Hello from Nez Perce Country! I hope this edition of On the Buffalo Trail finds you well. The summer heat is in full effect here in north-central Idaho. The region has set record high temperatures these past few days. My family and I have been traveling up to the mountains as much as possible to beat the heat, and gather roots, leaves, and berries for the coming winter. Some of the places in my homeland we go to are located in what is now known as the Clearwater-Nez Perce National Forest. Maintaining access to those public lands in a cultural way has taken a lot of effort over a long period of time. As administrations change and natural resource law evolves, it is up to vigilant leaders and concerned citizens being proactive in protecting access to public lands, maintaining public involvement, and influencing management. Citizen involvement and Freedom of Speech are vital in advocating for our shared public lands and cherished wildlife.
Over the past weekend, I read an article about the recent transfer of Yellowstone buffalo to tribes via the Ft. Peck Program. The buffalo transfer is being hailed as a huge success to those tribes receiving them. I agree with them. For I understand the importance of buffalo to tribes, having supported the revitalization of the sacred relationship between Yellowstone buffalo and the Nez Perce Tribe. However, the current transfer of buffalo to tribes is to support priorities within the existing Interagency Bison Management Plan. Buffalo Field Campaign does not support that plan in its current form. Case in point, nowhere in the article did I see language about increasing buffalo populations in the Yellowstone region to sustain transfers to tribes, or more importantly, amending management priorities that benefit the long-term health of Yellowstone buffalo. Obviously, a robust population in the region would better protect the genetic viability of Yellowstone herds (especially the ailing Central herd), heal damaged federal lands on National Forests surrounding the park, benefit the persistence of other sensitive wildlife species, and increase the buffalo available for transfer to tribes (ideally, migrating there on their own four hooves). I sincerely hope that is the goal of participating tribes, and I look forward to their leadership. Currently, the voices of most tribes are silent when Yellowstone buffalo are the wellspring by which most, if not all, buffalo flow into the Ft. Peck Program. I call on tribes to advocate halting the annual slaughter of our National Mammal at the hands of managing agencies, and demand a revisioning of the Interagency Bison Management Plan, and to do more for the buffalo on National Forests critical to their survival and well-being.
Today, the Custer Gallatin National Forest, Yellowstone National Park, and the Montana Department of Livestock are pushing for the continued suppression of Yellowstone buffalo populations. Further, regional tribes must have a louder voice in support of the buffalo they are benefiting from via the Ft. Peck Program. The legacy of mismanagement that persists due to the failed priorities of the managing agencies must be reversed. The time is now. Buffalo Field Campaign has issued Take Action updates that seek to protect buffalo as a wildlife and provide access to the significant amount of suitable habitat on National Forests surrounding Yellowstone National Park. If you have not already done so, I strongly urge you to secure habitat standards for buffalo to roam National Forests.
These huge issues require an informed, active citizenry taking part in public involvement processes. That’s where you, our dedicated supporters, come in. Both the non-tribal and tribal public have an opportunity to advocate to state, federal, and tribal governments. We can call for shifting the management priorities of the Inter-agency Bison Management Plan to benefit buffalo as wildlife. Together, we can demand habitat on National Forests outside of the Yellowstone National Park and allow buffalo the freedom to roam the land of their birth right.
Each of us have an opportunity and responsibility to engage in civic discourse. Our voices matter. Buffalo Field Campaign will stand with you as your voice is heard. Qeciyewyew (thank you) for using your important voice on behalf of Brother Buffalo.
James Holt, Sr.
Executive Director, Buffalo Field Campaign
“The Earth and I are of One Mind.”- Chief Joseph, Nez Perce