Several years ago, I dreamed I was walking with buffalo, a pregnant female in need of protection, a broken bull who carried the story of colonization on his powerful back. Through a series of events, this dream led me to volunteer with Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC) in service to the last wild buffalo in Yellowstone.

bfc update 2024 04 17 Buffalo crossing road

One morning I joined early patrol to cross country ski out to Buffalo Meadows along the bluffs overlooking the Madison River. We skied into a silent, still landscape covered in snow. The quiet was broken by the occasional call of raven or the honking of Canadian geese in flight. We entered a place of inordinate grace, power, resilience, and beauty. A place that gives refuge to buffalo, a place that cannot contain the wild spirit that seeks to roam. On this morning, there were no buffalo in sight. We were grateful they were safe for another day.
Safe, at least, in West Yellowstone. BFC’s daily reports out of Gardiner were grim. Groups of buffalo attempting to migrate out of Yellowstone were being trapped for slaughter or shot.

The next day, we patrolled the roads by car, drinking coffee, enjoying the soft snow decorating the pine trees. We turned down Rainbow Point on our way to Horse Butte, a gathering place and calving grounds for migrating buffalo. Up ahead on the side of the road, an indistinct shape approached. As we drew close, the figure materialized into the weighty substance of three buffalo, a mother and two yearlings, making their way towards highway 191.

bfc update 2024 04 17 Buffalo with cars

We turned around and headed back to post BFC’s “Buffalo On Road” signs along the highway to warn oncoming cars and trucks. When we returned to check on the three buffalo, we passed a hunter attaching a sled to his snowmobile. We found the buffalo and followed them to the highway, hazards flashing, and turned with them as they made their perilous journey in search of safe crossing. With the help of a kind truck driver who stopped traffic, the three made their way to the bluffs across the highway and turned their steps towards Yellowstone. We watched until they were safely out of sight.

bfc update 2024 04 17 Buffalo crossing road

As we drove out to Horse Butte, a local resident flagged us down to inform us that a female buffalo had been killed by the hunter. On our drive back to base camp, we passed the intersection where her remains were being processed. We stopped to grieve the loss of another member of the last wild buffalo herd. We honored her sacrifice, for she would now feed hungry people. Later that evening, we returned to track the three who crossed the road. We followed their trail in the snow all the way to the Yellowstone boundary to confirm they made it safely into the park.

bfc update 2024 04 17 snow

Due to colonization, development, loss of habitat, state regulations, cattle ranching, the myth of brucellosis, trapping, hunting, and slaughter, the buffalo herds are confined to Yellowstone National Park where the population is intentionally kept small. The state of Montana, in deference to economic interests centered around cattle ranching, forces the buffalo to stay within the borders of the park or risk death. Buffalo are denied their natural migratory lifeways. They thrive in relationship with the land. As a keystone species, they are essential to the ecosystem. Their hooves till the soil. Their droppings spread nutrients and seeds. If allowed to migrate, the herds could become sustainable once more, the land could regenerate, and the sacred relationship between Indigenous human and buffalo could be restored. If we cannot find a way forward that gives the herds safe space to roam their traditional homelands, we face a world without wild buffalo. We cannot let them silently disappear from the planet, along with so many others facing extinction, due to how we live and our relentless interference in the natural world.

bfc update 2024 04 17 Madison river

Buffalo carry the story of this land. A story of desecration and genocide that is ongoing to this day. It is time to dream a new story with buffalo. A story of restoration of all that is wild, mythical, and full of beauty. A story of interrelationship and healing. A story where the buffalo once more roam in safety and freedom. It is time to honor buffalo and the ancient wisdom they carry in their mighty hearts by dreaming our way back into a story of right relationship with the Earth and all who call Her home.

I offer my gratitude to the Buffalo Field Campaign for their unwavering dedication to a future that holds wild, free roaming buffalo.

~ By Kiersten Cluster, Volunteer for the Buffalo Field Campaign