Brian Funnell, BFC volunteer
Coming from New Jersey and seeing Montana for the first time was like nothing I've ever experienced before. Being surrounded by these massive mountains in all directions made the mountains of New Jersey feel like hills. The differences became even clearer with endless open space on the drive to base camp. The idea of an hour drive between towns was completely foreign to me. In one hour I could walk through five towns back home. Moving from one of the most densely populated states to one of the least densely populated was a shock. Life had always looked a certain way to me but Montana showcased a way of life far removed from the hustle and bustle of the New York City Metro area.
Arriving at base camp and meeting Buffalo Field Campaign staff and volunteers was incredible. Everyone here is inviting with plenty of patience for my lack of outdoor skills. Teaching me how to make fires, chop wood and kindling, and even learning to cross country ski was made approachable and fun by the people here. While I’m not used to living in a log cabin and sleeping in a loft, the folks at BFC made acclimating to my new environment easier.
Learning all about the threats to bison in the field during orientation and my early patrols made me realize the necessity of BFC. Whether it be hunts or vehicle accidents, the bison are clearly denied their right to migrate and the freedom to explore their native habitat and space in Yellowstone. The slaughter of tens of million of bison, underpinned by racist beliefs, created a radically different world where white colonists claimed the land as their own, forcing bison into the reservation of Yellowstone National Park.
After spending some time here, Yellowstone seems to be more of a prison than a park, where non-humans become tourist attractions and objects of human enjoyment rather than the bison being able to live their lives as they see fit. BFC’s commitment to letting the bison roam is a vital step in allowing bison to reclaim the habitat and space that was robbed from them. BFC’s involvement with native populations in honoring and protecting bison is also strengthening Indigenous communities and the bison to the benefit of the planet.
I have yet to see a bison out in the field. Some have speculated that it is due to the extremely warm winter and it has been too warm to go on a good ski looking for bison. I managed to see some bison tracks on the way to Buffalo Meadow, but I don't feel I have to see one anyway. My feeling is, the more bison I see the more at risk they are. Even without seeing bison there have been plenty of wildlife signs. Between seeing massive ravens, bald eagles, moose and snowshoe hare tracks, and observing how a coyote has been using the ski path as a highway to navigate the deep snow, the signs of non-human life is a breath of fresh air.
My first two weeks as a volunteer at BFC have been amazing and I'm sure it will only get better going forward! Come join us in the field in Yellowstone where the bison still roam.