A young bull walks with his family as they make their way towards Horse Butte. Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.
Though some snow showers are still falling, spring is truly here and she comes bringing an abundance of miraculous gifts. As the snow gives way to the warming, lengthening days, the once-frozen earth softens, ready for re-birth. Green shoots of grass have started to emerge from the mud, and everywhere there is a sense of awakening, returning, and rejuvenation. Arising from our winter dreams, we are joined once again by all the relatives who call this magical place home, as they return from the far-away places they have been, rich with stories to tell and secrets to hold. In the past couple of weeks, we have witnessed the return of ospreys, red tail hawks, white pelicans, mountain blue birds, robins, dark-eyed juncos, crows, magpies, and many more winged friends. The tunnels of voles are revealed by the melting snow. Elk and deer shed their antlers, leaving precious artwork on the forest floor. Aspen are budding, and soon the willows will, too. The shifting of the ice on Hebgen Lake can be heard from time to time, announcing that he is making ready to give way to blue water who will soon be teeming with an abundance of loons, coots, ducks, geese, and many others. Grizzly bears continue to emerge from their dens, and some will have tiny cubs with them as they rise. Wolves, coyotes, foxes, mountain lions, wolverines, and many more sacred others will raise new family members, keeping the wheel turning. As this magical season waxes, our wild love affair with deep winter is put to bed for the time being. The spring tide of migration also brings our very best friends, the buffalo, as they journey to their calving grounds on and around Horse Butte.
A family group of buffalo, wet from crossing the Madison River, make their way up Highway 191 and on towards Horse Butte. Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.
After such a strange winter, the buffalo have finally started to arrive here in the Hebgen Basin, west of Yellowstone National Park. Winter wool still thick on their bodies, the buffalo are looking amazingly healthy for this time of year. Absent are the protruding ribs and hip bones so typical after a long, cold season of cratering through deep snow to find meager offerings of food. Buffalo tracks fill the muddy traces of their migration corridors. The delicious, earthy scent of buffalo musk is in the air, and tendrils of buffalo fur is caught on the branches and pine cones where they walk through the trees. Family group after family group arrives; adult females are huge, bursting with the promise of new life. Yearlings and juveniles are playful and energetic, excited for the coming season of abundance, and for the arrival of their new baby brothers and sisters.
A young bull has a conversation with an adult female about things only buffalo know. Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.
BFC patrols are running early morning into late evening, monitoring buffalo migration corridors, and enacting our duties as buffalo crossing guards. The buffalo must cross the heavily traveled Highway 191 to get to their calving grounds, and our patrols are on the ready, putting up “Buffalo on Road” signs, to help warn traffic of their presence, to ensure the buffalo make it safely to their Horse Butte destination. Residents of Horse Butte’s Yellowstone Village/Hebgen Lake Estates call us, gleeful to report that they have buffalo in their front yards once again. It has been a lonely winter without their presence, and our hearts race with the joy of their return. Even so, their numbers are few. In years past, upwards of 600 buffalo would grace us with their spring-time presence. Currently, barely 100 have arrived. There are more questions than answers as to why their numbers are so low. The mild winter may have dampened the need for migration, recent fires within the Park may be offering highly nutritious grasses found nowhere else. Indeed, the Interagency Bison Management Plan’s actions have also taken a heavy toll over the years, and BFC continues to combat this Plan from a variety of angles. We press on with our efforts to gain these last wild buffalo Endangered Species Act protection as well as a Species of Conservation Concern designation on the Gallatin National Forest. Additionally, we fight for the buffalo in the Montana legislature, a body of politicians made up mostly of ranching interests that never ceases to launch threat after threat towards the restoration of wild, migratory buffalo in Montana. Indeed, two bills — HB 132 and HB 332 — have passed through the legislature and we need Governor Bullock to veto them both. We are also the only voice talking with visitors to Yellowstone National Park each and every summer, and we have amazing opportunities for you to join us in our summer outreach program. Thank you all for the time you take to be that voice from wherever you are. Thanks to you, we’ve come a long, long way from where we started, yet we have much further to go to ensure that these miracles of spring migration not only continue, but significantly increase and thrive into the future. We look forward to sharing news with you very soon that the first buffalo calves of this year have arrived!
WILD IS THE WAY ~ ROAM FREE!