Wild buffalo captured within Yellowstone’s Stephens Creek bison trap. As of this writing, an estimated 90 buffalo have been shipped to slaughter and 14 have been held for domestication (quarantine) purposes. Notice the herd of elk outside of the trap. Ironic because the IBMP states they manage the buffalo this way because of (unfounded) fears they might spread brucellosis to cattle, when that has never happened, but elk have been implicated more than twenty-seven times in transmitting brucellosis to cattle and they are free to roam. Photo by Cindy Rosin, Buffalo Field Campaign.
March has turned into quite the tragic month for our dear friends the buffalo. Nearly 400 have been eliminated from the last wild, migratory population, which currently hovers around 4,200 individuals. Late-season hunting took a bit of a toll over in the Gardiner Basin, with over 120 buffalo killed, most of them taken within the infamous killing box of Beattie Gulch, right at Yellowstone National Park’s north boundary. Yellowstone National Park has captured an estimated 280 buffalo and has been shipping them to slaughter every day this week. With Yellowstone National Park and other Interagency Bison Management Plan cohorts wanting to kill upwards of 900 of these gentle giants this year, through hunting and slaughter, if migration is slow to start, once it begins all hell breaks loose, and, of course, the buffalo are the ones who pay the ultimate price for this gross mismanagement. The desire to kill or capture as many as possible is feverish, setting hunters and Yellowstone at intense odds with each other, and this is exactly the way Montana livestock interests like it; everyone else doing their dirty work, blaming one another, while buffalo die by the hundreds. While they are responsible for their own actions, Yellowstone and hunters are getting the black eye that should be received by the state of Montana, who wages this war against wild buffalo.
The “choices” the Interagency Bison Management Plan gives buffalo when they migrate into the Gardiner Basin. Artwork by Drazil, Buffalo Field Campaign.
While BFC disagrees with current hunting practices (“no habitat, no hunt”), we fully support Treaty Rights, and we disagree with Yellowstone’s trap even more. Both of these management strategies are a direct fault of the Interagency Bison Management Plan, which is fueled by Montana’s livestock interests, and indeed, driven by a state law. As a signatory to the IBMP, Yellowstone National Park is betraying Tribes as much as they are the buffalo; according to the IBMP’s 2020 Operations Plan (PDF). they are supposed to honor hunting seasons before they begin to capture buffalo, but because they have bent over so far backwards to cater to Montana livestock interests, they are extremely anxious to capture as many buffalo as they can and are interfering with the rights of sovereign nations in order to do so. BFC documented twenty-six more buffalo captured this Wednesday. This leaves a lot of hunters without opportunity because there are no buffalo outside of the park because they have been captured inside the trap. The entirety of the IBMP should be challenged as a violation of Treaty rights; not only for tribes hunting buffalo, but also for tribes who don’t, and for buffalo to be able to restore themselves on federal “open and unclaimed” lands, where they could once again flourish and re-enter into relationship with the humans they evolved with for tens of thousands of years. The politics surrounding the activities of the IBMP are human-centric, nauseating, and aim to confuse. The management schemes these government agencies set before the public are so convoluted that they make people feel helpless to do anything, while the solution is so simple it’s painful: Let the buffalo roam, just like the IBMP lets elk roam freely.
US Highway 191 poses one of the biggest threats to wild buffalo. When motorists are patient, the buffalo will move along and get off the highway, but, when humans — i.e. law enforcement — feel they need to take action, they only exacerbate the situation. In a testosterone-filled display of patriarchy, these buffalo - many pregnant females - were hounded by lights, sirens, and cracker rounds of four different law enforcement entities. Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.
Here in the Hebgen Basin, west of Yellowstone’s boundaries, the imperiled Central herd is slowly attempting to head to their calving grounds on and around Horse Butte. The Central herd is doubly impacted by IBMP management actions because they migrate both into the Gardiner Basin and also the Hebgen Basin. Their situation is so dire that Yellowstone and Montana’s Fish, Wildlife & Park agency have recommended that there be no lethal actions against buffalo here in the Hebgen Basin. But, sadly, this is only a recommendation without any teeth, and it is so far being unheeded. (And it bears repeating that, meanwhile, Yellowstone is capturing to kill indiscriminately, not knowing which buffalo are from what herd.) No sooner did a small family group of buffalo make it out of the Park to Horse Butte, word got out and hunters arrived. After losing two family members, the buffalo left Horse Butte, met up with another group and headed back into the Park. In the Hebgen Basin, the main threats to the buffalo are Highway 191, which dissects their migration corridors, and hunting. But, in the Hebgen Basin, unlike in Gardiner, buffalo have places they can go in order to stay alive. One of the biggest challenges for buffalo here in the Hebgen Basin is the highway, and BFC patrols are ever vigilant along this busy road, watching for buffalo and warning traffic when they are on or near the roads. Though melting fast, there is still a considerable amount of snow, so it makes getting off the highway a lot more difficult for the buffalo. Patience is a virtue for motorists traveling through this migration corridor, and one should expect delays and learn to enjoy being among representatives of our National Mammal; no where else on Earth do you get this opportunity.
“Every time a calf is born is a victory for us,” said BFC’s executive director, James Holt.
The end of March will bring an end to the killing season. It can’t come soon enough. Calving season will begin in just about a month; mother buffalo are showing signs of being huge with the new life they will soon bring forth. This is important to keep in mind when contemplating the management actions that harm the buffalo. In the Gardiner Basin, buffalo who have not been captured are beginning to make their way to their favored calving grounds. Members from the Northern herd will head into Yellowstone, while members of the Central herd will head to Horse Butte and surrounding lands. We can’t wait to greet these little miracles. As our executive director, James Holt, so eloquently said: "every time a calf is born is a victory for us." May there be hundreds of victories this coming spring!
WILD IS THE WAY ~ ROAM FREE!