In addition to treaty hunting currently underway, Montana’s state-run buffalo hunt opened on November 15th and we quickly lost three more of the last wild buffalo. On this particular day, a herd of approximately forty buffalo, as well as a mama moose and her calf, were seen fleeing across the highway from the direction of Yellowstone National Park, onto to Gallatin National Forest land, where hunters parked along the road quickly made their move. BFC patrols reported that an unknown force — whether human, wolf, or grizzly we don’t know — spooked the moose and buffalo, causing them to flee from safety. The moose and her calf were almost hit by a vehicle, and two adult female buffalo - one who was pregnant — and a young bull were killed by the hunters. Some of the buffalo attempted to approach and mourn one of the adults, and the hunters chucked sticks and rocks at them. The rest of the herd fled down the Madison River corridor and we feared once word got out they would all be destined for the freezer. After all, hunters only have to call Montana’s “buffalo hunt hotline” to find out if there are buffalo to kill. But buffalo are wise elders, and they no longer stand around waiting for people to shoot them. The next morning’s patrols couldn’t find them anywhere. We were even approached by two tribal game wardens and accused of hazing the buffalo back into Yellowstone. The afternoon patrol found the tracks of this herd heading into the Park along the Madison's eastern bluffs. While we would like to be able to take credit for saving the lives of these buffalo, it is the buffalo who are saving themselves. Yet the hunters and game wardens refuse to give the buffalo this much credit, and find it easier to blame BFC.
Every year this happens here along the western boundary: buffalo migrate into Montana, hunters immediately show up to shoot them, and the buffalo leave, often not to be seen again until the spring. Similar situations occur along the north boundary, where hunting occurs at Beattie Gulch. Hunters literally line up along the park boundary waiting for buffalo to come across; when they do they’re fired upon, and many flee back into the Park. It is not BFC hazing them; the buffalo are wise, they know where they are safe, and when danger comes, they go. We appeal to the hunters and their game wardens to have the courage — and respect for the buffalo — to stand up to the governments who are responsible for creating this situation on the land. The state of Montana, the National Park Service, and the Interagency Bison Management Plan are all guilty of carrying out the livestock industry’s wishes at the expense of our National Mammal, the last wild buffalo. With buffalo having access to such a small fraction of the vast lands we call Montana, all of it being right along the boundary of Yellowstone National Park, and hunting being completely dependent on whether buffalo migrate into Montana or not, these situations will continue, and these buffalo hunts will never amount to anything but an extermination plan applauded by cattle interests.
The solution is so simple: more buffalo on a larger landscape. To achieve this, we must do at least three things:
- Repeal or amend Montana law MCA 81-2-120 (LINK TO ACTION ALERT) and remove the Montana Department of Livestock’s authority over wild buffalo;
- Gain endangered species protection (LINK TO ACTION ALERT) for this extremely vulnerable population; and
- Demand that Montana have the same relationship with wild buffalo that they do with wild elk (LINK TO ACTION ALERT NOTE: this is the same alert for repealing MCA 81-2-120) in this state.
We must remove livestock industry authority over our last wild bison, allow the herds to flourish and restore themselves on the landscape, and enter into a meaningful, reciprocal relationship (some call it “management”) where the people take care of the buffalo, and the buffalo take care of the people and the land. These great beings who have endured ice ages, who have given everything of themselves, who created the lands where the tens of millions roamed, who can by their very presence restore the prairies and grasslands which are some of the most endangered habitats in the world, who ask only that in return, we take care of them in their time of need — which is now. The buffalo deserve at least this much from us.