WEST YELLOWSTONE, MONTANA: On Thursday, Buffalo Field Campaign's (BFC) morning patrol spotted a pair of skiers mistakenly identified as hunters. The skiers were entering an area where it is illegal to discharge firearms. The two skiers were traveling toward a group of buffalo, grazing along a tributary of the Madison River inside Yellowstone National Park. Upon further inspection, BFC confirmed that the skiers were vacationers renting a local Forest Service cabin. Continuing on patrol BFC staff came upon a group of Yakima tribal hunters on snowmobiles. The tribal hunters were speaking with five National Park Service Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) and a Park Ranger.
The Park Ranger flagged down the BFC patrol.
"The Park Ranger immediately started questioning us about where we had been, and asked if we had been near the buffalo," said BFC media coordinator Stephany Seay. "We knew immediately that the hunters were concerned we were hazing that group of buffalo into an area closed to hunting. That's just ridiculous, because hazing is something BFC strongly opposes in any form by anyone. The only people I have personally witnessed hazing buffalo during the fifteen years this hunt has been taking place are the hunters themselves, who push buffalo from areas where they cannot be hunted, into areas where they can."
While the Park Service LEOs and Ranger had BFC's patrol car surrounded, BFC staff gladly shared recent patrol observations.
"This particular group of buffalo has not moved in days," said Seay. "Hunters need to understand that when they do enter areas where they are shot, they will move to where they know they are safe. It happens all the time here in the Hebgen Basin and over in the Gardiner Basin. These buffalo have been hunted now for fifteen years, and like deer, elk, or any other hunted species, they learn where they are safe and act upon that knowledge to save their own lives. Buffalo are incredibly intelligent."
During the conversations with the LEOs it became clear what had happened. The hunters scouting for buffalo along the east bluffs of the Madison River spotted the vacationing skiers, and suspected they were members of BFC. Similarly, BFC mistakenly suspected they were hunters in an illegal hunt zone. From where the hunters were located, they could not see the BFC patrol also observing the skiers. This isn't the first time BFC patrols have been accused of hazing buffalo, a practice they are adamantly opposed to. Seeking out the buffalo while on daily patrol, BFC actions are often misunderstood by hunters and the LEOs who respond to hunters' concerns. Knowing where the buffalo are and monitoring their migration is a fundamental component of BFC's long-term advocacy. BFC is opposed to hazing wild, Yellowstone buffalo in any form.
The buffalo in question are members of the imperiled Central herd, with a population that is in dire straits. Both Yellowstone National Park and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks have recommended not hunting buffalo in the Hebgen Basin. Only Central herd buffalo migrate into the Hebgen Basin, while both the Northern and Central herds migrate into the Gardiner Basin. Central herd buffalo are doubly impacted by controversial management actions provided by the Interagency Bison Management Plan. The recommendation not to hunt buffalo in the Hebgen Basin has been largely ignored by the state and tribal agencies adopting annual hunting regulations.
"When humans take from a species, we then have an obligation to give something back," said Seay. "We encourage all buffalo hunters to become a strong voice and advocate for more habitat and to reject the Interagency Bison Management Plan, which has set this hunt up for the disaster it has become."
An audio recording of the conversation between the BFC patrol and law enforcement is available upon request.
Buffalo Field Campaign is a Montana-based wild bison advocacy group, working every day in the field, the courts, and policy arena, in defense of the last continuously wild, migratory population of American buffalo, our National Mammal. More information about BFC can be found at www.BuffaloFieldCampaign.org.