Cease Fire! Yellowstone Buffalo Need to Recover

Cease Fire! Yellowstone Buffalo Need to Recover

Editor’s Note: Last winter, we published a news report about the winter hunt for buffalo in Yellowstone National Park. Today we are bringing you a short update from Stephany Seay, co-founder of Roam Free Nation, about an appeal for a ceasefire for the last wild buffalo at the Yellowstone National Park for this upcoming winter.

By Stephany Seay/Roam Free Nation

It is time for a cease-fire in the so-called buffalo hunts that take place on the western and northern edges of Yellowstone National Park.

Last winter was the worst “hunting” season the buffalo suffered since the 19th century.

Winter came early and hard and we witnessed one of the largest migrations into Montana long before Yellowstone was established. Mostly tribal hunters slaughtered no less than 1,175 buffalo in the killing fields of Beattie Gulch in the Gardiner Basin.

Most of the tribes currently hunting under treaty right actually extended their hunting seasons to take advantage of the situation. It’s bad every year, but last winter Beattie Gulch became a massacre site with gut piles stretching as far as they eye could see, many of them encased baby buffalo who would never see the light of day.

A river of blood ran down Beattie Gulch into the Yellowstone River.

The hunters ignored the tragedy they had caused, and instead patted themselves on the back for a successful season.

Buffaloes in danger outside Yellowstone

Roam Free Nation, along with our allies at the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Gallatin Wildlife Association, and the Council for Wildlife and Fish, recently sent a letter to Gallatin National Forest Supervisor Mary Erickson, asking her to close Beattie Gulch to bison hunting due to serious concerns for public safety.

For Roam Free Nation, it’s much more than that; the well-being of our National Mammal is the gravest concern. The Yellowstone buffalo are currently being considered for Endangered Species Act listing by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, yet in the meantime, nearly every single one gets gunned down after stepping out of the park, so listing can not come fast enough.

We know those who “hunt” there will fight us, because they have a sovereign right to kill. But, just because you have a right, doesn’t make it right.

Humans have a responsibility and obligation to ensure the viability and evolutionary potential of hunted populations, and all creatures we share this Earth with.

Such is not the case in these so-called hunts.

At the October 2023 Interagency Bison Management Plan meeting, Yellowstone’s head bison biologist, Chris Geremia, warned state, federal, and tribal decision-makers — as he has for many years now — against any lethal action in the Hebgen Basin, near West Yellowstone.

Why? To attempt some semblance of protection for the imperiled Central herd; the last truly wild, migratory buffalo left in the country. The Northern herd migrates into Montana’s Gardiner Basin; the Central herd migrates into both the Gardiner Basin and Hebgen Basin, meaning they are doubly impacted by mismanagement actions.

The Central herd has been in decline for over a decade

Yellowstone biologists continue to warn against hunting in the Hebgen Basin, but these warnings continue to fall on deaf ears. As I write this, already 8 bull buffalo have been taken by state hunters near West Yellowstone.

It is a disservice by hunt managers to ignore these warnings, and it is utter disrespect and irresponsibility by hunters to continue to kill. It’s time for hunters to stop doing the dirty work of Montana’s Department of Livestock and their cattle interests.

These killing frenzies are not sustainable. Wild buffalo will never be able to restore themselves so long as there is no restraint by hunters and no enforcement by hunt managers.

The buffalo barely have any opportunity to access or express themselves on the meager “tolerance” zones they’ve been granted. A cease-fire is in order to allow them to do just that, then we work together for more buffalo on a much larger landscape.

Stephany Seay is the co-founder of the Montana-based Roam Free Nation, a native-led organization who works to defend the last wild buffalo and all of wild nature. More information can be found at RoamFreeNation.org.

Photo of Yellowstone bison by kasabubu/pixabay via Canva.com

Yellowstone Buffalo Population Estimated to Drop by 2000

Yellowstone Buffalo Population Estimated to Drop by 2000

Editor’s Note: This is a short report-back from the Interagency Bison Management Plan meeting by Stephany Seay. Stephany Seay is a founder of Roam Free Nation.

By Stephany Seay/Roam Free Nation

Jaedin Medicine Elk and I traveled to Chico Hot Springs, MT, for the fall Interagency Bison Management Plan meeting, which took place on Halloween. Not exactly how we wanted to spend this holiday, but the buffalo come first. This is our report back to you.

We learned that the Montana State Vet (Dept. of Livestock), Marty Zaluski, has retired. The new state vet is Dr. Tahnee Szymanski. She is a native Montanan and a graduate from Oregon State University, a big agriculture school. To our knowledge, she may be the first female state vet for Montana. We hope she will be more gentle than the men before her.

We also learned that one of Yellowstone’s bison biologists, P.J. White, has retired.

There was much hoopla from the Montana Dept. of Livestock in regards to language the Park and other agencies wanted to strike from the Operations Plan in regards to vaccinating wild bison. In 2014, Yellowstone squashed the idea of vaccinating buffalo, because it doesn’t make sense on so many levels. It is domestic, invasive cattle who should be vaccinated, not wild buffalo. To date, there is no safe and effective brucellosis vaccine because former President George W. Bush placed brucella abortus on the Center for Disease Control’s bio-terror agent list. A foolish move that prevents scientists from working to find a vaccine that works. On cattle.

More urgently, Yellowstone released their summer bison population estimate. The Yellowstone buffalo population dropped by 2,000 in the last year. Mainly due to excessive treaty hunting. The Park reported that 60-70% of the population migrated into the Gardiner Basin (north edge of Yellowstone) where there was a record “harvest”, as we have previously reported.

Chris Geremiah, Yellowstone’s head buffalo biologist reported that the imperiled Central herd continues to decline. As he has for over five years now, he again recommended that no buffalo be hunted in the Hebgen Basin, on the west side of the Park. But, the hunters will not listen. The Central herd are the only buffalo who migrate into the Hebgen Basin, but they also migrate into the Gardiner Basin, being doubly impacted by “management” actions (hunting, slaughter, quarantine).

Astoundingly, he also recommended that hunters kill MORE females than bulls! The females are the matriarchs, the ones who teach the youth where to find the best grass, the best water, the safest lands and routes to get there. They are also the ones who carry in their wombs the next generation. As we stated in our public comments, killing the females is what destroys a nation.

Once again, they set no quota, meaning if we have a heavy winter like last year, it could be another free-for-all killing frenzy. Though they did suggest that no more than 1,100 should be taken, that’s only a suggestion that holds no weight. Buffalo advocates know that killing one is too many right now. These populations need federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. They must be allowed to recover and restore themselves on the lands that are their birthright, and ESA listing is the only thing that will give them the respite to do so. But, restraint and respect for these circumstances aren’t something that agencies or hunters really care about.

The MT. Dept. of Livestock appealed to treaty hunting tribes to actually help them by hazing with bullets, should buffalo approach or breach the so-called tolerance zones, beyond which, buffalo are currently not allowed. Once again, they want to use tribes to do their buffalo-killing dirty work.

In an interesting twist, some members of the Interagency Bison Management Plan began questioning what they were doing, why do they exist, what is their purpose in moving forward? They currently have no purpose other than to maintain the status quo and make the lives of the last wild buffalo one of unnecessary challenges and misery.

The public comment period actually came *before* lunch, this time. There were some really great words said on behalf of the buffalo. One person really stands out. Wendy, someone we’ve been in touch with since last winter. A Montana resident with a brilliant mind who knows exactly what’s going on. In her comments, she sang a version of “Home on the Range” that put the DOL to shame. It was brilliant. She had visual aids, some blown up photos of ours that really helped illustrate the travesty she was conveying. It was an honor and pleasure to meet her.

We have a bit of video footage to download, and we will soon be able to share ours and others comments with you. There were a couple of decent articles that came out, which you might like to read, the following being the most thorough. From the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, “Livestock Department, Yellowstone, Exchange Blows in Annual Bison Meeting“.

Winter is here now, and the deep snows are just around the corner. We need your support to be in the field, to stand in defense of our buffalo family. There is a lot of travel and lodging involved to keep us on the front lines, so please, do what you can to support our work in standing with the last wild buffalo. Thank you so much for loving wild buffalo!

Next week, November 9, we will travel to Bozeman to watch a public screening of Yellowstone Voice’s “A Path Forward for the American Bison” at the Museum of the Rockies. We will be part of a panel discussion after the documentary plays. We wish you all could be there with us. Trust that we will represent.


Photo by Pascal Bernardon on Unsplash

BREAKING: Second Blockade Halts Slaughter of Yellowstone Buffalo

BREAKING: Second Blockade Halts Slaughter of Yellowstone Buffalo

March 16th 2018

For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Talon Brings Buffalo

Stephens Creek Trap, Yellowstone National Park

March 16th 2018

Hours before dawn on Friday March 16th, two members of the Wild Buffalo Defense collective arrived at the gate of Yellowstone National Park’s Stephens Creek Buffalo capture facility. They blocked the gate with three 55 gallon drums filled with concrete, locking their arms inside the barrels. The three 1000 pound drums blocked access to the facility, preventing livestock trucks from taking the wild buffalo to slaughter. This action came in the wake of a similar event last week at the Stephens Creek Trap, where two buffalo protectors locked themselves to the hydraulic squeeze shoot using a metal pipe.

Wolf, the first individual locking down, described why he was taking the action: “My father is from Michaocan, Mexico, so I have both native and colonizer blood. Since I wasn’t raised in a native setting, this is my way to give back to the native community. I’m from Illinois — it’s called the Prairie State, and there’s less than one one-hundredth of the prairie left. It’s all strip malls and corn fields…I don’t like seeing just concrete and steel. Seeing how peaceful the buffalo are and how strong they are, they go through enough hardship in their lives in the forest and the plains and then with what Yellowstone National Park is doing to them they still carry on. They inspire me to keep going.”

Coyote, the other individual blocking the gate, said: “I’m doing this to get a better understanding of what is really going on and to protect the buffalo and the lands that they roam. I feel like I have been lost inside…but now that I’m here I feel more combined with myself, with others, and with knowledge and understanding. Whenever I’m with the buffalo I feel like my heart runs with them. When I’m with them they already know the questions, they already know the answers, and I don’t have to respond because they already know. I think it’s a good thing for people to learn. There’s not a day in this world where you’re not able to learn something. What we’re doing is something we love to do and we only live once so we should do what we love to do and if anybody wants to come out and join and learn this experience then they should.”

The barrels were painted with two phrases, “Protect the Sacred” and “Honor the Treaties.” The words highlight the fact that Buffalo are sacred creatures to the Plains Indians. Blackfeet and Lakota prophecies say that when the wild buffalo return, the people and the earth will be healed. Yellowstone National Park currently captures and slaughters about 25% of the herd every year. If this mismanagement of the population continues, these prophecies will… [press release ends].

Yellowstone Buffaloes’ Last Stand

Yellowstone Buffaloes’ Last Stand

Featured image by David Mattson

      by Louisa Willcox / Grizzly Times

Last Tuesday, in the shadow of Yellowstone’s Electric Peak, I watched National Park Service employees herd, prod, shock, immobilize, poke, and corral bison that had only shortly before spent their lives roaming wild. That day, 45 animals were shipped for slaughter and 62 “processed” in preparation for being sent to death next week. So far this winter, almost 1,000 out of a total of roughly 5,500 bison have been sentenced to death by government agents or dispatched by hunters.

The killing of Yellowstone’s buffalo is far from over. The carnage is escalating as winter drags on and buffalo, desperate for food, leave Yellowstone Park for lower elevation grasslands north in Montana’s Gardiner basin.  Hundreds more buffalo could be sent to slaughter by the time spring green-up occurs, when buffalo return to graze in the protected core of the Park. A total of 1,400 or more Yellowstone bison could be killed, not including the animals (possibly hundreds) that otherwise do not survive harsh late-winter conditions.

It is important to note that these are not just any bison, but members of the largest free-ranging bison herd in the country, and the most genetically pure of any left in the world. In most other places buffalo have been interbred with domestic cattle. Perhaps most importantly, Yellowstone has the only herd left that still serves something akin to the ecological role that it played when Europeans first arrived and 30-88 million bison thundered across the plains of what is now the western United States.

How is it that this harassment and torture of bison is happening inside a national park, which is presumably all about preservation?

The extent to which Park Service personnel work to keep their violence towards buffalo out of the public eye is perhaps emblematic of a conflicted conscience and cognizance that something is morally wrong. But a lawsuit brought last year by journalist Christopher Ketcham and Stephany Seay, Communications Director of the Buffalo Field Campaign, (BFC) requires the agency to now show the media what it is doing. I can say that witnessing the Park Service-administered treatment of buffalo is not for the faint of heart.

With the help of poles and electric cattle prods, bison after bison was forced from a small pen into a hydraulic squeeze chute, where it bucked and thrashed and bellowed, in a crazed panic. Each bison was squeezed so hard inside the metal cage that most finally stopped bucking, at which point a metal bar pinned its head up to the side of the chute.  Through the slats in the chute, you could see their tongues hanging out, and their eyes bulging. Their hoarse breathing was audible, even from 20 yards away. Many had blood on their coats as a result of injuries from the horns of other distressed bison—a direct consequence of being stampeded, slammed up against each other, and pushed between pens along a maze of metal-reinforced alleys.  Some of the younger bison literally tore their own horns off against the cages and bars. If there is a hell in the bison world, this must be it.

While pinned in the chute, Park technicians drew blood and checked teeth, weighed them, then released them into holding pens.

A few yearling calves escaped the ordeal because the chute was too big to effectively contain and immobilize them. These were waved through. Still, none of the bison we saw will likely escape slaughter.

The chute’s brand name, “The Silencer,” had been deliberately painted over with an inane reminder of the year, “2016-2017,” perhaps in case we journalists were to attempt substituting photos of atrocities perpetrated during previous years for the atrocities perpetrated while we were there.

From a catwalk above the pens, I could see a group of yearling calves, all with smears of blood on their bodies from rubbing up against one calf whose horn had been torn off. They looked up at me in terror and alarm.  I was helpless to do anything except bear witness.   I felt that these youngsters were owed a profound apology.

In a matter of days, these calves will be gutted, dressed and hung in White’s Meat Processing in Ronan, Montana. According to the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, the process entails literally sending animals to a gas chamber, after which they are “stunned, shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast, or cut.”

The meat will be distributed to Indian people, which is better than most alternatives, but hardly the point. These wild beings, the product of millions of years of evolution, uniquely adapted to the harsh conditions of Yellowstone, and members of a close-knit herd, will be killed for no reason except to placate tough-minded stockmen and their ideologue allies (read: Trump’s core supporters).

As in the case of grizzly bears and wolves, management of buffalo caters primarily to a minority of well-heeled and politically well-connected agriculture interests at the expense of the broader public, who flock to Yellowstone to see these rare and iconic animals in the flesh. More on this later.

There seems to be no regard for the fact that bison have been on this landscape since the Ice Age, or that they survived the worst that the forces of nature could throw at them – except Europeans and our guns. Their ancestors evolved with giant short-faced bears, sabre tooth cats, dire wolves, woolly mammoths and ice-age camels. All these animals are gone now, but a remnant of bison is still with us.

Yellowstone bison are descendants of just 23 animals that had survived the slaughters of the 1800s. All this begs the question: why are we persecuting these animals again? And why is the Park Service, which helped bring them back from the brink, so intimately involved in their deaths?

 Atrocities in Yellowstone Park

It baffles me that the National Park Service is leading current efforts to capture and send to slaughter buffalo that are simply poised to roam north into the Gardiner Basin – as bighorn sheep, elk, deer, pronghorn, wolves and bears do. This behavior is natural. Even though buffalo are well-equipped with huge heads for shoveling deep snow to uncover grass, roaming downhill to more clement climes is the path of least resistance when snow is deep, or when thick ice prevents bison from reaching the grass below.

With the Park Service’s help, the state of Montana will probably reach its goal of killing 1,400 Yellowstone’s buffalo. Although the Park Service estimates that forage in Yellowstone could support 5,000-7,000 buffalo, an outdated bison management plan uses an antiquated target of 3,000 animals. Further, a 2000 court-mediated settlement agreement of a lawsuit filed by Montana’s Department of Livestock against the Park Service gives the state and its powerful livestock industry inordinate influence over bison management, even it appears, inside a national park.

It was noteworthy that no one from Montana’s livestock industry or State Department of Livestock participated in the tour I was on. Why bother, when Park Service employees seemed more than happy to do their dirty work and field the tough questions from reporters — despite the fact that this work is antithetical to the Park Service’s mission of protecting natural resources.

Having worked as a wildlife advocate for over 30 years in the political pressure cooker that is Greater Yellowstone, I can only imagine the conversations among Park officials. “Maybe our willingness to kill so many will buy good will from the state in the revision of the bison plan.” Or: “our hands are tied, especially under the new Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke,” a former Montana Congressman with strong ties to industry. Or: “if we kill 1,400 bison this year, we might buy a reprieve of several years before a similar out-migration of bison would necessitate significant killing again.”

All humans share the unique ability to rationalize activities that feel inherently wrong. I doubt that many of the Park employees engaged in this debacle had imagined that their job description could include sending to death wildlife that they had been entrusted to protect.

Last year, Yellowstone Park proposed shipping some animals that would have been otherwise killed to a quarantine facility on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in northern Montana. There is presently only one such facility authorized to take Yellowstone bison, located 30 miles north of Yellowstone near the hamlet of Corwin Springs.  There, USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) kills 50% or so of the captive buffalo that test positive for the disease brucellosis—which is the putative cause for the entire capture, containment, and slaughter program. (More on this later).

Over time, the caged sub-population is “cleansed” of the disease, but there is no chance of returning home. Nor will this — or any other method proposed so far — purge the entire population of the disease.

Needless-to-say, the Park’s proposal to send bison to Fort Peck’s facility is stridently opposed by livestock organizations, but supported by some conservationists and Tribes. Two weeks ago, Republican state legislators killed a bill that would have authorized the shipping of Yellowstone buffalo to Fort Peck. There is no doubt that regressives in the livestock industry have the upper hand, and will not make even modest concessions to those who have more altruistic and public-minded values.

Buffalo Management: The Ruse of Cleansing the Land of Disease

You commonly hear that the killing and expensive quarantine of buffalo is to protect cattle from the disease brucellosis, which is carried by buffalo. (Paradoxically, bison originally contracted the disease from European cows). But this rationale turns out to be bogus. Although buffalo do carry brucellosis and could theoretically transmit the disease to cattle, they have never been known to do so in the wild. In fact, there are only a handful of cattle near where the buffalo migrate in winter – and none of these cows are on public lands.

By contrast, elk, which are 25 times more numerous than buffalo and interact with cattle far more often, have transmitted brucellosis to cows on at least 6 documented occasions, most recently in November, 2015 (link). Yet nothing is being done about the elk “problem”, in part because elk are sportmens’ darlings and generate at least $11 million annually in state hunting revenues in Montana. Something deeper, even pathologic, lies beneath disparities between how bison and elk are treated.

If brucellosis were a real problem, the livestock industry would be advocating more consistent policies and taking the elk disease threat seriously. But such is not the case, which suggests that the hype about brucellosis in bison is really cover for something else.

In fact, what we have is a cabal of stockmen, state veterinarians, legislators, and employees of the Board of Livestock using paranoia over “disease ridden” buffalo to perpetuate political control and an archaic, regressive mindset obsessed with dominating the natural world. These bad actors aim at nothing less than keeping the West under their thumb, perpetuating a regime that was instituted under the banner of Manifest Destiny. This despite the fact that the region’s economic and cultural health depends increasingly upon amenities rooted in wildlife and public lands.

Mary Meagher, longtime bison biologist in Yellowstone Park, put it this way: ”Brucellosis is a smoke screen. The real issue is that ranchers do not want bison out on the land.” (link)

In furtherance of their agenda, the livestock industry has adopted the bizarre and extreme position of tolerating “no risk” of brucellosis in the case of buffalo, no matter what the cost, which is borne mainly by taxpayers—a classic case of subsidies for a coddled special interest. Dare we call them welfare ranchers?

The Park Service’s Cowboy Culture?

In keeping with the narrative of bison as diseased livestock, it was interesting to see that most of the 12 involved Park Service employees (including only one woman) played the part of cowboy in this week’s bison “processing.” They could have passed as cowhands anywhere in the West, with their silk scarves and chaps. Four galloped their horses, all in a row, waving their right arms in unison as if on a movie set, to run bison from a larger holding area into smaller pens. It struck me they may have been watching too many Hollywood westerns.

But this is the National Park Service, not the Department of Livestock. Is it easier to distance yourself from the nasty business of sending wild buffalo to slaughter if done in the persona of a cowboy?  Does the task somehow become more romantic, less brutal?

Only the head of the operation, Brian Helm, who bore the military-style title of “Incident Commander,” seemed to be truly enjoying himself. Of all the techs, Brian was most cowboy in his dress and demeanor. His chaps had fancy leather fringe. He stood on top of the catwalk above “the Silencer” and gestured dramatically with white-gloved hands, signaling to the other techs how much tighter the neck bar needed to be; whether it was time to draw blood, check teeth, or lift the animal to get a weight; what gender the animal was and in which pen they should be herded. He seemed the conductor of an orchestra that played a sort of buffalo requiem.

Every operation has one who seems to relish the job of its commander, even if the work is brutal and cruel. In the course of human history, we have demonstrated time and again, how easy it is for humans to normalize the unthinkable—especially if you include a fancy-dress outfit.

 The Killing Fields: No End In Sight

The current killing program is authorized by the 2000 Interagency Bison Management Plan. Although outdated, government agencies are far from revising the plan. Yellowstone Park’s bison biologist Rick Wallen reported that the agencies cannot agree on objectives, let alone a range of alternatives for analysis. A planning process started in 2015 appears, for now, dead in the water. Wallen thinks the plan might take 10 years or so to complete. This means that the Park Service would need to strive in the meantime to maintain the current population target of 3,000 bison and to continue the cycle of killing.

Of all the intractable wildlife debates in Yellowstone, including wolves and grizzlies, perhaps the most stuck and regressive surrounds buffalo. Yes, things may be incrementally improving, as we were told, since the days when bison numbers hovered near zero. But this is the 21st century, and Yellowstone’s buffalo deserve better.

Fortunately, there are a few examples of where buffalo are being better treated when they step outside the Park into Montana’s non-park lands.

Progress at Horse Butte

As of last year, wild bison are being accommodated to the west of the Park on Horse Butte, a peninsula in Hebgen Lake. Bison can now roam on Horse Butte year round, and have their babies in peace.

Here a majority of landowners made it clear to Montana Governor Steve Bullock that they wanted wild bison to be able to roam on their private land. They expressly opposed armed Department of Livestock thugs on horseback trespassing and harassing animals on land they own.  Moreover, there are no cows there after a grazing allotment had been retired.

This is a shining example of what can be done to co-exist with bison elsewhere in Greater Yellowstone. There are a number of residents of the Gardiner and the Taylor Fork area, who also embrace a kinder, gentler approach to managing bison, and would welcome them on their land.

The good folks at the Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC) need to be credited with much of the hard work reaching out to and helping organize landowners on Horse Butte.

Buffalo Field Campaign: Defending Buffalo 24-7

My friends at BFC (link) have been on the ground fighting for buffalo and documenting the mistreatment of these animals since 1997. BFC Founder and film-maker extraordinaire, Mike Mease, has shot more footage of buffalo in all seasons and conditions, happy and tragic, than anyone alive. Co-founder Dan Brister has written a scholarly book on buffalo. Darrell Geist is a walking encyclopedia of bison management.  

BFC’s strategies and tactics are extraordinary — certainly different than any other environmental organization in the region. First, they work closely with Native Americans who also see buffalo as sacred yet maligned creatures.

Second, they rely heavily on volunteers who are out on the ground every day observing buffalo and the activities of hunters and managers.  Over 5,000 volunteers have cut their teeth in conservation working with BFC.  Numerous of these campaigners have moved on to positions of leadership in other conservation groups.

Third, BFC is one of the few groups that signs on young people, who are critical to shaping the future of wildlife and wildlands conservation, which is rapidly greying. By contrast, most other organizations tend to rely almost exclusively on professional staff. These staff tend to cycle between groups, which perpetuates a kind of “group think.”

Few other groups share BFC’s commitment to documenting what is happening in the field. Over the years, I have seen a sad trend in conservation that increasingly emphasizes a kind of “professionalism” that prioritizes political cleverness and certain in-office technical skills over observation and deep immersion in the natural world.

I honestly cannot imagine how the hardy warriors who volunteer with BFC survive bearing witness to the atrocities perpetrated on buffalo, and counting the dead – over 8,000 since the group was founded.  The BFC community lives communally and frugally in cabins near West Yellowstone and Gardiner, where they keep an eye on the buffalo every day, no matter how bitter the cold. Maybe they do so well because they are a bit like buffalo themselves: tough and stubborn.

On the day of the tour, Stephany Seay, a BFC stalwart, seemed to mirror the turmoil of the buffalo. (Listen to a great interview on Grizzly Times with Stephany here). Uncharacteristically quiet, her weathered face showed pain, grief, outrage.  She had seen so many more buffalo dead, or dispatched to death, than I ever will – or hope to. Even as she snapped photos, part of her seemed to be dying with the buffalo.

Up on the catwalk, above the din of a buffalo heaving herself against the metallic cage, Brian Helm with white gloves flashing, stands as Stephany’s opposite.  As Mike Wright wrote in the Bozeman Chronicle story on the tour, “it was just another day in the Park at the Stephens Creek Capture Facility,” (link) implying that the “processing” of the buffalo had become routine.

But routinizing brutal behavior desensitizes people to the import of their actions. Have those involved in processing bison for the Park Service become inured to the practice of killing? How can the broader public hope for kinder treatment of buffalo if agency personnel see killing as an acceptable solution to “the problem,” as defined by the livestock organizations that do not want “diseased” buffalo to leave the Park?

Copyright 2017 by Louisa Wilcox.  Republished with permission.


Migratory Buffalo “Slaughter” in Yellowstone National Park [Op-Ed]

Migratory Buffalo “Slaughter” in Yellowstone National Park [Op-Ed]

Editor’s Note: This is an op-ed written by Jaedin Medicine Elk, who is the co-founder and vice-president of Roam Free Nation. She writes about the continued slaughter of migratory buffalo.

By Jaedin Medicine Elk/Roam Free Nation

Thirty percent of America’s last wild migratory buffalo have been removed from the population.

On Saturday, March 18th, Yellowstone National Park released the latest report of bison slaughter and removal operations on the Interagency Bison Management Plan website. The report shows that the slaughter of Yellowstone’s bison continues, including the killing of pregnant females who are just weeks away from giving birth.

As of Saturday, March 18th, 1,814 buffalo have been killed or otherwise removed from the population. That is 30% of the entire population of Yellowstone buffalo, which was at 6,000 in August of last year. Unless Yellowstone takes action now, this will be the most buffalo taken in a season since the deadly slaughters of the late 1800’s. The firing-line style “hunt” at the boundary of Yellowstone has taken the lives of 1,067 buffalo. At least 349 of these were adult females, and nearly every one of those females will have been pregnant. That’s 349 calves that will never be born.

When there’s thirty hunters there from ten different tribes, it turns into a competition to see who can get a buffalo, causing hunters to start firing into family groups hoping they kill a buffalo. It seems the new ‘relationship’ is hunting them to near-extinction because our treaty rights are more important than the well-being of a strong buffalo population.

The billboards put up by The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Roam Free Nation continue to draw attention to the hunt – there are now five billboards across Montana with more on the way. Our message: “There is no hunt. It’s slaughter.” will now reach people in Helena, Billings, Belgrade, and Livingston, Montana.

Yellowstone claims they have no control over what happens to buffalo once they leave the park, and they have been trying to pass the blame for the unprecedented slaughter. But Yellowstone has trapped 781 buffalo at the Stephens Creek Capture Facility inside the park. Of these; 88 were shipped to slaughter (including 70 adult females, most likely pregnant); 282 have been sentenced to a life of domestication in the quarantine program, never to be wild again; and only 34 have been released. Yellowstone continues to hold 374 for “release or slaughter” – so they cannot claim they have no control over their fate..

These dire numbers get even worse when the natural winter kill is taken into account. Yellowstone estimates that 9 out of every 100 adult bison die over the winter on an average year, and with a winter as harsh as this one has been, those numbers can be expected to rise. The state of Montana needs to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the impact of this bison slaughter on grizzlies, since winterkill bison carrion are an important food source for grizzlies, especially since grizzlies’ other main food sources, whitebark pine nuts and Yellowstone cutthroat trout have both been decimated.

The “hunt” has been, and continues to be, an irresponsible slaughter that disregards the very survival of the population. The fact that Yellowstone has captured, slaughtered, and consigned to quarantine another huge group of buffalo only compounds the cost to the herds. How can those doing the bulk of the killing say that they want more buffalo on a larger landscape? How can Yellowstone say the park could host 10,000 plus buffalo while they contribute to removing 30% of the herd? When does it end? When the buffalo are gone?

Photo by Stephen Pedersen on Unsplash