Geddy, Max, Phoebe, and Toe representing the last wild buffalo. Photo by a park visitor.
In the winter of 2012, I was lucky to spend some time volunteering with Buffalo Field Campaign. In my experience, there’s no more beautiful place to spend the winter than the Northern Rockies. Much of the volunteer work consisted of going on patrols to monitor the locations of bison and the hunting of bison that was taking place. Exploring the Yellowstone backcountry by cross-country ski and living in a community of people dedicated to protecting the last truly wild buffalo in the United States gave me a sense of purpose and fulfillment that I had rarely experienced.
After almost six years, I’ve returned to the Yellowstone area this summer to spend a few weeks volunteering with Buffalo Field Campaign at their education and outreach table inside Yellowstone National Park. It’s great to be back in the Yellowstone area, connecting with people who love wild creatures and wild places. I wasn’t sure what to expect when trying to talk to visitors to the park about the decimation of the last wild buffalo. Would people on vacation want to hear about something negative and ugly?
Overall, the reception from visitors to Yellowstone has been fantastic. We’ve met people from all over the country, and also from all over the world—some of my favorite conversations so far were with visitors from the Netherlands and India. Many of the folks who have stopped by our table had no idea the bison they’d just seen inside the park were not protected. Others who came by were aware of the current management controversies, and stopped to learn more, or sometimes share what they’ve learned with us.
Maybe the most interesting visitors were children and teenagers who were already committed to conservation; it was inspiring to talk to young people who know that bison and other wildlife need greater protection and greater habitat. One young man, probably 11 or 12 years old, asked me, “Aren’t the buffalo here kind of a genetic island? Don’t they need to connect to other buffalo to be healthy?” Meeting someone who’s not even in high school yet, but already understands the need for large-scale wildlife corridors and conservation, gives me a glimmer of hope for our future.
Visitors to Yellowstone from all over the world recognize the importance of wild bison. Back at the BFC base camp in West Yellowstone, I spoke with an indigenous man who described the profound cultural importance of bison for many Native American communities. Protecting the last wild herds of bison that live in Yellowstone takes on a new dimension when you’ve heard personal testimony from indigenous people who hope to see the return of buffalo to the landscape. Knowing that these creatures inspire so many people from such diverse backgrounds is yet another reason to fight for their protection and restoration. I’m thrilled to be back here with BFC working to protect the Yellowstone bison herds, and I'm excited to see what the next few years will bring for our last wild buffalo.
With the Buffalo,
~ Max, Buffalo Field Campaign Volunteer