|Yellowstone Bison Slaughter
Article - 4/24/03
Day heroes: Amani Hays
By Jerry Taylor Wolf, Missoulian
Hays feeds the environmental activists
who try to keep bison from wandering outside the
safety of Yellowstone National Park. That means
preparing three versions of every meal: vegan,
vegetarian and omnivore.
Photo by JERRY TAYLOR WOLF
kitchen coordinator for the Buffalo Field Campaign has
dedicated her life to saving bison by cooking for the
people who work to protect the animals.
WEST YELLOWSTONE - When the early patrol goes out to monitor
bison at 5 a.m., they go with a full stomach. And their
thanks go to likely the least conspicuous earth hero in
a highly conspicuous save-the-earth campaign.
Like a good mom, Amani Hays makes sure the bison watchers
get tasty well-balanced meals three or four times a day.
Amani, which is a traditional word for mother, was the
name Krista Hays chose to use before she ever heard about
the Buffalo Field Campaign.
The nonprofit group tries to protect Yellowstone National
Park's bison, the last free-ranging herd of bison on earth.
Amani Hays helps make the work possible.
Born into a cattle ranching family in Idaho, Hays never
dreamed she'd spend six months every year working in the
Buffalo Field Campaign headquarters outside West Yellowstone
as the kitchen coordinator.
Managing the kitchen budget, planning menus, ordering
food and keeping track of inventory is a full-time job,
six to 10 hours a day, from October to May. The daily
duties don't give Hays much chance to get out of the kitchen,
but she feels she plays an important role.
"I'm here to see a stop to bison being captured and
slaughtered," she said.
In 1997, Hays saw a Buffalo Field Campaign newsletter
and was surprised to learn about the bison controversy
in Yellowstone National Park. Bison were killed when they
left the park because they might transmit brucellosis
to cattle that grazed outside the park.
The Montana Department of Livestock directs the capturing,
testing and transporting of bison to slaughter. Other
agencies, such as the National Park Service, U.S. Forest
Service and Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks,
also participate in the process.
Hays agreed with her grandfather, a cattle rancher who
knew it was easier and cheaper to vaccinate cattle than
bison. She decided to help the campaign any way she could.
When the cook left to have a baby, Hays stepped in.
She had learned to cook from friends who own a restaurant.
With that kind of experience in a busy kitchen, Hays soon
became a pivotal person behind the scenes.
"It's hard for me to go on a patrol because I leave
behind so much that needs to be done," she said.
In a small cramped kitchen, Hays supervises two volunteer
cooks. Together, they serve 12 resident coordinators and
a varying number of volunteers. Guests are always welcome,
such as school groups and individuals who want to learn
more about the bison.
"We average 20 to 30 people a day, but sometimes
as many as 60 mouths need to be fed," said Hays.
With a two-burner propane camp stove and aging electric
range, large quantities of nutritious food are prepared.
Baking 10 to 20 homemade pizzas can take up to five hours.
The kitchen crew provides three different versions of
each meal to accommodate vegans, vegetarians and omnivores.
"We don't try to change people's food choices. We
encourage them to know where their food comes from and
to respect the earth," Hays said.
That means avoiding processed foods and cooking with healthy
ingredients. About $300 to $400 is spent on vegetables
each month. The resulting meals include homemade veggie
burgers, roasted potatoes, carrots and banana bread. Two
house favorites are homemade humus and granola.
To stretch the food budget, humus is made 8 quarts at
a time and lasts about a week. The 5 gallons of granola
holds out for one or two weeks. Grinding wheat for flour
and making soy milk are also weekly activities.
Transforming 25 pounds of hard wheat into wheat flour
takes about half a day, depending on how many volunteers
are available; turning soy beans into soy milk is more
complicated. After 20 cups of soy beans are soaked overnight,
they are ground, then boiled while being constantly stirred
and finally strained to get the finished product.
These activities help the volunteers come together as
a community, Hays said.
On patrols, seasoned volunteers and coordinators are paired
with volunteer trainees. They hike, snowshoe and ski to
follow the bison and to record the different species encountered.
After each evening meal, the volunteers and coordinators
have a meeting to review safety procedures, to assign
areas for the next day's patrols and to report on the
day's wildlife activity.
Any day that bison stay inside the park is a good day,
During the winter, bison lower their heads and use them
like shovels to clear snow off vegetation. When spring
arrives, pregnant bison search for food that is easier
to reach and for safe places to calve. Areas outside the
park can look tempting. High above the river, up in the
sunshine, Horse Butte is one such place.
During one evening meeting, a volunteer recalled March
14, 2001. That day, he and 19 volunteers formed a human
chain in front of 15 bison headed up to Horse Butte. The
volunteers were determined to prevent the capture and
possible slaughter of the animals. As the terrified bison
thundered up the hill, Montana Department of Livestock
officials raced close behind on snowmobiles.
Then chaos erupted.
Thirty-thousand pounds of buffalo neared the human chain.
The volunteers began yelling and screaming, hooting and
hollering, jumping up and down, trying to draw attention.
The bison herd was barreling down on their would-be rescuers.
Then a few bison turned and careened down the steep slope
and sped back to the park. Others reversed direction,
scattered and escaped by running around their pursuers
on the noisy machines.
At 5 feet and 100 pounds, kitchen coordinator Hays wasn't
intimidated by the power and size of the bison, and she's
proud to have helped convince the animals to return to
"There's a lot more that goes on in the Buffalo Field
Campaign than just making waves," said Hays.