My first introduction to the buffalo came through a Minnesota state history lesson in first grade. My teacher explained to our class how this sacred animal was connected to Native Americans and their way of life. I remember being fascinated by their relationship. How wonderful that this majestic animal, along with the many other gifts offered by Mother Earth, could provide people who had lived so long before me with the resources needed to survive the same snowy, cold winter that I was staring at from inside the bright warm classroom where I sat.

My favorite part of the lesson was learning about the many ways the Dakota and Anishinaabe people used parts of the buffalo as tools and supplies. I was fascinated by their nomadic lifestyle and wanted to know everything about how they lived. I remember being so inspired, and wishing I could experience living how they did. I observed how Native people cared for the buffalo and their shared home by living sustainably and using practices that kept the ecosystem healthy, allowing our planet’s biodiversity to ebb and flow naturally. As a first grader, I decided buffalo were going to be one of my favorite animals from that moment forward.

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I found out about Buffalo Field Campaign after taking a trip to the Minnesota Science Museum Omnitheater with my Mom to watch Jane Goodall, Reasons for Hope. In the movie, Jane highlights inspiring stories which give her hope for the future. One of the stories was about the Blackfeet Nation’s re-introduction of the American Bison. My Mom and I both left the movie with teary eyes. In my gut, I felt a flame of passion reignite.

The next morning, I opened the Handshake app on my phone to see a new volunteer position that sounded too good to pass up. Spending time outside surrounded by mountains, protecting one of my favorite animals? Sign me up. The chance to see a newborn bison? Absolutely. Most of all, I was excited by the opportunity to explore somewhere new with my camera, and to meet some of the people that keep a mission like BFC’s running.

Throughout my month here in camp overlooking Hebgen Lake, I have been lucky enough to see some incredible wildlife. My favorites include a moose, bighorn sheep, elk, a great grey owl, and the resident fox who lives behind basecamp. I haven’t spotted any bears or wolves, but I have encountered their tracks on the Madison River bluffs, and that is good enough for me. I have been amazed by all of the bird species I have spotted. Ospreys, bald eagles, ravens, and red-tailed hawks seem to always be close by. The number of small mammals and songbirds that have greeted me makes me think I am close to becoming a Disney princess with a crew of woodland friends. The Mountain Bluebird is one of my new favorite birds – the sky blue color of the male birds is stunning.

I have learned that wildlife photography requires much more preparation and patience than I had previously imagined. It is easy to assume with such a beautiful background and lots of wildlife it would be simple to take great photos of animals thriving in their natural habitat. It did not take me long to realize this is not the case. Even if I haven’t loved half of the photos I recorded while being here, there hasn’t been a single time that I came back from being in the field to find that I didn’t enjoy it.

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When Joey and I were approaching a mother buffalo and her baby while out on patrol, I was ecstatic. We had seen them the day before, and I had tried to take some photos of the two with some luck, but in each of the photos, I wanted something to be slightly different. I was hopeful I would get another opportunity to create a photo similar to the vision I had in my head. Needless to say, the perfect moment presented itself to me, and I am so happy I was able to photograph it.

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When I return home to Minnesota in a few days, I plan to make a print of this image. Even if I don’t pursue a career in environmental conservation, after this experience, I will always remember to use my voice to speak for those who can’t and to fight every day for what is important to me.

~ By Hanna Tuchenhagen, Volunteer for the Buffalo Field Campaign

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