2020 12 24 01 001 Update 1 BFC Stephany Seay photo

An adult female from the Central herd ponders some of her biggest fans. Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.

While I was talking on the phone with BFC’s Board President, Justine Sanchez, we were sharing concerns about the dangerous predicament the Central herd buffalo are in, when a call came over the radio from patrols in the field: “have the media coordinator contact us!” I did, and the message relayed was that another buffalo from the Central herd had been taken by a hunter. Right after that, I received another message and a separate phone call from residents of Yellowstone Village telling me about the incident. This makes three since our last Update — all adult females — who were killed by state and tribal hunters. We’ve been monitoring and spending time with this family group of buffalo every day, and they have been in and out of harm’s way for about six weeks. They know where they are safe, but buffalo must roam. Human-made lines in the sand are meaningless to these wise elders, but hold very real consequences for them. Too often the simple instinct and necessity of walking the earth can be likened to walking death row.

2020 12 24 01 002 Update 2 BFC Stephany Seay photo

Buffalo from the Central herd are doubly impacted by “management” threats. When they migrate west into the Hebgen Basin they are vulnerable to hunting, and when they migrate north into the Gardiner Basin, they are vulnerable to hunting and capture-for-slaughter. Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.

The Central herd is in dire straits as their population hovers at a mere 1,200 individuals. They are extra vulnerable to “management” actions because they migrate out of Yellowstone National Park into Montana's Hebgen Basin (west) and Gardiner Basin (north). Their status is threatened enough that for the past three years, Yellowstone biologists and Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks officials recommend that no buffalo be killed in the Hebgen Basin. Only Central herd members migrate into Montana’s Hebgen Basin, while Central and Northern herd buffalo migrate into the Gardiner Basin. Meaning, Central herd buffalo are doubly impacted by human threats. Thus far, the state and federal recommendations — which hold no teeth — are falling on deaf ears. Not only are hunters coming here to kill these imperiled Central herd buffalo, but they are carelessly taking adult females — those who carry forth the next generation.

Over the weekend this particular Central herd family group took one too many steps over a safe-zone property line, onto Gallatin National Forest, where two adult females were killed by hunters. The survivors crept back into the safety of buffalo-friendly land where they remained for a few days. But, just yesterday, they started heading east towards Yellowstone. They were veritably hazed by a local snow plow driver who, from our experiences, has no soft spot for the gentle giants.

2020 12 24 01 003 Update 3 BFC Greg Marin photo

They survived the Ice Age, but can they survive the U.S. Government? Photo by Greg Marin, Buffalo Field Campaign.

The day before this incident was one of those days that you live for. The winds were picking up and a snow storm was coming with single digit negative temperatures to follow. The buffalo were safe in the shelter of Yellowstone Village/Hebgen Lake Estates, where no hunting or harassing of buffalo or any wildlife is allowed. My patrol partner and I found the buffalo that morning, frisky and wind blown. Beards and tails were sideways in the gusting wind. They could feel the change in the weather coming. We wondered if the storm would trigger them to migrate. As they say, buffalo face into a storm. We hung out with them for a few hours then carried on to check other areas that we patrol. While we were gone, the snow started falling in a horizontal sheet of white. While there was not much accumulation, it was a veritable blizzard. Visibility was so poor that it was very hard to see the road. All we wanted to do was to get back to the buffalo. We slowly made our way to them. They were such a sight to behold! Their fur was caked with snow, their faces looked like ghosts. They stood there, they grazed, and bedded down totally unfazed. Every once in a while, when the snow was thick enough, one would shake their enormous body, sending snow in all directions. As we turned up the heat in the car to warm our freezing hands, they peacefully withstood the storm as any Ice Age mammal would. It’s hard to describe what we were feeling in those moments with the buffalo. It was such a perfect display of who they are and the eons that they have lived through.

We have a newspaper cut out on our cupboard in the main room of our cabin that says, “They survived the Ice Age, but can they survive the U.S. Government?” They have in fact survived numerous Ice Ages, but this one government and all their minions have the dangerous potential to end tens of thousands of years of evolution and evolutionary potential. That is why we exist, why you grant us the honor and opportunity to be here standing in the buffalos’ defense. Change comes at a slow pace, but progress truly is being made. Our continued pressure, continuously applied, is making a difference. Together we must stay the course and continue to hold those harming the buffalo — our National Mammal -- accountable.

We ask that you contact Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly [This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.] and tell him to do his part in protecting the Central herd by ceasing plans to capture buffalo for slaughter. Also contact Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Director Martha Williams [ This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ] and tell her a recommendation against hunting in the Hebgen Basin is not enough! Tell her to make it the law.