Why We Formed BFC
Buffalo in the Greater Yellowstone Bioregion are not protected on their natural year-round habitat, and never really have been. Despite its size and magnificence, the ecosystem of Yellowstone National Park does not offer sufficient winter food for the resident herds of grazing wildlife; this includes not just buffalo, but moose, elk, and deer.
Due to deep annual snows, animals are forced to follow their instincts and leave the park to find enough forage to survive each winter. For the other species that migrate along these “nutrition paths” there are no major man-created problems, but when the buffalo follow their instincts and migrate to lower elevations, they enter a “conflict zone” where the politics of Montana clash directly with the survival needs of their species.
During the winter of 1996-97, the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) and the National Park Service slaughtered nearly 1,100 majestic Yellowstone buffalo when the hungry animals dared to follow their instincts beyond the arbitrary human-imposed park boundary into Montana. Those killings, combined with deaths from an unusually severe winter, resulted in a loss of nearly two-thirds of the Yellowstone population—the only herds of genetically intact, non-domesticated, and continually free buffalo on the planet.
The buffalo were in dire need of help.
Buffalo Protection Takes Root
That winter, when an organization called Buffalo Nations (the original name of Buffalo Field Campaign) began conducting daily patrols and coordinating passionate advocacy, the state of Montana and federal officials realized they could no longer kill buffalo with impunity.
The group was formed as a nonprofit grassroots coalition of Native American and non-Native environmentalists under the leadership of Lakota activist Rosalie Little Thunder and videographer Mike Mease, with the support of the Seventh Generation Fund.
Daily field patrols and effective grassroots activism campaigns made it clear to the DOL that they would be held accountable for their actions. Since that time BFC has been standing with the buffalo that migrate outside the park, from sunrise to sunset—bearing witness, documenting activities, and acting to protect them.
Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC) grew out of that initial alliance, and since that time our focus has never wavered: we remain the only organization existing solely to defend and protect wild buffalo. We live with them, protect them through the long cold seasons, and advocate tirelessly on their behalf.
Milestones for BFC and Buffalo
- 1990: Founding of Cold Mountain, Cold Rivers (CMCR), the environmental and human rights organization that gave rise to and eventually became BFC.
- 1994-1997: CMCR activists film the Yellowstone bison slaughter and study the issues surrounding the last wild buffalo. They soon begin educating the public about these atrocities—and initiate buffalo protection/preservation activities.
- 1997: CMCR co-Founder Mike Mease relocates to “buffalo country” in the Yellowstone Bioregion. He remains there today.
- 1997: Mike Mease and Lakota elder Rosalie Little Thunder work together to establish a permanent buffalo defense presence along the Yellowstone boundary. CMCR initiates "Buffalo Field Campaign" project.
- 1997: Dan Brister (today BFC’s Executive Director) joins the team as a field volunteer in West Yellowstone.
- 2000: BFC’s annual educational and inspiring West Coast Roadshow begins.
- 2001: (approximately): Musician Jackson Browne donates a much-needed vehicle to BFC. With two engine rebuilds and transmission replacements since then—”Running on Empty” remains in proud service to the buffalo today!
- 2002: Cattle grazing ends on Horse Butte Peninsula.
- 2004: CMCR officially changes name to Buffalo Field Campaign.
- 2006: After almost ten years in the field, and thanks to the generosity of two very special donors, BFC is able to make a down payment on our headquarters building and cabins. This gives us the security of a home base and allows us to work more effectively for the buffalo.
- 2009: “Buffalo Battle” television show airs and is nominated for a Genesis Award.
- 2011: BFC’s number of supporters exceeds 25,000. We thank you all!
- 2013: BFC gains the generous support of Mr. Bob Barker for the defense of wild buffalo.
- 2014: BFC and Western Watershed Project file petition with US Fish and Wildlife Service to list and protect Yellowtone bison as threatened or endangered.
- 2014: Montana Governor Steve Bullock issues directive making it illegal for Department of Livestock agents to enter private property to haze bison against landowners' wishes.
- 2015: Governor Bullock issues decision granting year-round habitat to some bison on the Horse Butte Peninsula.
- Today: BFC remains highly effective and is one of the longest continuously running grassroots field campaigns in North America!
- Tomorrow: What will we accomplish together?
Buffalo Protection Continues
As BFC moves toward our 20th year of uninterrupted buffalo defense, our vigil continues. While the circumstances for the buffalo in some ways have not changed, there is no doubt that their lives are vastly improved by—and in some cases continue because of—the efforts of Buffalo Field Campaign.
Because of the many wonderful volunteers and supporters who make our work possible, we are cautiously optimistic about the future of these magnificent animals. Many thousands of people have given freely of their time, energy, and/or money to help us protect one of the world’s true living treasures.
To all of you who have helped us, and all who are about to: We offer our sincere thanks for your support. Without you, the buffalo battle would be lost.
With your ongoing help, BFC will continue to make history as we wage our campaign in the courtrooms, in the halls of politics, in the realms of objective science, and of course—in the fields where the wild buffalo roam.