2019 05 09 01 001 Update 1 BFC Stephany Seay photo

Buffalo are hazed through the thick lodge pole forest along the Madison Arm Road of the Gallatin National Forest. Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.

The peace and quiet of the past few weeks was broken on Tuesday with the first haze of the season. A group of twelve buffalo — adult females heavy with calves, a few young bulls, and a couple of yearlings — had been enjoying the green grass and rolling hills of the Denny Creek area, southwest of the Madison River, where cattle still graze in the short summer months. Because of these cows (who won’t be present until nearly July), this area is not yet part of the buffalos' year-round habitat, even though there are other private properties who welcome the buffalo and present “Buffalo Safe Zone” signs in their yards. Monday afternoon, when patrols went to check on this family group, we found a MT Department of Livestock agent watching them. Knowing exactly what was coming next, we played the game, rolled up, asked what their plans were, and were told there would be a haze the next day. At the nightly meeting, the main room was abuzz with adrenaline, everyone wanted to be in the field to stand with the buffalo on this coming day of danger.

2019 05 09 01 002 Update 2 BFC Stephany Seay photoBFC patrols follow the haze, documenting all actions made against the buffalo. Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.

As expected, first thing the following morning, our Duck Creek patrol who was watching the DOL’s headquarters at the Koelzer residence, reported agents and horse trailers rolling in. We were ready. We had patrols with the buffalo, patrols with the agents, and a stand by patrol that was ready to go wherever they were needed. We had every angle covered. Three horsemen, two with the DOL and one with the MT Department of Fish, Wildlife, & Parks, along with assistance from federal and state law enforcement, arrived at Denny Creek early Tuesday morning. They unloaded three horses, mounted up, and headed out to harass the twelve buffalo.

2019 05 09 01 003 Update 3 BFC Jaedin Medicine Elk photo
During the few hazes that happen nowadays, we have to stop and remember what the buffalo used to have to endure.

Our 'endless pressure, endlessly applied' has paid off and these days, the majority of buffalo in the Hebgen Basin can live in peace and be the buffalo they are meant to be. Photo by Jaedin Medicine Elk, Buffalo Field Campaign.

After years of witnessing industrial strength hazing operations with yipping cowboys, helicopters, cracker rounds, paint balls, and police sirens that created a veritable war zone in the Hebgen Basin, this particular incident seemed mellow. But that’s the danger of a so-called gentle haze: there is no nice way to haze. No matter how they do it, these humans are still forcing buffalo off of the land they choose to be on. Hazing instills fear, using threatening behaviors that force buffalo off of their native habitat where they have existed for tens of thousands of years. The haze lasted a few hours; through pouring rain mixed with wet snow, the buffalo were chased out of the Denny Creek area, across the South Fork of the Madison River, and down the Madison Arm Road of the Gallatin National Forest where no cows ever graze. This is yet another reason it is so important that buffalo advocates (you!) submit comments to the Gallatin National Forest on their Forest Revision Plan asking that buffalo be listed as a Species of Conservation Concern. If they are granted this listing, harassing and harming them on the National Forest will be met with more resistance, backed by law.

The haze was dropped before the agents pushed them across the muddy flats of the Madison River as they typically do. Until May 15, next Wednesday, the buffalo will be granted peace where they now are. They won’t stay where the haze ended, of course. Maybe they’ll swim the river and head to Horse Butte, or maybe they’ll turn around and go back to Denny Creek. Wherever they go, we will be keeping a close eye on them and will be ready to defend them on whatever ground they choose to be on. While we are ready for whatever may come, we continue to rove the highways to help buffalo make it safely to their destinations. These rove patrols, especially at night, are incredibly important and truly save countless lives, both buffalo and human. Even people who don’t much care for us or the buffalo stop and take the time to tell us how much they appreciate our presence on the highways. And, of course, we are also taking some time to bask in the glory of calving season, enjoying more and more baby buffalo every day! Thinking back to the years when those insane hazing operations were the “norm” and not the exception, with newborn baby buffalo and pregnant moms suffering so much brutal harassment, we now head out into the field every day, so thankful for the changes that have come. As we press on with your unwavering support, more positive change will become the reality for the country’s last wild, migratory buffalo.