Our Volunteer Coordinator, wildlife biologist Jackson Doyel, filed this report from Gardiner after spending 10 days on non-stop patrols there with BFC intern Cameron Giovannelli:
Winter in Montana arrived with lots of snow and sub-zero cold snaps, and with those plunging temperatures comes a dense, icy snow cover. In response the gentle buffalo have begun an early migration, the earliest it has been in recent years. Our new intern, Cameron, who aspires to one day be a park ranger or game warden, got to truly witness the improper and immoral treatment of wild buffalo at the hands of federal and state agencies.. He hopes to be part of the solution, to push for increased numbers and habitat with respectful hunting conditions.
As the buffalo women and children are coming out of the park in Gardiner Montana in search of lower elevation grasses, so too come the hunters. As of this writing, over eighty bison have died in roughly a week, with many pregnant cows and yearlings included in this distressing number. Those that survive the culling actions mourn their fallen mothers, brothers and sisters as they make their way back to the safety of the park. The State of Montana and its Department of Livestock are getting exactly what they called for - the use of hunting to extirpate buffalo from Montana and maximize bison mortality. At the recent winter operations meeting of management partners, the state called for a reduction in the population of between 1500-3000.
It is the shameful conditions created by the State of Montana that have these sacred beings forced to run the gauntlet in hopes they can reach freedom from these outdated and ignorant management practices. By the design of the State of Montana, the kill box known as Beattie Gulch, a small stretch of land near the Corwin Bridge, and Cutler Meadow are the only areas where any people can hope to hunt the last wild buffalo. The State of Montana has forced hunters’ hands by obstructing habitat expansion in the Gallatin and Custer National Forests, and remaining intolerant of our national mammal’s natural right to migrate throughout the Yellowstone ecosystem. They’ve shown no willingness to remedy the situation, in spite of public and hunter safety concerns, intentionally perpetuating these unnecessarily harmful conditions. Disrespectful conditions where hunters are forced to patrol the Yellowstone National Park border in the hope that buffalo migrate into the “intolerance zone,” to be greeted with lines of rifles that might as well be (and indeed, once were) aimed by State agencies.
Disrespectful conditions where guns are fired only a hundred or so yards from neighborhoods, sometimes hitting homes. Disrespectful conditions where gut piles of pregnant cows are left to rot near the Old Yellowstone Rd, creating an unreasonable risk of vehicle collisions for native predators. These state-imposed conditions abuse the buffalo, our national mammal, just as they abuse the sacred hunting rights of Treaty Tribes desperate to feed their families on impoverished Reservations, exploiting that sacred relationship as a management tool to slaughter these animals, who are equally desperate to survive the harsh winter.
Buffalo deserve better. The people of Gardiner deserve better. Hunters deserve better. But at the end of the day, until the American people and Treaty Tribes eliminate the State of Montana and the Department of Livestock from management of Yellowstone’s herds, there will be no respect or peace for Brother Buffalo.
Note From BFC Intern Cameron Giovannelli
Before beginning my work with the Buffalo Field Campaign, I had no clue whatsoever about the current state of the Bison bison species. If someone were to propose the question to me before the genesis of my relationship with the BFC of what the current status of the taxa is, I would theorize that they would be highly abundant and thriving. Unfortunately, I now theorize instead that I was just one of many swimming in this pool of misinformation.
Thus, this whole week and the week leading up to this has been a great shock to my system and a very eye-opening experience. Although I may have not fully experienced all the atrocities that the Montana DOL continues to bring upon the Yellowstone population of bison, I did observe first-hand the absurd intricacies pertaining to the hunting rules and regulations that adhere to both state and tribal hunters. Each kill that I laid my eyes upon during our daily patrols (and they never seemed to let up) provided a distinct sense of anxiety due to having a newly found base level understanding of the history of the species and the dire need for serious changes to the conditions of their existence on the land.
Time and time again, the felling of a magnificent organism that, relatively speaking, is in need of protection brought about one certainty in my mind: the need for change.
As I prepare to return to my studies at Bowling Green, I'm grateful to BFC for opening my eyes to the reality on the ground, and it gives me solace and even hope to know that they are in the field every day, bearing witness to this travesty, and that they'll continue aggressively advocating for a dramatic expansion of habitat for Bison bison.
All the best,