BFC Volunteer Sydney Grange on patrol. BFC file photo
I have only been back from my 2 week volunteer experience with Buffalo Field Campaign for a few days and I am already missing the wildness and beauty of West Yellowstone, the people, and the wonderful community that’s dedicated day in and out to protecting the buffalo. I first heard about BFC 4 or so years back and I was immediately intrigued as I learned about the issues facing the last wild buffalo herd and of the people dedicating their lives to protecting them. I am so grateful that I finally had the chance to get involved in the campaign on the ground and to witness some of the issues facing the buffalo first-hand.
I was lucky to arrive in time for the Week of Action, a time spent raising public awareness about the issues facing the buffalo through rallies and a march. We had rallies in Bozeman, in Helena at the state capitol, and in West Yellowstone. I was glad to see that overall the public was very supportive of our calls to let the buffalo roam and to be free! We were also rallying in opposition to HB 132, a Montana state bill which, if it passes, would redefine wild buffalo out of existence. Our march was in remembrance of Rosalie Little Thunder, Buffalo Field Campaign co-founder. In 1998 she braved the winter and walked 500 miles calling for an end to the buffalo slaughter. I never had the privilege of meeting her, but throughout the week I had the chance to hear many stories about her and her work, and felt inspired by her legacy and the many sacrifices she made to protect the buffalo. While incomparable to the extensive walk Rosalie Little Thunder completed in 1998, our 7-mile march provided me with a sense of what Rosalie must have endured on her journey from Pine Ridge, South Dakota to Gardiner, Montana and also about what it’s like for the buffalo as they migrate through the very same areas we were walking. Luckily most of the Buffalo were still in the park where they were safe and not subject to being hunted or getting caught in the Stephens Creek trap, but unfortunately there were a few buffalo stuck in the trap which we paused briefly to overlook. I held those buffalo and those that had come before them in my heart and mind as I continued to walk.
The contrast between the trap, the culture of domination and control it represents, and the many herds of wild elk and pronghorn that were free to roam across the landscapes we were walking was stark. This contrast continued to remain apparent as we drove from Gardiner to Bozeman following the march. We’d pass miles and miles of grasslands, where the buffalo were not allowed to roam but where elk and deer were in abundance. It was also ironic that upholding and prioritizing rancher interests is at the heart of the buffalo slaughter and harassment, but that there were very few cattle herds grazing in the hundred or so miles we drove through. For the cattle herds that we did pass, I felt the same sadness for them as I felt for the buffalo. They are victims of the same systems of exploitation, profit, and control as the buffalo, and have a similar fate awaiting.
To me the last remaining wild buffalo herd is a reminder of the wild species and spaces that once thrived and coexisted with indigenous people prior to colonization. The continued slaughter and harassment of buffalo in prioritization of rancher interests is a continuation of the colonization of the land, native species, and a continued assault against native people. Taking a stand against the buffalo slaughter, is important for the buffalo’s sake, but also for everything else that it represents and upholds-- white supremacy, colonialism, patriarchy, environmental injustice, specismism, and capitalism. It was powerful to witness the threats to the buffalo and to gain a better understanding of these dynamics first hand. While heartening to see so many people dedicated to protecting the buffalo, it’s also very disheartening that we’re living in a reality where we still have to fight for the buffalo-- where their inherent rights to freedom and
autonomy are still not respected.
A view of the Madison River from the east bluffs, inside Yellowstone. This is a highly used migration corridor for family groups from the Central Herd, but so far this winter, hardly any buffalo have been seen here. Photo by Sydney Grange, Buffalo Field Campaign.
I look forward to the day when the buffalo are roaming free, when our lands are rewilded, when people are able to coexist with and have access to a healthy environment, and to when all animals are freed from the confines of human supremacy. It’s that vision, and seeing others, such as those at BFC fighting for a similar vision, that helps to inform the work I engage with and provides me with the motivation to do so.
I definitely recommend volunteering with Buffalo Field Campaign for anyone that may have the opportunity! You’ll be welcomed into the BFC family and inspired by people not just fighting for the buffalo but also living in a way that reflects the types of societies I hope we can one day have again. Societies that are built around equity, justice, and community, and that work to coexist with nature rather than to dominate or remain separate from it. Knowing there are other communities of people working day in and out to help ensure a better future helps me, and I’m sure so many others, to not feel alone or isolated. I definitely will continue to keep Buffalo Field Campaign and the folks involved in the campaign in mind as I fight for the native species in my area, and against the impacts that public land grazing and the rancher land grab nationwide has on ecosystems, people, native wildlife, and the farmed animals themselves.