This baby was born on Beltaine, May Day. Our patrols were blessed with getting to see him stand for the first time, taking his first steps, which will one day take him further into his native Montana. Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.
The field season is beginning to wind down. Due to the corona virus, there are just ten of us here; all coordinators and one volunteer. Everyone is signing up for shifts every single day, with no breaks. From time to time, it can feel a bit overwhelming, but then we think about and realize how incredibly blessed we are to be spending our self-isolation in the company of the last wild buffalo. Of course, we would be doing this anyway, the difference is that we have no new faces, no fresh souls to engage or to help fill patrols. But, that’s alright. We are so blessed that we are not stuck behind four walls, but can venture out into the wilds and discover all that this wondrous community has to offer.
The very best part right now is that calving season is in flux! This time of year — with the end of most hazing — is such a reward! Every day we see more and more baby buffalo. On May Day - Beltaine - one of our patrols was lucky enough to come across a mama buffalo who had just given birth to a calf. During the patrol’s recon, they received a mysterious call from a local Horse Butte resident, and went to investigate. When we arrived to the north bluffs of the Madison River, we saw two adult females, one who was busy licking something with great interest. We though immediately she had just given birth, and indeed she had! We met with our Horse Butte resident friend, who was nearly in tears with joy, as she had the honor of witnessing the whole birth — her first one. We quietly and respectfully congratulated the mama buffalo and watched as her new baby tried to stand up for the first time. He wobbled quite a bit, regained his composure, then quickly plopped down. He tried again, and took his first steps. His mama was so proud and pleased with this little one. She sheltered his balance with the massive bulk of her body, helping to guide him towards his first drink of milk. He tried the wrong end a few times, then eventually found his way, but not before tumbling down a couple more times. It was an amazing gift to be in the presence of such a sacred, profound moment. These kinds of miracles are happening everyday, and we give thanks to be here, bear witness, and stand in defense of these gentle giants.
A message for morning patrol from Mike, who almost always does our night rove patrol. It was so exciting to read these words! Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.
Even though the snow is gone and there is now (finally) plenty of grass to be found, our rove patrols are still active every day. Our night rove patrol had an exceptional experience the other night. They went out to check the highway for signs of buffalo, and to check on a few other known herds in other locations. Seeing that everything was clear, they checked one more time just to be sure, and near the Madison River they encountered a herd of about 20 buffalo who where running, full speed up the highway and off towards Horse Butte. Wondering what was making them stampede in such a way, they looked around and found a young grizzly bear moving along the edge of the forest! This is the first bear that patrols have spotted this season. This grizzly has been spotted a few other times by our patrols, as well as have a couple of other bears. It is a humbling and glorious feeling to know you are in the company of mighty grizzly bears.
Eight bull buffalo being hazed on public land where there are never any cattle, by six state horsemen who are funded by the federal government to harass our National Mammal. Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.
It’s still amazing to us to be on these Montana lands with the buffalo knowing they are safe from the harassment of relentless hazing. Those days are all but over, but not quite gone. On the south side of the Madison River the buffalo can still be targeted by the Montana Department of Livestock. This is mainly due to a couple of private and public lands summer grazing operations, as well as the close proximity to the Idaho border. Idaho has a law that declares wild buffalo from Yellowstone illegal; their punishment is lethal when they venture across state lines. Last Thursday, just as our Update from the Field was sent out to you, a group of eight bull buffalo (who pose zero risk of transmitting brucellosis to livestock) were forcibly chased from the ground where they stood in the Denny Creek / South Fork area of the Madison River. Six riders from the Montana Department of Livestock and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, galloped their horses in pursuit of these bulls, chasing them through public lands that never see any cattle. Unlike family groups who have so many to consider and take care of, bulls and bull groups don’t take lightly to hazing. They didn’t give the riders much of a chance to enjoy their rainy day ride; the bulls took off and the chase was on. In the pouring rain, they chased after the bulls for at least ten miles to an area along the Madison River where they forced them — by bullying and firing cracker rounds — across the river to their north side year-round habitat. After that was over, we thought the bulls would be safe. But, we were wrong.
An unexpected encounter on a sunny May morning. Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.
Two days after the eight bulls were hazed, five bulls — who may or not have been some of the same ones — were shot by treaty hunters. This particular tribe — who’s lands we are occupying — have no regulated hunting season so they can hunt year-round. We didn’t actually expect they would come hunt in May. That morning, our patrol had once again found the mama and baby who we met on Beltaine. We spent time with them in the warm sun, birds were singing, flowers and tiny plants emerging, grass re-greening everywhere. All right with the world. After they bedded down, we decided to give them some space and ventured on in our recon. That’s when we found the first three bulls. These were some bulls other patrols had just spent time with the day before. We decided to go back to find that mom and baby to ease our sorrow and as we returned to her location, we saw her and her tiny baby heading straight towards the hunt party. We decided we needed to stay with her and there was no way that this mom would fall to the bullet on our watch. The mom sensed the danger just a few hundred yards away, stopped dead in her tracks, and ventured into the forest. She and her baby bedded down. We stayed with her, feeling fiercely protective. After a while, part of the hunt party drove towards us pointing to her saying, “there he is! there he is!” and we walked out to talk with them to let them know “he" was a mama who had just given birth the day before. At that news, they smiled and were so pleased, and agreed that they would leave her be. They were looking for bulls that day. Later in the afternoon, they found four more and took two of them. The other two bulls were agitated and upset, not wanting to leave their brothers, trying to revive them. To mourn. The hunters had ample opportunity to take more buffalo, but had gotten what they needed and left the rest alone. That they immediately agreed to not shoot that mom, as well as others that they could have, it afforded us an opportunity to bond and to celebrate together the buffalo lives who are being born now. It also gave us an opportunity to talk about a little bit about the management issues these buffalo face. The buffalo, the imperiled Central herd in particular, just never get any breaks. While we’re out here making sure they aren’t getting hit by semis, other dangers exist. We understand that it is a tribal right to hunt these buffalo and that the meat will feed a lot of people. Our concern is the Central herd who is captured in Gardiner, and hunted in both Gardiner and West Yellowstone. They never get a break. This population is in serious jeopardy and needs meaningful safeguards. This is, in part, why we are fighting for Endangered Species Act protection.
That beautiful May morning brought events that we were not at all anticipating. Our hearts mourn for these bulls, and yet we rejoice each and every day with the arrival of new buffalo calves. Thank you for giving us the incredible opportunity to be here bearing witness and advocating for their lasting protection. We’ve come a very long way, and have so much further to go. Thank you for continuing to be with us for wild, migratory buffalo!
WILD IS THE WAY ~ ROAM FREE!