Dear Buffalo Supporters:

Hello Folks, current conditions on the ground are weighing heavy on my mind lately. So, I’m going to cut right to the chase for this edition of On the Buffalo Trail. This Field Season has the Campaign witnessing more of the same as previous years under the auspices of the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP). A few weeks ago, I went to Campaign headquarters and then to Gardiner. I witnessed state and treaty hunters take buffalo with a heavy enforcement presence. Hunters shooting outside canned hunt zones and wounding buffalo were swiftly and severely dealt with. This was good to see from those sovereign governments who chose to coordinate with each other. Although, one condition clearly emerged as well - there are sovereign governments who do not coordinate on any issues on the ground. Therein lies the Yellowstone buffalo tragedy of the commons.

bfc on the buffalo trail february 2023

Within the few weeks since I’ve been over to Yellowstone, science-based harvests levels have been met and exceeded. Population-based harvest levels were heatedly discussed at the last IBMP meeting and multiple harvest levels were identified. A clear priority at the IBMP meeting was the population needs of the buffalo to sustain or achieve healthy herd diversity and population resilience. Yet again, buffalo are shouldering the burden of the people and not being allowed to fulfill their ecological niche. This failure must be dealt with swiftly and appropriately for future generations.

It is evident that the State of Montana’s zero-tolerance policies drive the lack of science-based coordination and the loss of data-sharing between sovereign governments and of real-time policy decisions based on herd resilience and genetic diversity. These conditions are unacceptable. I witnessed tribal enforcement officers discussing individual tribes and state agencies that refuse to coordinate. As I stated previously, these conditions lead to a tragedy of the commons we’ve all seen before. Those entities seem to think their priorities are the only priorities as the buffalo are forced to give and give and give. Herd dynamics are horrible. The Central Herd has never recovered from the last great slaughter and this year is looking to be on par with any other big slaughter year.

I have years of experience setting seasons for limited and endangered species and in all my years of experience it has NEVER looked like this. Conservation, recovery, and restoration seem to be lip service after witnessing this year’s lack of leadership by any sovereign entity. What is the end goal? Today, the goal continues to be slaughter as an acceptable management tool, with every sovereign entity participating in the demise of the only continuously-wild herd of buffalo in the contiguous United States. This is an abject failure by every Decision-Maker.

Appropriate management is in real-time, science-based, data driven, and mandated by all sovereign actors. Recovery means removing government obstructions and allowing buffalo to establish new pathways for fulfilling their ecological roles throughout the ecosystem. Restoring buffalo also means building resiliency by increasing population sizes for each herd. Harvest regimes can be based on restoration goals and ecosystem recovery. Only with the immediate implementation of appropriate and adequate population targets can governments collectively plan for increased harvest, natural winter mortality, and translocation of buffalo.

The refusal of Montana to tolerate buffalo even on federal lands in the state is abhorrent. To witness so many tribal governments not discussing herd dynamics, genetic diversity, population resilience, ecosystem needs, or adopting shared harvest regimes for all is heartbreaking. We must continue to demand a new management plan that requires the sovereign governments to co-create population management goals and priorities that are founded in wildlife ecology, not livestock ranching. The current management plan is a failure, and this year’s slaughter is a despicable example of just how bad it is. Simply treat wild buffalo as wild elk.

We’ve said it time and time again, an ecosystem science-based approach that is co-created by all the sovereign entities is necessary for our National Mammal. It is plain to see this new plan cannot be driven by failed state policy. Montana must be limited to representing the only state interest recognized in federal courts — conservation — lest they obliterate any hope for respectful restoration of Yellowstone buffalo. Treaty tribes must acknowledge that they are in a room of equals as treaty signers. They cannot separate from each other or they fail wild buffalo. Wild buffalo must have unity. Federal agencies must assume supremacy over important wildlife such as Yellowstone buffalo to ensure appropriate protections are in place to maintain the genetic integrity and viability over the long term.

It is time we call for an end to this year’s harvest and call for an end to the Winter Operations Plan in its entirety. The IBMP has failed us for far too long. Please stand and have your voice heard.

For the Buffalo,
James Holt Sr.
Executive Director, Buffalo Field Campaign

You can contact the federal steward and trustee of our National Mammal to let him know that it is time to stop removals from the Yellowstone herd now:

Cameron (Cam) Sholly, Superintendent
Yellowstone National Park
P.O. Box 168
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168
Phone: (307) 344-2002
Fax: (307) 344-2014

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.