Unseasonably warm temperatures persist in the land of the last wild buffalo, and there is very little snow. Hebgen Lake remains unfrozen, and mud is being tracked everywhere. The open ground has enabled buffalo to continue easier grazing at higher altitudes within the boundaries of Yellowstone, and so far, the Gardiner Basin along the Park’s north boundary, remains quiet. In the Hebgen Basin, west of Yellowstone, buffalo are on the move. With so little snow, travel has been easy for them, and grass still accessible. Hunters continue to respond to the messages left on “bison hunt hotlines” and arrive en masse when they are given the green light for easy pickings. Imagine a hunt where all you have to do is pick up the phone and have someone tell you exactly where your prey is, then all you have to do is get in your truck and drive to the spot. If the buffalo are in a safe zone, even if it’s a neighborhood full of houses, no problem; just wait in the heated cab until they cross an imaginary line, then get out of your warm truck and fire your weapon. That’s what Montana’s buffalo “hunt” looks like. But, the buffalo, have been through this many times before and they are getting smarter all the time.
Since our last Update, nearly 200 buffalo were outside of Park boundaries in the Hebgen Basin. Two of them were shot and killed by hunters. The rest either moved back into the relative safety of the Park, or onto buffalo-friendly private land, where they are safe. But that doesn’t stop the hunters from stalking them in neighborhoods or along Yellowstone’s boundary. The fact that the Central herd has been mismanaged to the point of such serious declines that hunting closures are being recommended by biologists doesn’t stop them either. Nor does it stop those same biologists from intending to carry on with their massive slaughter plans this winter.
Buffalo Field Campaign attended and represented at Tuesday’s Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) meeting. The status of the Central herd was not even on the agenda. But BFC made sure that this serious issue would not be ignored. We issued a press release and hand delivered a letter (PDF) about the status of the Central herd, calling for not only a hunting cease fire in the Hebgen Basin (where only buffalo from the Central herd migrate), but also for a moratorium on Yellowstone’s capture (for any reason) operations.
By recommending a hunting closure west of the Park, Yellowstone is attempting to place the conservation burden solely on hunters, yet their unnecessary and indiscriminate capture-for-slaughter far exceeds the number of buffalo killed by hunters in both the Hebgen and Gardiner Basins combined. And they know that Central herd buffalo migrate north into the Gardiner Basin, where Yellowstone National Park rangers and biologists run their nefarious trap, shipping hundreds of Northern and Central herd buffalo to slaughter. And, aside from a few radio-collared females, they have no idea which herd or family groups which buffalo come from. In other words, it is utterly negligent and irresponsible for Yellowstone to place the onus on hunters while they carry on with slaughter plans. Everyone who takes from the buffalo needs to heed the warnings and do their part to end the blood lust.
From discussions at the meeting, the number of buffalo Montana and Yellowstone want to have killed is less than the death toll they were aiming for a few weeks ago (600-900 instead of 1,250), but a full and complete moratorium needs to be put in place immediately to allow the Central herd to recover, and to protect the Northern herd from succumbing to the same fate. The endangered status (PDF) of the entire Yellowstone bison population — the last continuously wild, migratory buffalo left in the nation, and our National Mammal — is very real, and very serious.
Yet, par for the course, at the IBMP meeting, bison managers — fueled by Montana livestock interest-intolerance — spent the day discussion more creative ways to cause cumulative negative impacts to these sacred, keystone beings. Agencies are also pushing hard for quarantine (read: domestication and commercialization) of these buffalo. That said, public pressure is forcing the agencies to start taking a harder look at — but not necessarily act on yet -- more tolerance, expanded habitat, and coexistence.
Tribes are also putting more pressure on Yellowstone and Montana to curtail, if not end, capture operations at Stephens Creek, and BFC will do whatever we can to assist them in any way to get that nightmare facility shut down forever.
The USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service — the federal livestock overseer — announced that they are ending their GonaCon birth control study, which is good news for wild buffalo, no credit to APHIS because they’ll find some other sinister experiment to put these gentle giants through. It’s what they do.
Within the IBMP, there is not one single entity who represents the buffalo, or even considered their perspective. Not one. These human managers can talk for hours upon end without even considering what the buffalo think, feel, or want. And therein lies their gravest error. The buffalo are our elders, our teachers, and their wisdom is being neglected by the very humans who dictate how they should live and die.
It’s all a numbers game for bison managers. Yet, the buffalo are not data for a report, numbers for a spreadsheet, or digits to meet objectives. Buffalo are highly complex, socially and intellectually superior to those who currently control their lives.
Humans wouldn’t even be here on this earth, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, if it weren’t for the generosity of the buffalo. Humans have forgotten the promise they made with the buffalo. There is no need for more studies or committees or management plans to figure it out. All we have to do is listen to the buffalo and remember what we have forgotten. The buffalo are waiting, ready for us to re-enter an honorable relationship with them. They are trying to teach us to save us from ourselves before it’s too late.