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A family group nears Yellowstone’s north boundary in the Gardiner Basin. BFC photo by Stephany Seay.

We are so humbled by everyone who has been reaching out to us, even making donations in memory of the matriarch, S3. Your letters, emails, and contributions made in her name move us deeply. This beautiful mama buffalo touched so many hearts, and she will live on in everyone who remembers her and shares her story. She lives on in her surviving family members who, after losing her to a hunter, have been keeping themselves safe and away from danger. She and her family are representative of what so many of the buffalo of Yellowstone country endure. So many buffalo have shared the same fate, and others are about to experience an even worse one: Yellowstone has opened their buffalo trap. (video) As of this writing, at least 96 of the country’s last wild buffalo — our national mammal — are imprisoned in the Gardiner Basin, within Yellowstone National Park's Stephens Creek buffalo trap. These buffalo are facing a sentence of death by slaughter or domestication by quarantine, which, contrary to popular belief, also sends buffalo to the slaughter house. People often ask us how long does a buffalo live, usually our first response is, “that depends on if they migrate into Gardiner or West Yellowstone, or not.”

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Captured wild buffalo calves, terrified and without their mothers, inside Yellowstone’s Stephens Creek buffalo trap. The beer cans are used to scare the buffalo when the trap workers want them to move. BFC photo by Stephany Seay.

In a press release issued on Tuesday afternoon, Yellowstone did not fail to point out that Native American tribes would be shipping the buffalo to slaughter. Aiming to shift the blame away from themselves, while it is true that a few Tribes have slaughter contracts with Yellowstone, the park is fully responsible for their own actions. It is Yellowstone who is bending over backwards to serve Montana cattle interests by capturing wild buffalo, operating the trap, forcing buffalo through invasive procedures as they are run through the terrifying squeeze chute, separating mothers from children, causing trauma and injury, and loading these sacred beings onto trailers destined for slaughter. The only thing the Park isn’t doing is putting the bullet through their heads. Everyone working at Yellowstone’s trap wears the same buffalo-bearing badge on their sleeve. Yellowstone National Park put many thousands of wild buffalo through this torture chamber, and they have the most wild buffalo blood on their hands than any entity since the turn of the 19th century. In the public eye, they feign regret, saying that they are “forced” by Montana to kill the last wild buffalo because of a court order, claiming their hands are tied and they have no choice but to carry out these draconian acts. We do believe that there are many who work within Yellowstone, even some of those who work at the trap, who didn’t join the Park Service to kill buffalo and strongly oppose their agency’s actions. Oppose their own actions, even. But, inertia is a powerful force, and cowardice is comfortable. Yellowstone and their employees are choosing to do this. They have a way out, more than one, but they continue to make the choice to kill the sacred buffalo.

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A bull trapped and struggling in the squeeze chute, being violated, by Yellowstone park biologists inside the Stephens Creek trap. BFC photo by Stephany Seay.

Even though the Stephens Creek trap has been in use since the late-1990s, Yellowstone officials have told us that the trap exists on behalf of the Interagency Bison Management Plan. They have told us that if the Plan were not in existence, the trap wouldn’t be either. Both the Plan and the trap are in place to appease Montana livestock interests — not Montanans at large, but the state’s livestock industry. Montana has a state law - MCA 81-2-120 - that views wild buffalo as an animal in need of disease (brucellosis) control, and gives the Montana Department of Livestock authority over the indigenous roamers when they step into their native Montana. The trap and the Plan came into existence after Montana sued Yellowstone for “allowing” wild buffalo to migrate into Montana. During the winter of 1996-1997, over a thousand buffalo were killed, and Yellowstone's trap, already in place to appease Montana’s cattle industry, was responsible for much of the killing. It was after that dreadful winter that Buffalo Field Campaign was formed. A few years later, in 2000, court ordered to come up with an agreement, Yellowstone and the other state and federal agencies signed on to the Interagency Bison Management Plan. When they signed this Plan, they signed a document which states: “Finally, the agreement provided that any agency could terminate the agreement by providing a 30-day notice to the other parties that the agency would withdraw from the agreement.” There it is in black and white. (PDF) Not a single agency’s hands are tied to this nefarious plan. Not one! A simple 30-day notice is all that it would take. So, what’s Yellowstone’s hesitation? Are they afraid of Montana cattle interests? Afraid they may be sued again by the cattle industry? What if they were? More than likely Yellowstone — and the buffalo — would win. They would have the ammunition of volumes of new information, changing landscapes, changing attitudes, the endangered status of wild buffalo, and the building support for wild, migratory buffalo around the world, throughout the country, and all over Montana. Who knows, maybe they wouldn’t get sued. Why not take a chance? Why not stand up for the beings the entire world is entrusting with their care? Let the blame fall squarely on Montana’s shoulders, where it truly belongs.

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A buffalo about to cross Yellowstone’s north boundary. If buffalo make it past the trap, once they cross this line, they are vulnerable to being shot and killed by hunters. BFC photo by Stephany Seay.

Our Gardiner patrol is watching the trap closely. But, Yellowstone makes the ability to accurately count the number of buffalo inside the trap impossible. Yellowstone has a closure surrounding the trap that is a whopping seven-mile radius. We are forced to view the trap from long distance through spotting scopes. No matter the angle, accuracy is a huge challenge. Years ago we used to be able to call Yellowstone at any time the trap was in operation and they would tell us how many buffalo were captured, how many in the trap, how many shipped to slaughter. But, no more. For years now, transparency has been blacked out. The press release which went out on Tuesday revealing that 96 buffalo are in the trap will not have a follow-up for a couple more weeks. So, we are vigilant, doing the best that we can from as close as we can get, which is miles away. As we watch the trap closely, we are also monitoring the buffalo in the surrounding area, who are close to or moving towards the trap. Gardiner patrol just called; another five hundred buffalo are making their way north, in the direction of the trap. On the off-chance they make it past there, hunters await them at Beattie Gulch.

1. Call Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk 307-344-2002 and also National Park Service Deputy Director Mike Reynolds #202-208-6843. Tell them to release the captured buffalo, give 30-days notice that they are terminating the Interagency Bison Management Plan, and shut down the Stephens Creek buffalo trap.

2. Call Montana Governor Steve Bullock 406-444-3111 or 800-332-2272 and urge him to endorse a plan that respects wild buffalo like wild elk in Montana, and to revise, abolish, or repeal MCA 81-2-120.

Other actions to take:

Protect the Central Herd 

Sign onto our report to list buffalo as a Species of Conservation Concern on National Forest lands