It has been a busy week here at Buffalo Field Campaign as we wind down our field season and prepare to celebrate the honor of being in the field with the buffalo for twenty years. Board members, former volunteers, and supporters are beginning to arrive to join us for our anniversary party, while others are simultaneously preparing to migrate to the four directions for the summer. Even so, we remain engaged in the field with the buffalo.
Many of our new volunteers who arrived after our field season in Gardiner came to a close have been asking what it’s like there, and as they are all committed to returning next season, we took them on a short field trip to the Gardiner Basin. While there we checked on the fifty-nine bulls who remain captives inside Yellowstone’s trap, awaiting the park’s decision on their 50-year quarantine (domestication) proposal, which BFC strongly opposes. Volunteers were shocked by the industrial construct of Yellowstone’s Stephens Creek buffalo trap as well as the excessive closure around it, and were doubly outraged to see the other imprisoned buffalo in USDA-Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service’s pastures, where, just a few miles north of Yellowstone’s boundary buffalo are being experimented on with the chemical pesticide birth control agent GonaCon. We prayed for these relatives and strengthened our resolve to end these cruel and unnecessary practices. And as we made our way back through Yellowstone toward Campaign headquarters, the wild reached out and touched us, in the form of marmot, elk, pronghorn, buffalo, and grizzly bear, shouting, “Still here! we are still here!” reminding us of who and what we continue to fight for.
We also performed one of our many community services, picking up litter left by careless travelers along our two-and-a-half mile stretch of Adopt a Highway on Highway 20. As volunteers freed this stretch from plastic bags, beer bottles, and other trash, the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) was busy trying to push buffalo off of hobby rancher Pat Povah’s land. Once again, the buffalo left the DOL in the dust, spotting the rider from afar and bolting for the thick woods. For the third time in a row, the buffalo escaped the threat, and Bridger spent the next few hours searching for them. After getting lost during the last haze, this time Bridger had GPS assistance, adding a bit more amusement to another foiled attempt. Eventually he found the buffalo, though they refused to move. The game warden was called out to assist, as well as another DOL employee. They fired cracker-rounds (explosives discharged from shotguns) and still the buffalo resisted. After some time, the buffalo decided they’d had enough of the nonsense, got up, and bolted. Twenty-two big brown buffalo and five wee calves ran through the forest, chased by the DOL agents. They were pursued over extremely thick dead-fall, which is difficult enough for adult buffalo to handle, but terribly hard for the little calves to navigate. After a short while, the buffalo reached the edge of the Madison River, where they crossed north, over to the bluffs, part of the safe-zone of their new year-round habitat. Exhausted and hungry, they remained there for the rest of the day.
As all of this was taking place, BFC’s co-founder Mike Mease, was representing wild buffalo all the way over in Switzerland, where he had been invited to speak by NONAM, the Nordamerika Native Museum. In Europe there is a profound love for wild buffalo and indigenous cultures. Mike was well-received and surrounded by people who are passionately committed to helping from afar, and met a few folks who will be traveling here to volunteer. And they want to bring him back to speak to at least ten universities and participate in an indigenous film festival. This is yet another example of how the wild buffalo of this country are beloved around the world, and that this is not a “Montana issue” as the state likes to insist, but an issue of global concern. The whole world is watching.