“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

~ Arthur Schopenhauer

For the past 9 months, I've had the honor and privilege of serving Yellowstone Bison as BFC's Director of Communications. As I prepare to ride off into the sunset, retiring to the West Coast at 66, I want to take this opportunity to address you, our 18,000+ supporters around the world who I've been updating weekly all this time. Many of you have taken time to write me, either to express your deep appreciation for BFC's efforts or to express heartfelt disagreement with some of our strategies, while so many others have registered their support by offering generosity, as with recurring monthly donations.

2023 05 26 shaping the narrative

Ending the slaughter

To all of you supporters and detractors alike, I feel obligated to leave you with as much clarity about our mission and our political stances as possible. Contrary to the mischaracterization of BFC's efforts by those with their own agendas, we do not "support the slaughter" of Yellowstone Bison. This slander is objectionable on two grounds. First, we have actually been successful this year in accomplishing a long-time goal: ending the practice of sending bison to slaughter. That is the "slaughter" -- terminating a wild buffalo's life in a slaughterhouse designed for cattle - that we have been seeking to end for decades.

This year, in response to the shipment of 88 bison to a CSKT slaughterhouse while CSKT tribal members were participating in the harvest of bison near Gardiner, we first published a Guest Opinion in all the Montana newspapers calling for the end to this inhumane practice. We subsequently met with the Park Superintendent and asked him to make that the last shipment of Yellowstone Bison to slaughter ever. Superintendent Sholly not only cancelled the second scheduled shipment, he also made the Park Service's position opposing shipping bison to slaughter quite clear in the press. Next to creating a year-round safe haven for bison on their Horse Butte calving grounds after years of open conflict, this represents a significant achievement that you have all made possible with your support of BFC. Just as we won the first ever year-round habitat for wild bison in Montana, we now have convinced the Park Service to end this decades-long, inhumane practice of trapping wild bison, loading them through cattle chutes onto trucks, and shipping them to slaughterhouses. We would like to think of that as "ending the slaughter."

An unsustainable harvest

However, this achievement was largely overlooked because of the "Tragedy of the Buffalo Commons," as we have described the situation in all of Montana's major newspapers over the past 3 successive Sundays. While many conservationists and organizations like Alliance for the Wild Rockies have played along with the Montana livestock industry's ploy to blame the Tribes for the deplorable population suppression of Yellowstone Bison that has been propagated now for 23 years under the terms of the inter-agency management plan, a more realistic narrative is now emerging in national media, including the recent articles linked below from the Washing Post and from Huffinton Post, that adopts BFC's more sensible and salutary position. Sensible, because we will never be able to restore wild bison populations in Montana without Tribal leadership and without resurrecting an "honorable harvest" that recreates balance between bison, Indigenous people, and the land. And salutary because Tribal sovereignty is the most powerful cultural and legal source for the healing that needs to occur - not fixing a broken, colonialist and state-imposed management scheme.

The harvest conducted under the state-imposed regime was not a sustainable one, and from our perspective, did not afford Yellowstone Bison the honor, respect and dignity that they deserve. It hurts when BFC is slandered with accusations that we "support the slaughter" of buffalo, because our staff and our volunteers were out there bearing witness to over 1100 killings in the shooting gallery created by Montana's Department of Livestock. The daily counts of bulls, pregnant cows, and yearlings taken were a nightly gut punch to those who braved one of the worst winters on record. The cumulative trauma carried by those staffers who returned week after week during the season to Gardiner had real consequences back here at BFC Headquarters near West Yellowstone.

Still, to call a Tribal harvest of 1100 wild bison a "slaughter" is culturally and historically ignorant. While we, perhaps more than anyone, get the emotional reactivity behind such terminology, we also remain keenly aware of the fact that our government oversaw the real slaughter of somewhere between 30 and 60 MILLION wild bison in order to subjugate the Tribes by callously eliminating their aboriginal food source and cultural lifeways. The slaughter and the genocide went hand-in-hand, and is the only reason that harvesting 1100 bison today is a problem. Please do not blame the surviving victims of genocide for the consequences of genocide that they are forced to live with.

The strategic reason we support Tribes in the exercise of their treaty rights -- from treaties that were agreed to by them before the slaughter, on the assumption that they'd always remain in relationship with the buffalo -- is because those treaties and the Tribal sovereignty preserved therein are last, best hope for restoring wild bison to the American landscape, as the Tribes themselves have agreed to strive for in the Buffalo Treaty advanced by the Blackfeet during this same timeframe that the severed relationship between the Tribes and buffalo has begun to be re-established. If it looks messy in these early stages, blame the state interference that creates that appearance, not the tribal members taking the first buffalo for their clan in over 150 years. Blame the crushing poverty we turn a blind eye to on the reservations those Tribal members travel from. And blame the damned cows that railroad barons deemed the best use of our public lands.

But don't blame the Tribes. That's my takeaway message for all of you.

Building bridges to the future

BFC promotes a holistic solution to recovery of Yellowstone Bison. In addition to forcing the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to do a threats analysis that will result in a decision whether or not to afford the protections of the Endangered Species Act to Yellowstone Bison, we upped our campaign for a Buffalo Wildlife Bridge over Hwy 191 this year in response to the tragic loss of 13 pregnant cows and yearlings from the imperiled central herd. Over 70,000 people have signed our petition demanding such a bridge, and we are now actively collaborating with the Montana Department of Transportation, Gallatin Wildlife Association, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce and Town Council (thanks to our friend, neighbor and ally Bob Lindstrom), Yellowstone National Park, and pro-bono engineers from the global sustainability leaders ARUP. What an amazing response! The momentum is real, and it wouldn't have happened without the tireless efforts of our Volunteer Coordinator Jackson Doyel and the aforementioned Bob Lindstrom.

BFC has come a long way in the last 25 years, and it is that persistence with your support that has paved the way for all the progress we have made in the last 9 months as well. I take my leave with great confidence that we as an organization, with all of your continuing support and encouragement through good times and through bad, are right on the brink of accomplishing our mission and realizing our vision. In fact, I think we're in the process of making history together, ending centuries of colonial oppression of wild buffalo, and ethnic genocide, at the hands of settlers, cattle barons, and Montana's livestock industry.

If you don't believe me, please read the following articles and decide for yourself:

A tribe practices an ancient tradition in a modern world

This year, hunters killed around 1,100 bison, a sharp uptick from recent seasons. Dozens more were sent to slaughter as they sought better pastures after a particularly harsh winter.

“That’s too many,” said Tom Woodbury of the Buffalo Field Campaign, an activist group that petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the Yellowstone bison under the Endangered Species Act.

“That’s a product of the population being too low and demand from the tribes being too high,” he said, adding: “It’s not up to us to tell the tribes what their relationship with bison should be.”

Full article from the Washington Post: On the hunt for Yellowstone’s bison