Last November, I was sitting in a meeting in Upstate New York when a coworker brought up the amazing work of the Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC) in West Yellowstone, Montana. My interest was immediately piqued, as Yellowstone National Park is on my bucket list of places to see. I quickly learned about the threats facing the population of free roaming buffalo in Montana, and decided that I needed to take the opportunity to contribute to BFC’s mission.

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Fast forward to February; I am arriving at Bozeman Airport, unsure of what to expect during my two-week stay at camp. I had never been to Montana, and had never seen a buffalo in person. I hoped to learn more about the cultural, biological, and political significance of buffalo in Montana, and to see this magnificent being with my own eyes.

On the way to camp, BFC co-founder Mike Mease described the unusually mild winter noting this as the reason few buffalo have migrated to the National Forest where they can be hunted. As we drove, I was fascinated by Montana’s landscape and the vast array of open space that was like nothing I had ever seen before.

Upon my arrival, I was warmly welcomed by BFC staff and volunteers alike. During orientation, I learned everything I wanted to know about Yellowstone bison, beginning with the fact that the terms bison and buffalo are correctly used interchangeably. I can now confidently identify a male or female bison, bison tracks in the snow, and provide anyone interested with information about the spring calving season when adorable bison babies are born!

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I also learned about the sad reality that the bison population is horribly mismanaged by the State of Montana and Yellowstone National Park based on a false narrative. I saw heartbreaking footage from the seasonal hunt, during which bison are shot from a firing line as soon as they cross Yellowstone National Park onto the National Forest. Finally, I learned about the beautiful relationship and bond between Native communities and buffalo. Native people describe a spiritual connection with buffalo, as their very existence depends upon the herds. BFC works with Native tribes to protect these majestic beings, and it is truly heartwarming so many people care so deeply about the threats facing wild bison in Yellowstone.

Each morning I ventured out on ski patrol to enjoy the Yellowstone ecosystem and Montana’s natural beauty. During my outings, I saw trumpeter swans, coyotes, a bald eagle, a golden eagle, and even a moose! All of these native species were so beautiful and so exciting to see, but I was still patiently waiting to see the illustrious buffalo. I finally got my wish during an early morning ski to Richard’s Pond where a group of five bison were soaking up the sun in an open meadow. I had an excellent view of them through a pair of binoculars, and could see how massive yet peaceful they are. It was so thrilling to see them in their natural habitat, enhancing the land and looking out for one another. I am truly in awe of these beings, as well as the people who have dedicated their lives to protecting them.

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I have always felt invigorated by environmental activism, but honestly it is easy to be discouraged in today’s political climate. This is especially true in the context of climate change caused by fossil fuel pollution that poses an immediate threat to all life on Earth. However, if you are reading this, I urge you to see the bright side: There are so many people like those at BFC who are committed to preserving wildlife and the planet. The fight is worthwhile and one that anyone can get involved with if they just find the inspiration to do so. I found my inspiration in the sparkling, snow-covered meadows of Montana, surrounded by massive mountains and some of the world’s most stunning wildlife!

~ by BFC Volunteer Martha DePoy