Dear Buffalo Supporters,

Welcome to a Special Edition of On the Buffalo Trail. This month’s juicy topic is our recent organizational retreat which requires much more exciting discussion. For the first time in four years the Campaign held a Vision Retreat. It was a powerful and rejuvenating experience held at Arlee, MT. At the retreat we discussed existing programs and how to improve them to maximize our impact. A large portion of the retreat focused on our tribal relations and revisiting existing policies regarding treaty hunting and quarantine. Further, we adapted our field season in response to the impacts of covid-19, with big changes to our volunteer capabilities. We also made plans in response to the significant decrease in donations as a result of covid-19. Times are tough throughout the country right now, and the Campaign is feeling its pinch. We also had a refreshing session on our legislative and legal priorities for the upcoming year. There is a lot of potential for positive change in many arenas. Our Vision Retreat was important in reimagining ourselves, to maximize our efforts for Brother Buffalo.

At the retreat we discussed our presence on social media. We outlined the roles, responsibilities, duties, and platforms each person administers. We then identified shortfalls in our strategies to disseminate information. Once that was complete, we designed a system to maximize our outreach in response to those shortfalls. The Campaign is excited to expand our outreach, and realize the results of a more robust and effective information dissemination program.

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BFC's board and staff at the closing of our retreat. BFC file photo.

Another important agenda item was our relationship with tribes. As you may know, the Campaign supports tribal sovereignty and treaty-reserved hunting rights. In fact, many of you supporters donated to the Campaign as a result of our relationship building with tribes. However, out of respect for all of our supporters and to properly honor our mission, we reviewed the status of our tribal strategy at great length. At the request of concerned supporters, we specifically discussed tribal hunting in canned hunt areas and their participation in quarantine and removal operations.

To adequately understand the tribal perspective and their goals for Yellowstone buffalo we took a step back. We have begun to educate ourselves on the diverse tribal relationships with the Yellowstone ecosystem and buffalo. This is an on-going process. We are finding that tribal relationships with Yellowstone buffalo are complex, because tribal locations, rights and needs are numerous and significant. We learned that on-reservation issues regarding economic sustainability, health & wellness, food sovereignty, treaty rights, and cultural retention are often tied to the perseverance of Yellowstone buffalo. Finally, we found the growing tribal participation in Yellowstone buffalo management, coincides with their advancement in technical and scientific knowledge of the Yellowstone ecosystem. Tribes are reuniting with the landscape and developing sacred relationships with the buffalo, that were often severed by historic, federal Indian policy.

For the Campaign, supporting tribes is more than respecting their sovereign management priorities and treaty-reserved rights. Campaign support also means informing them of our management priorities for Yellowstone buffalo. We have been monitoring treaty hunting for many years now. Recently, we have also witnessed the growing tribal support for buffalo capture operations benefiting the Ft. Peck Program. The Ft. Peck Program is a central dissemination point for buffalo being removed from Yellowstone National Park, and relocated to tribal lands. Tribal support for buffalo quarantine and removal are unsettling to the Campaign. You can imagine the angst we at the Campaign have experienced negotiating these priorities regarding wild, Yellowstone buffalo. The Campaign supports tribal sovereignty, yet tribes are participating in the removal of the wild buffalo we care so much about. The Campaign supports treaty hunting rights, and yet we all know the public relations travesty manifested by state and federal agencies in the killing fields at Beattie Gulch. Both the quarantine operation and hunt conditions in Beattie Gulch are a direct result of the Interagency Bison Management Plan. The Campaign will not vilify tribes for advocating for their people, addressing food security, and demanding a seat at the management table. The Campaign knows the real culprits responsible for the demise of Yellowstone buffalo are state and federal officials who created the Interagency Bison Management Plan. We must continue to hold them accountable, while demanding they co-create management plans addressing the unique needs of buffalo and tribes. In the end, our stance is unchanged. End the annual slaughter of buffalo within Yellowstone National Park. That one action immediately places hundreds of more buffalo on the ground every year. We must also expand the accessible habitat to include the suitable federal lands surrounding the Yellowstone park. Measures must be taken that benefit the resiliency and viability of buffalo to persist. The Campaign will continue to outreach to tribes and inform them of our management priorities, even as we seek to halt state and federal hazing, quarantine and slaughter operations.

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Yours truly during BFC's Board Retreat.
Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.

Also discussed at the Vision Retreat were the impacts of covid-19 on Camp wellness, our volunteer capability, and donations. To abide by covid-19 protocols developed by our board, limited volunteers will be allowed at Camp during this year’s 24th field season. As a result, we prioritized volunteers who could serve longer shifts. At my last check in regarding volunteer recruitment, it was closed with all the volunteer billets filled. We hope our skeleton crew can meet the demands of the field season. However, a short list of on-call volunteers will be created in the event a volunteer cannot fulfill the time requirements of their shift, or field demands increase beyond our capacity. We also discussed the emerging donation trends during covid-19. Similar to nonprofit trends across the country, giving is down. Because giving is down our operating budget has taken a significant hit. If it wasn’t for a few unexpected windfalls we’d be in dire straits. Increasing and diversifying our fundraising efforts is imperative to adequately fulfill our mission. We will continue to seek new funding sources as we continue field operations and develop our Camp programs. Your gracious donations are the fuel of our operations, and are greatly appreciated during these difficult times.

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BFC's Darrell Geist draws our attention to important ESA information. Photo by Stephany Seay, BFC.

Lastly, we had a robust discussion regarding our policy and legislative priorities. Our talented Board of Directors provided sound leadership and policy guidance as we considered our recent court success and future litigation potential. We also planned for the Montana legislative session which is on the horizon. Our Habitat Coordinator, Darrell Geist, has been magnificent in his knowledge and wisdom regarding Yellowstone buffalo policy. We will continue to pursue legislative fixes to the laws governing Yellowstone bison management, advocate for policy reform of existing guiding documents, and seek legal remedies when necessary. We do what we can in all available arenas.

You can see we’ve been hard it at for the buffalo, and acting on behalf of our wonderful supporters. It is important we realign, from time to time, in response to the changing forces influencing the livelihood of our treasured National Mammal. We left the retreat rejuvenated, prepared to face the trials of the upcoming field season and legislative session. Please look for the changes to our social media platforms and stay engaged with us. It is important you continue to communicate with us regarding our actions, priorities, and plans. We thank you for your support and patience, as we wade through the quagmire of state and federal buffalo management in the era of covid-19.

For the Buffalo,
James Holt, Sr.
Executive Director, Buffalo Field Campaign

“The Earth and I are of One Mind.”- Chief Joseph, Nimiipuu (Nez Perce)