Dear Buffalo Supporters,
I hope this edition of On the Buffalo Trail finds you well. Welcome to 2023. For wild Yel-lowstone buffalo, the new year has brought us their highest populations in over a century. However, with those population increases, we’ve also are witnessing an increase in hardships. It is important to discuss those hardships, as they are all borne out of the failed Inter-agency Bi-son Management Plan (IBMP).
Like my ancestors before me, I bring my kids with me on the buffalo trail as much as possible. Not only do they keep me company on the open road, they also bear witness to the events I take them to. I also ensure I educate them on the issues I am advocating for. Humans are harming so much of the natural world the next generations deserve a seat at the table.
When I was a young leader serving on tribal council, I stated: “The Nez Perce will not ac-cept extinction as the inevitable price of progress.” Today, I believe in the leadership of the younger generations more than ever, and their capacity to act with an informed voice. A few weeks ago, three of my kids witnessed the bloody aftermath of the 13 buffalo horribly deci-mated on U.S. Highway 191 near the town of West Yellowstone. It was a gruesome scene, which included the head of a surviving yearling buffalo being severely mangled from the colli-sion.
My kids are sad and angry. They want justice for Yellowstone buffalo. Justice for wild buffalo dictates that we build wildlife crossings, ensure access to their available habitat, and adopt a management plan that honors them as wildlife, rather than treating them solely as a competitor to livestock industry’s sacred cows.
Our National Mammal deserves better.
Recently, I received word of a hunter-involved shooting near Gardiner, Montana. A state hunter shot a young tribal member, wounding him while he dressed out a downed buffalo. Ac-cording to my source, state agents allegedly escorted the state hunter through Yellowstone Na-tional Park, with his harvested buffalo and firearm. Carrying a firearm or a harvested buffalo into Yellowstone National Park happens to be a violation of the Lacey Act — many treaty hunt-ers have been persecuted under that very statute.
This is unacceptable. Over the life of the government’s failed bison management plan , state and federal agencies have forced all of the exist-ing conditions we see around Gardi-ner on Tribal members seeking to ex-ercise their inherent rights secured by treaty. When they migrate beyond the Park’s northern boundary, the Forest Service systematically closes federal lands in the area to hunting, enabling the State of Montana’s pre-carious hunting regime, and failing their trust responsibility to treaty tribes.
Look to the public record and you will see the words of elected tribal leaders demanding more habi-tat for wild buffalo to roam, so that treaty hunts for buffalo can proceed much like state hunt-ing for elk does.
Why does Montana force treaty hunters to take buffalo in full view of public roads and local communities? Why are hunters crammed into such small galleries that they end up acci-dentally shooting one another??
Instead of creating more favorable conditions for hunting bison, Montana agencies dou-bled down on their unreasonable and unscientific demands for severely restricting bison’s ac-cess to readily available habitat, and the US Forest Service capitulated to those demands with-out regard for the legal immunity Tribes enjoy under the law from interference from state agencies. Perpetuating the trauma of severing Tribes from their aboriginal food source is a form of cultural genocide. It is unacceptable in this day and age, when both international law and federal law acknowledges the federal government’s obligation to restore the sacred relation of Tribes and Yellowstone bison.
I am so relieved the treaty hunter was not severely injured or killed by this avoidable circumstance - this time. But wildlife officials were on record as early as 2017 warning that “the fear for injury or death to hunters is real” due to the restrictions placed on hunting and migra-tion by Montana’s Department of Livestock. It is now incumbent on all the federal agencies in the region to review and update their management plans to protect and restore buffalo, with-out regard to the wishes of Montana’s livestock industry.
Sovereign governments continue to discuss individual components associated with the lifeways of wild migratory buffalo. There is a better way. The citizenry must use our powerful voices. We must demand that federal agencies consider a holistic management solution that collectively halts highway fatalities, ends canned hunt conditions, and honors buffalo as wildlife - restoring our culture by restoring our ecology and spirit lifeways. The National Park Service has shown leadership in charting a new course for buffalo management, but our diligence must not falter. We must ensure the agencies respect the Northern and Central Herds of Yellow-stone’s buffalo. The only way that can happen is if the United States Fish & Wildlife Service suf-ficiently quantifies the potential harm that may impede the future of those distinct populations. Further, Yellowstone National Park must provide a management alternative that best protects the long-term genetic viability of all those wild buffalo herds while honoring their sacred rela-tionship with Indigenous tribes.
Our voices matter. We have a vested interest in the management of the two genetically-distinct herds of wild buffalo in the Yellowstone Ecosystem. We can use our voices to hold those federal agencies accountable. They have failed their public trust obligations, and must now must fix this travesty of mismanagement. While the future may look bright for certain components of buffalo management, Buffalo Field Campaign is determined to pursue holistic solutions for ecological recovery and repairing broken relationships. As the buffalo populations grow, the American people must be assured that the only continuously-wild herds of buffalo in the contiguous United States are given the appropriate honor, reverence and protections.
I appreciate your time and as we continue with our Field Season, I will continue to keep you informed on the lifeways of our National Mammal from my vantage point. Qeciyewyew for your support and your wonderful voices. You are the wind at our backs.
For the Buffalo,
James Holt Sr.
Executive Director, Buffalo Field Campaign