come across grizzly bear and wolf tracks. It is only a matter of a week or two before we begin seeing the first newborn calves!