For the last ten years, I have often been asked the questions, “What got you so into buffalo,” and “Why do you like bison so much?” I don’t hide my love for the buffalo - you can often find at least one bison (usually more) visible on my person at any given time, regardless of context. How I respond to these questions, however, can vary. Sometimes, it’s the short response of, “The first time I saw them, I could tell how impressive and majestic they were.” Other times, it is the (much) longer and more nuanced answer - an answer that I have been adding to and building out since that fateful first bison I met a decade ago, and which I continue to build on to this day.

bfc update 2024 06 05 update travis ickes All at Attention

Early on in my love for bison, I took a late fall trip through Yellowstone National Park. Due to the time of the year, only a few roads were open. Thankfully, those which allowed us to see the Central Herd, along the Madison and Firehole Rivers, remained accessible, and I was able to sit and watch the herd graze on a beautifully un-busy day in the park. At the end of this trip, our route took us north through Gardiner, Montana, where I found one of the BFC’s “Wild Bison” calendars for the upcoming new year. It was an auto-purchase for me, and introduced me to the BFC for the first time.

My passion for the buffalo continued to grow over the next few years, as I became more aware of their history - in all of its myriad forms of tragedy - as well as their current state of affairs. I learned the significance of the Yellowstone herds and the absolute urgency that is needed in creating protections for them. I also learned the numerous agencies fighting against that, and all of their power in the forms of government and bureaucracy.

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While it may be true that the agencies fighting against free roaming wild bison hold a lot of power, it is equally if not more important to remember that we, the people who want to see them roam freely, hold power too. We can all support them in various ways, such as by making our voices heard, educating families and friends, and by donating our time and/or money to organizations actively fighting for the buffalo, chief among them being the BFC.

To that end, I made the decision to become a Buffalo Backbone Subscriber at the time of the program’s inception several years ago. As a resident of Chicago, it is sometimes harder for me to give my time to the organization and, while I can speak on the topic for hours, it’s simply a less pressing issue to many people local to me, given our distance from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (and, sadly, wild bison in general). One of the numerous perks of being a Buffalo Backbone subscriber includes a “Where the Buffalo Roam” field immersion, which I had the good fortune of participating in this May.

bfc update 2024 06 05 update travis ickes Calf Party

My partner and I timed our trip to overlap with a critical time of the field season, in which the BFC is ensuring safe passage over roadways for the Central Herd to migrate to and from their ancestral calving grounds on Horse Butte. We wanted to be a part of this crucial work and, of course, it doesn’t hurt to see all the newborn calves romping (and resting) all over Horse Butte!

While I may have a solid understanding of the issues the buffalo are currently up against, coming to the BFC’s base camp and living in the field and culture of the BFC took everything to a deeper level of both understanding and passion. Each of the BFC’s coordinators that we spent time with were deeply knowledgeable and passionate about this campaign; indeed, they are committing their lives to being out there, with the buffalo, both in the field and in the policy arenas. It’s impossible to spend time with them and not get more invested in the cause. We also were warmly welcomed by a large group of volunteers and interns who were committing some of their invaluable time to live at base camp and support the buffalo.

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This group of volunteers, interns, and coordinators - totaling over 20 people - became our “herd” for three days. Many of us came from different parts of the country, had different backgrounds, and were members of different generations and yet, no matter how many things may have been different between us, the one overarching thing we shared is a love for the buffalo and the desire to see them roam freely. This shared love for the buffalo was also readily apparent in our interactions with the residents of Horse Butte. Each and every person we interacted with knew the BFC, appreciated the work they are doing, and warmly welcomed buffalo on their property. Even those we did not get a chance to speak with were visibly in support of the buffalo, as evidenced by the bright orange “Buffalo Safe Zone” signs they displayed in their front yards. This shared love encompasses people of all different backgrounds, demographics, and even political orientations; in a time with few issues receiving bipartisan support, protection of the buffalo may just be one of them.

As our time in the field came to an end, I found myself with a deep feeling of gratitude. Gratitude for the BFC supporting our last wild bison, gratitude for each of the individual people committing their time and resources to be at base camp, gratitude for all of those who have come before in the BFC’s 27 years of doing this work, and gratitude for all those who will come in year 28 and beyond. I also found myself adding to that “more nuanced answer” that I mentioned earlier, in response to when someone asks me why I love bison so much. Part of why I love bison is that they give me a sense of hope. This hope is rooted in the knowledge that, far and wide, and across generations, people care about the buffalo and wish to see them roam freely. Together, through whatever support we may be able to provide, we can help to see that wish realized. 

By Travis Ickes, BFC Buffalo Backbone Herd Bull Subscriber

All photos by Travis Ickes.

bfc update 2024 06 05 update travis ickes Dueling Yearlings


bfc update 2024 06 05 update travis ickes Resting Calf


bfc update 2024 06 05 update travis ickes Running Calf


bfc update 2024 06 05 update travis ickes Sibling Love


bfc update 2024 06 05 update travis ickes The Boss