Update from the Field
Dear Buffalo Friends,
Things in the field have been relatively quiet these
past few weeks. We are busy gathering the firewood that
will keep us warm throughout West Yellowstone's long
and serious winter. A lot of hard work and heavy lifting
goes into wood-gathering for the BFC family and we are
so grateful to everyone who has put their back into
keeping the fires lit! Tabling inside Yellowstone National
Park continues for the next couple of weeks, with volunteers
talking to hundreds of park visitors about the wild
buffalo and braving the heat and the smoke of countless
fires. Coordinators are busy around BFC headquarters,
working on the vehicles that will convey us on our field
patrols, keeping the office and administrative functions
going strong, tending to the garden and gathering wild
foods and medicines. While summer is a relatively quiet
time in the field, it is still a busy one. Many thanks
to everyone who keeps the campaign going, and especially
to all of you - the buffalo's faithful friends - who
help keep us in the field, working in defense of the
last wild buffalo.
We have very important news to share with
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) has recently
issued a notice, inviting the public to submit any information
concerning the Yellowstone wild buffalo herd, and threats
to them and their habitat. Now is the time to make a
strong case to the FWS that this special herd and their
*historic* native range should be considered for protection
under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
This notice comes in response to a letter submitted
by a citizen from Minnesota, Mr. James Horsley, who
filed a petition on January 5, 1999, urging the government
to protect the Yellowstone herd - the last wild buffalo
left in America - under the ESA. Mr. Horsley, if you
are reading these words, THANK YOU! Never underestimate
the power of an individual!
With the FWS notice comes both good news and bad news:
The good news is that FWS recognizes that the wild population
of American buffalo currently living in and around Yellowstone
National Park meets the criteria of a Distinct Population
Segment (DPS). As you know, BFC has been circulating
a petition for years to bolster support for protecting
the Yellowstone herd - America's last wild buffalo -
as a Distinct Population Segment. Further, FWS also
recognizes that Yellowstone National Park is the *only*
place in the U.S. where wild bison have continuously
existed since prehistoric times.
The bad news is that FWS has failed to adequately research
and address the wild buffalo's historic range, which
covered hundreds of millions, of acres across North
America. They didn't even bother to identify the historic
range of the last wild Yellowstone herd. The FWS is
only considering the interior of Yellowstone National
Park and the Gardiner Basin (north of Yellowstone) to
be significant habitat in their native range, and in
that context - which is based on grossly insubstantial
and incomplete research - they do not feel that the
last wild buffalo are at risk of extinction.
But there's more good news: we have an opportunity to
help FWS change their minds and reconsider their decision.
The task before us now is to urge FWS to conduct substantial,
thorough research to establish what has been lost and
what can be recovered. We must - and we can - clearly
demonstrate that the so-called Yellowstone bison population
- and its historic native range - is endangered and
warrants full protection under the Endangered Species
The fact is, the so-called Yellowstone buffalo are the
last continuously wild American buffalo left in the
United States. Once numbering an estimated 25 to 50
million, and present from Florida to Alaska, Canada
to Mexico, today wild buffalo are ecologically extinct
throughout nearly all their native range, and cut off
from all of their historic migration routes. Yellowstone
is the last stronghold for the wild American buffalo,
who follow their nomadic instincts and are still genetically
pure buffalo. This remnant herd represents the last
of the nation's wild buffalo, not simply inhabitants
of the Yellowstone region. Yellowstone just happened
to be the place where 23 individual buffalo escaped
the horrendous 19th century slaughter, and they haven't
migrated out of there because the government and cattle
industry will not let them. We are all too familiar
with this ongoing part of the buffalo's story.
This is a great opportunity for us to set the record
straight and help gain strong protection for America's
last wild buffalo! BFC has read through FWS's findings,
and has pulled out some major points that must be addressed.
Please see the action item below, read through the talking
points, backed up by some of the supporting scientific
evidence. Contact information for submitting your comments
to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is below. Please
pass this on to everyone you know. This is an opportunity
of unbelievable proportions to make a real and lasting
difference for America's last wild buffalo and their
* TAKE ACTION:
Send Comments to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service!
Everyone who cares about wild buffalo should write,
email, and make calls to the USFWS asking that they
reconsider their decision. You may use the following
talking points (starting with the *). We will keep you
posted and provide more information as we move forward.
To read the FWS notice please visit http://www.fws.gov/mountain%2Dprairie/species/mammals/yellowstonebison/.
To read Mr. Horsley's petition to FWS please visit http://www.fws.gov/mountain%2Dprairie/species/mammals/yellowstonebison/petition.pdf
IN YOUR COMMENTS:
1. Please strongly urge the U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Service to reconsider their decision not to protect
America's last wild buffalo under the Endangered Species
Act. FWS must fully research and explore the bison's
historic native range, migratory corridors, and the
Yellowstone herd's genetic significance.
2. Use the talking points below to help you formulate
your comments. Use our talking points as guidelines
ONLY, putting them into your own words, making them
your own. Decision-makers will not count comments that
all look the same.
3. Add your own personal thoughts, sentiments, stories,
books, maps, songs and more about wild buffalo, and
tell the FWS what wild buffalo in North America mean
to you and the living landscape.
~*~ Help us fill in the story-lines of yesterday! Many
Americans have only a contemporary understanding of
the buffalo's historic range. Tribal members from the
Indigenous Cultures who evolved and coexisted with the
buffalo can contribute significantly, helping to fill
in the many gaps that still exist, by sharing stories,
songs, and indigenous knowledge of the buffalo's ancestral
landscape and significance, what the people and the
land have suffered in their absence, and what their
return would mean.
4. Spread the word to save the herd! Get every individual
and group you can to submit similar comments on the
herd and its native habitat.
SEND YOUR COMMENTS TO:
Assistant Regional Director, Ecological Services
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, CO 80228
TALKING POINTS & SOME SUPPORTING SCIENCE:
* The USFWS finding makes no mention of how bison came
to occupy the Yellowstone Plateau. This is an important
discussion - missing from their finding - about the
bison's historic and native range within the Greater
Yellowstone Ecosystem. Without this discussion, the
public has no way to judge whether bison are threatened
or endangered within all or a significant portion of
their native range.
Dr. Mary Meagher, retired bison ecologist for YNP, believes
the Yellowstone bison migrated from the surrounding
river valleys following plant green up into the mountain
ecosystem and were able to establish an indigenous herd
because Yellowstone's unique geothermal features provide
bison winter range.
Paradise Valley, along the Yellowstone River, is just
one of the river valleys with documented bison jumps,
and other archaeological evidence of bison inhabiting
habitat that the USFWS did not consider in its finding.
"The Lamar Valley and the Yellowstone River Valley
north of the park (Figure 4.1) to Livingston and beyond
was an important area for bison and Native peoples throughout
the Holocene. This system can be considered the original
Northern Range for Yellowstone bison, functioning as
an ecological continuum of grasslands that likely supported
seasonal migrations by bison as far south as the high
elevation ranges in the Upper Lamar Valley. Davis and
Zeier (1978:224) described the lower Yellowstone Valley
as an exceptional area for Native people to gather,
drive and kill bison. Eight bison jumps and three kill
sites have been documented south of Livingston. The
closest jump site to YNP is 25 km north of the park
boundary. It was used during the late prehistoric period
between 1,700 and 200 b.p. (Cannon 1992). There is evidence
of a human use corridor from the Gallatin and Madison
River drainages into the interior Yellowstone National
Park. Several major bison kill sites are located in
the Gallatin Valley outside of Bozeman Montana."
C. Cormack Gates et al, THE ECOLOGY OF BISON MOVEMENTS
AND DISTRIBUTION IN AND BEYOND YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL
PARK, A Critical Review With Implications for Winter
Use and Transboundary Population Management, April 2005.
* The USFWS finding also make no mention of migratory
corridors, an important biological consideration for
maintaining the bison's habitat and genetic fitness,
and making a sound determination on the extant of the
bison's native range.
Long distance migration, a characteristic that defines
wild bison as a nomadic, herd animal that once thundered
across the plains, is gone. In The Last Mile: How to
Sustain Long-Distance Migration in Mammals, (Conservation
Biology, Pages 320-331, Volume 18, No. 2, April 2004)
Joel Berger examined the "ecological phenomena"
of accentuated treks of ungulates and found that 100%
of historic and current routes for bison are lost.
* The USFWS also fails to consider that wild bison as
a native wildlife species are at risk of genomic extinction.
A vast number of the 500,000 bison you see on the land
have been bred with cattle. Conservatively, wild pure
bison managed as a wildlife species number around 4,000
in the United States: 450 bison in Wind Cave and 3,600
bison in Yellowstone.
The extensive prevalence of cattle genes in public and
private bison herds, habitat fragmentation, limited
range and herd sizes, isolated populations, artificial
selection, intensive management and fenced ranges, and
non-native disease are just some of the risk factors
of ecological extinction that the USFWS failed to consider
in its finding.
Curtis Freese along with several scientists writes in
the Second chance for the plains bison, (Biol. Conserv.
(2007),): "Small herd size, artificial selection,
cattle-gene introgression, and other factors threaten
the diversity and integrity of the bison genome. In
addition, the bison is for all practical purposes ecologically
extinct across its former range, with multiple consequences
for grassland biodiversity. Urgent measures are needed
to conserve the wild bison genome and to restore the
ecological role of bison in grassland ecosystems."
"Today, the plains bison is for all practical purposes
ecologically extinct within its original range."
* USFWS utterly failed to discuss the ecological importance
of bison and the vital, keystone role they play in maintaining
ecosystem health and function. The Endangered Species
Act is one sense an endangered ecosystems law. Extirpation
of bison from their native range is also an indication
that the prairie ecosystem they played a part in forming
is also at risk of extinction.
"Bison were a keystone species of the prairie ecosystem;
significantly affecting the way the prairie grassland
ecosystem evolved and playing an important role in maintaining
it. Wild bison remain ecologically extinct in Montana.
The State of Montana Department of Livestock has prevented
the natural dispersal of wild bison into Montana from
Yellowstone National Park because of disease issues
while no attempts are underway to restore the species
outside of this controversial region. Current management
of private, state and Federal bison herds is leading
towards domestication of bison that threatens their
wild character and limits important natural selection
processes." Position Statement of the Montana Chapter
of The Wildlife Society on Wild Bison in Montana, signed
by the Executive Board of The Montana Chapter of The
Wildlife Society, and adopted April 11, 2000.
* The USFWS puts great faith in the "contingency
measures" of the Interagency Bison Management Plan
and its "successful management" to prevent
the loss of the bison population.
Continued removals of large numbers of wild bison under
the interagency plan may threaten the genetic viability
and integrity of the Yellowstone bison herd's subpopulation
structure. Scientists have identified two distinct breeding
grounds that help maintain genetic diversity within
the herd. However, there is no evidence that the interagency
plan has considered subpopulation structure in its management
decisions and actions.
"The current practice of culling bison without
regard to possible subpopulation structure has potentially
negative consequences of reduced genetic diversity and
alteration of current genetic constitution both within
individual subpopulations and the overall YNP bison
Since bison are known to naturally assemble in matriarchal
groups including several generations of related females
and the most recent calf crop (Seton 1937; Haines 1995),
it is possible that the culling of bison at the YNP
boundaries is non-random with respect to family groups,
a practice that over sufficient time may lead to systematic
loss of genetic variation.
The caveat, however, is that caution must be practiced
in the management of populations with substructure to
ensure the maintenance of both subpopulation and total
population variation. The YNP bison population has not
previously been managed with this consideration in mind.
For example, 1,084 bison were removed from YNP in the
winter of 1996-97, representing a 31.5% decrease in
total population size. Even more troubling, however,
is the inequality in the reductions across the Northern
and Central herds. While the Northern herd suffered
a loss of approximately 83.9% (726/825), the Central
herd was reduced by only around 13.9% (358/2,571; Peter
Gogan pers. comm.). If in fact the Yellowstone bison
population is represented by 2 or 3 different subpopulations,
disproportionate removals of bison from various subpopulations
might have detrimental long-term genetic consequences."
Natalie Dierschke Halbert, The Utilization of Genetic
Markers to Resolve Modern Management Issues in Historic
Bison Populations: Implications for Species Conservation,
THANK YOU for taking action for the last wild buffalo!
Remember to spread the word and save this herd!
* BFC West Coast Road Show Schedule
It's that time of year again, when Buffalo Field Campaign
takes the wild buffalo's story to the streets! BFC's
co-founder Mike Mease and BFC family Fishburne and Chris
will be heading to the West Coast with events beginning
on September 5 in Reno, Nevada. BFC has presentations
scheduled in various locations throughout Nevada and
California, including the ever-exciting Power to the
Peaceful, where Mike Mease will take the stage!
Learn about the current threats to America's last wild
buffalo and the solutions that will ensure them a place
in this world. Watch exclusive BFC footage from the
field, hear first-hand accounts about what BFC witnesses
and learns being in the company of wild buffalo, discover
volunteer opportunities, and take action to defend this
unique wild population.
Please visit http://www.buffalofieldcampaign.org/aboutus/roadshowswest2007.html
to find out about when Buffalo Field Campaign will be
near you, and encourage your friends and family to come
out and learn about what's happening to the last wild
buffalo, and how you can help! If you can't make it
in person, you can still make a difference. As a volunteer-based,
grassroots organization BFC always appreciates your
monetary support, which is what keeps us in the field
and on the front lines. Visit http://www.buffalofieldcampaign.org
to help support these critical outreach efforts and
the the daily operations of the only group working in
the field every day in defense of the last wild buffalo!
For more information about BFC's West Coast Road Show
contact Mike Mease at mease"at"wildrockies.org
through the end of August. Starting in September, please
* Last Words
"Half [of] the [Yellowstone] herd is now gone due
to their slaughter, their destruction, attempting to
interrupt their migratory movement. At present, they
are stopped at the Park border by state officials using
rifles, trucks and helicopters. Some are shot. Some
are hazed back into the Park. Due to the stress, some
of the females abort. The animals were headed toward
grasslands both public and private located at lower
altitudes, grasslands occupied by non-native, Old World
cattle. We, as a Nation, are exercising a preference
for a world-wide abundant domestic species over the
last wild herd of native buffalo in existence today
in the United States. Some scientists believe that if
more slaughter occurs and if another severe winter comes,
this herd will collapse, that is, cease to exist."
~ James Horsley, from his petition to the Secretary
of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, urging the U.S. Fish
& Wildlife Service to protect the wild buffalo of
the Yellowstone region as an endangered species. His
petition is dated January 5, 1999. The USFWS responded
to it on August 15, 2007.