A small family group of buffalo along the Madison River on a cold, frosty morning. Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.
Winter, who barely made an appearance this year, is already beginning to leave us. Before giving way to spring, however, he brought through some refreshingly cold morning temperatures that nipped our noses, froze our eyelashes, and donned the buffalo in mantles of frosty crystals. Late last week, a group we had been monitoring along the Madison River in the Hebgen Basin, moved a little bit closer to the Park boundary. On one of these mornings, we had an interesting incident where we had misidentified skiers as hunters, and hunters had misidentified them as us. You can read all about it in the press release we issued.
It has been a common occurrence over the last fifteen years since the buffalo hunt began, that when hunters are unsuccessful, BFC gets blamed for hazing. It's ironic, because hazing is something we have always been adamantly opposed to. Addressing Tribal hunters and wildlife managers, our executive director, James Holt, Sr., couldn't have put it better:
"Buffalo Field Campaign is staunchly against all forms of hazing of wild, Yellowstone bison. BFC will not interfere with the migratory movements of any bison, especially those of the ailing Central Herd. In fact, BFC WANTS bison to repopulate the Hebgen Basin and Horse Butte. Irrespective of recommended hunt closures for West Yellowstone, bison managers continue to enact regulations to hunt them. BFC will not interfere with any hunters by explicit policy. BFC will, however, protect the right to document all impacts caused by the faulty Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP). The IBMP Winter Ops Plan and the hunting provided for in that West Yellowstone component, are having a negative impact. As to current herd movements back into the Park, that is opposite of BFC's mission and goals. Further, bison responses to hunting pressure have been spawned out of existing management paradigms. They get hunted, they go where it's safe. This isn't their first rodeo. Bison movements in West Yellowstone are not due to hazing, but are being dictated by 15 years of being hunted. The only hazing BFC has ever witnessed has been by state and federal agents, or by hunters themselves. It is very unfortunate Central herd bison are learning to stay off those public lands. The Yellowstone Ecosystem, especially in West Yellowstone, would greatly benefit by the resiliency wild bison create as a keystone species. Yox!"
Similar situations also take place in the Gardiner Basin, along Yellowstone's northern boundary.
Hunters and non-native hazers attempt to chase buffalo into a hunt zone, but their plan backfires. Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.
The day after the incident in West Yellowstone, hunters in the Gardiner Basin took twenty-one buffalo in one fell swoop. The patrol that was there documenting had never seen so many buffalo killed at once. It was a hard thing to witness. A few days later, after we had done our first shift change, patrols witnessed no less than 150 buffalo migrate from Yellowstone National Park across the boundary into the Beattie Gulch area. Hunters and non-native hazers were on foot attempting to haze the buffalo out of a safe zone into a hunt zone where hunters waited. But, their plan backfired. The buffalo were having none of it and all 150 bolted into the relative safety of the Park. We say relative because they are only safe there for now. Just about a mile south from Beattie Gulch is Yellowstone's infamous Stephens Creek bison trap. It's closed now, but the Park has stated that they are anxious to open its doors and begin shipping buffalo to slaughter. While the buffalo escaped unscathed that day, late the same evening, just past shooting light, we heard shots fired at Beattie Gulch. When we left that evening at the end of patrol, the buffalo were safe on private land. Somehow, again with the help of Buffalo Bridges, two buffalo entered the hunt zone and were shot.
A hazer attempts to push buffalo into a hunt zone. Note the orange markers behind him that denote Yellowstone's boundary, where the buffalo were heading. Their plan failed again. Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.
The following morning there were no buffalo near the Park boundary and one small group of about twenty-six buffalo on private land adjacent to Beattie Gulch and Yellowstone's boundary. While the buffalo were still on the private land, hunters and hazers -- along with non-native helpers who get hides and other buffalo parts for their assistance -- lined up along Yellowstone's boundary, and as the buffalo moved onto the public land of the Beattie Gulch area, heading for the Park, the hazers attempted to thwart their movement and chase them into the hunt zone.
Again, their plan failed. The buffalo bolted this way and that, some even entering the hunt zone, but not sticking around to ask questions.
In the end, all the buffalo that morning made it back into the Park.
Buffalo who escaped the attempted morning hunt flee into Yellowstone, headed towards the Park's trap. Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.
The unfortunate thing is, when hunters and hazers push the buffalo like this, they head into Yellowstone, where, yes, for that moment they are safe, but in the long run, it is a death trap because Yellowstone's capture facility is just a mile to the south. The Park is anxious to begin capturing in the next couple of weeks so they can ship hundreds of buffalo to slaughter and further reduce this already dangerously small population. Of note, also, is that in the Gardiner Basin, buffalo from both the Central and Northern herds utilize this landscape, so the Central herd is still impacted even if no hunting takes place in West Yellowstone's Hebgen Basin. Some wildlife managers, including Yellowstone, would like to place the conservation burden on hunters, yet Yellowstone continues "business as usual" indiscriminately capturing wild buffalo for slaughter -- never knowing if they are from the Northern or Central herd. If hunters could show a little patience, allow the buffalo to move into the eleven miles of seasonal habitat they have been granted in the Gardiner Basin, instead of going after them right when they move across the Park boundary, then buffalo could be everywhere around here. And if more hunters could give back to those they take from -- join us in advocating for more buffalo on a larger landscape beyond the Gardiner Basin -- we would be well on our way to meaningful, natural wild bison restoration in the Greater Yellowstone and beyond.
WILD IS THE WAY ~ ROAM FREE!