Representatives of BFC attended the Inter-Agency Bison Management Plan's partners meeting in West Yellowstone this week, and called out Montana's MAGA Governor and his "extinction strategy" for the nation's last truly wild buffalo. True to form, Montana's Department of Livestock was the turd in the punchbowl at the meeting, clinging to outdated assumptions from the 2000 IBMP, insisting on drastic bison population reductions, and refusing to discuss science over politics. While Montana Department of Livestock's Mike Honeycutt and Marty Zaluski repeated their position ad nauseam, even after it was deemed "unacceptable" by the other 'partners,' nary a peep was heard from Montana's Fish, Wildlife & Parks' representative - not even on the science. He may as well have worn a red gag with "MAGA" printed on it.

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The Park Service is attempting to move towards a science-based management regime for wild buffalo. Gianforte has responded with threats to exercise the state's "sovereignty" over federal National Forests and our National Mammal. In asserting Montana's "intolerance" for wild buffalo on wildlands, Gianforte went so far as to urge the Park Service to return to the 2000 IBMP's unscientific population target of 2500-3000 total buffalo in the Yellowstone Ecosystem.

When informed by Yellowstone's Superintendent Cam Sholly that this was not going to happen, the Livestock representatives attempted to turn the meeting into a negotiation, asserting magnanimously that they could live with a reduction from the current 6000 to 2015 levels of 4500. At this point, Sholly asked them what their science was for that number, and both Honeycutt and Zaluski deflected instead to the Montana legislature's anti-bison stance.

The Nez Perce Tribe's representative, Quincy Ellenwood, openly challenged Livestock's representatives to address the growing conflicts between the tribes' treaty right to harvest the sacred buffalo, which he repeatedly pointed out was the "supreme law of the land," and the safety of both hunters and the communities where the hunts are forced by Montana's intolerance to take place. At one point, Superintendent Sholly instructed Livestock's Honeycutt to talk across the table to Ellenwood, not to him. Both Tom McDonald, the Tribal Council Chair of the Consolidated Kootenai & Salish Tribes, and Mary Erickson, Supervisor of the Gallatin and Custer National Forests, pointed to the need and availability for more habitat flexibility outside the boundaries of the Park. But Montana's Livestock partners were having none of it.

The Montana Department of Livestock is only interested in seeing bison killed in large numbers - still echoing the trauma of the 19th Century genocide.

By the end of the day, Sholly pointed out that Montana was the only representative at the table who favored a declining population of America's National Mammal, while the tribes have demonstrated the need for an increasing population. Based on scientific studies and a dramatically diminished risk to cattle from having buffalo in the ecosystem, Sholly and lead Park Biologist Chris Geremia insisted that it was pointless to be talking about population targets or reductions in the operations plan for this winter. It was repeatedly pointed out how everyone except Montana's politicians wants buffalo on public lands, and Superintendent Sholly - who has final decision-making authority in this matter - gave every indication that the population expand naturally to 10,000 or more. Geremia presented science disproving the livestock lobbies' claims that the Park is being overgrazed by bison, showing instead that the grazed areas are far healthier and more resilient than the areas where bison have not had the opportunity to graze.

If only Montana was concerned about drought resilience and ecosystem health!

Instead, the Governor in his letter spouts nonsense about the threat of bison to other wildlife in Montana! He claims - without any evidence or science whatsoever - that buffalo would displace elk if allowed to roam across Montana's wide-open landscapes. In reality, Montana Fish & Game - when it was still using science - showed that it was excessive logging and cattle grazing that has displaced elk from our National Forests, making it increasingly difficult to control elk populations.
Just don't mention that to our MAGA Governor. He's been known to body slam pesky journalists!

Contrary to the Governor's bluster, states do not possess sovereign jurisdiction over federal lands, like the Gallatin and Custer National Forests, which are owned by the all citizens of all the states. While states do have a conservation interest in wildlife species within their borders, that interest does not authorize them to promote extirpation of wildlife species from our national forests. That is the unlawful 'authority' the Department of Livestock has exercised for too long, and now with tribes asserting treaty rights, none of the non-state participants in managing for wild buffalo are willing to go along with this red-state extremism.

Reducing the overall population of wild bison below 3000, as urged by the livestock industry representatives posing as 'public servants,' would ensure the eventual extinction of Yellowstone's central herd. In contrast to the population of the northern herd, the population of the genetically distinct central herd has been decreasing, and is currently below the threshold for insuring long term viability. Descended from the original 23 survivors of colonial ecocide, the central herd has suffered disproportionately from the mismanagement policies foisted on the National Park Service by Montana's Department of Livestock.

Speaking at the public meeting on behalf of the Oceti Sakowin Oyate Treaty Council and the Southern Cheyenne Council of 44 Chiefs, treaty law expert Patrick Kincaid informed the planning partners at Wednesday's meeting that it is the treaty tribes - and not the state of Montana or its ranchers - that have superior jurisdiction, or 'sovereignty,' over wild buffalo in "unoccupied" areas (i.e., undeveloped) like the Custer and Gallatin National Forests. Recent U.S. Supreme Court cases bear that out, re-affirmingt the tribes' inherent, or aboriginal, rights in the absence of express abrogation by Congress.

And as Sholly pointed out to the other Partners, the Park Service recognizes and intends to honor the exercise of treaty rights by the tribes. Nez Perce's Ellenwood informed Montana's livestock demagogues that both the number of tribes asserting those rights in Yellowstone, and the numbers of state and tribal hunters wanting buffalo, is growing. Sholly said future conflicts could be prevented with simple acknowledgment of the biological and ecological need for buffalo migration.

Montana's Governor and livestock interests seem just fine with perpetuating unnecessary, increasing conflicts and risks to public safety, which arise primarily from the close proximity of severely constricted 'tolerance zones' to communities on the Park's outer perimeter. The state's "police power" under the constitution is supposed to be a tool for securing public health and safety, and in Montana this includes a constitutional mandate for a healthy environment. The constitution is silent on the states ability to promote extinction of species.

BFC's Executive Director, James Holt, has been at the forefront of asserting treaty rights over Yellowstone's buffalo for over a decade - which Kincaid points out is justified by treaty law, because Indigenous people and wild buffalo are still here, and still part of the same ecology. Since bringing Holt on to lead the Campaign, BFC has quickly become a key ally in the tribes' assertion of treaty rights to improve conditions for buffalo. As a recent signer of the North American Buffalo Treaty, Holt and BFC are part of a growing movement to restore the American Buffalo to the American landscape - at least in the sparsely populated West, where grasslands have become severely degraded since the keystone species for those grasslands, the plains bison, have been removed.

Yellowstone National Park is surrounded by over 8 million acres of publicly-owned national forest wildlands, or over 12,000 square miles of wildlife habitat. For treaty-right purposes, these are considered "unoccupied" former territories over which the tribes have reserved the right to fish and hunt. And Yellowstone's bison are considered a keystone species in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, one of twenty "large mammal assemblages" identified by climate scientists earlier this year as key to global recovery.

So contrary to State Veterinarian Marty Zaluski's ignorant comment Wednesday that there is no scientific reason for an increasing herd of wild buffalo, there is in the real world every reason to treat buffalo migrating out of the Park the same way we treat antelope and elk - by providing safe wildlife passages and corridors for them, and by allowing both tribal and state hunters to participate in an honorable annual harvest the same way they do with elk and mule deer.

Buffalo Field Campaign has spent 25 years in the field with our buffalo relatives, through thick and thin. The tribes have spent over 15,000 years cohabiting and co-evolving with wild buffalo, interrupted only by the unconscionable slaughter of 30-60 million bison after the Civil War and the subsequent eviction of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes from what is now Yellowstone National Park. We have learned from the buffalo themselves and from the tribes - Rosalie Little Thunder's "Buffalo People" - to be fierce and determined in our advocacy for our four-legged relatives, as well as the wisdom of facing into the storm. You can count on us, with your support, to continue speaking truth to power until ecological justice is finally achieved.

Read the Press Release: Buffalo Advocates Call on Park Service to assert Federal Supremacy to Fully Recover Buffalo in Yellowstone’s Ecosystem