Photo by Jaedin Medicine Elk, Buffalo Field Campaign.
This summer I had the honor to coordinate BFC’s summer outreach program, bringing the struggle of the Yellowstone Bison to people all over the state of Montana. We set up our informational table and world famous inflatable buffaloon at public libraries, universities, farmer’s markets, and even street corners. Some that approached our table were completely uniformed on the issue, while others we met had been following the issue for decades. These diverse perspectives led to equally diverse conversations about how to best “spread the word to save the herd”. A common thread in these discussions was BFC’s history; We’ve been speaking for the buffalo for 24 seasons!
One day outside the Bozeman public library I received a question from someone at our table that threw me off. They asked (well intentioned, of course) “Has BFC made that much of a difference in 24 years? It seems like the buffalo are still being killed”. This wasn’t the usual inquiry about buffalo migration, behavior, or how to volunteer with us. Rather, it was an invitation to self-reflect. At first, I felt unqualified to answer the question given my lack of history with the issue and my age. I am in my third season with the Campaign, and was born during BFC’s first season in the winter of 97/98.
I’ve been told plenty of stories and seen footage from the early days of the campaign. These images and stories are not at all pleasant; helicopters chasing buffalo into traps, newborn calves seriously injured during the haze, unjust arrests of activists by law enforcement, and buffalo fatally hazed into the icy waters of Lake Hebgen. Luckily, these these instances of cruelty are only stories to me, not experiences, and that I am thankful for. I was spared from witnessing those traumatic events. Without all of the volunteers, coordinators, and supporters of BFC fighting for dignified treatment of the buffalo over the last 24 years there is no doubt in my mind that these cruel practices would still be commonplace. Furthermore, what is happening to the Yellowstone herds is now an internationally recognized problem thanks to our documentation and activism, exposure that will only help the buffalo going forward.
I answered the person’s question similarly to what I wrote above. It is discouraging, maddening and sorrowful that the buffalo are still being slaughtered but we are making progress, and it has certainly been worth it to stand with the buffalo. But we must keep fighting, so more kids born today have the privilege to see, enjoy and love and learn from wild buffalo like all of us at BFC.