Featured image by Buffalo Field Campaign
by Max Wilbert / Deep Green Resistance
Two days ago, three of last wild bison were shot and killed illegally in a no-shooting zone in a campground barely 100 yards from the boundary of Yellowstone National Park.
The next morning, I skied out of the woods with a patrol from Buffalo Field Campaign and found the buffalos’ butchered carcasses; ribcages, stomachs, patches of hide, and a few leftover chunks of flesh parting the slowly flowing water of the Madison River.
I’m not opposed to hunting. In fact, I’m a hunter myself and am looking forward to elk season. The problem is that the Central Herd of the Yellowstone buffalo number less than 700. Their numbers have plummeted in recent years. Park biologists say that the population decline is “unexplained,” but it seems pretty well explained to me: hazing, harassment, human manipulation, and overhunting are driving wild buffalo in Yellowstone to the brink.
I just learned a few minutes ago that the other major threat (besides unsustainable overhunting) to wild buffalo in the greater Yellowstone area is nearly ready to begin operation. Yellowstone National Park is opening their buffalo trap on the north side of the park in the Gardiner Basin. At this facility, your tax dollars and your public lands are put to work to trap and ship to slaughter hundreds of wild buffalo each year in an effort to maintain populations at an artificially low “minimum sustainable number.” All this is being done on behalf of Montana’s infamous livestock industry.
The total buffalo population is less than 4700, and the U.S. government and legally permitted overhunting is killing hundreds per year.
Here at Buffalo Field Campaign, everything revolves around the buffalo. Patrols leave every morning and afternoon to keep tabs on herds and hunting activity. Another group monitors the trap and firing-line style hunting at Gardiner. We gather each evening to discuss the day’s activity and share information on where the buffalo are, how many are located in which areas, which direction they are moving, what patrols to do the next day, and so on.
On bad days, we share information on how many were killed.
We bear witness to these atrocities and organize to stop them under a buffalo skull mounted on the wall and a shrine of artwork, poems, quilts, and other items dedicated to or inspired by the buffalo. As I write this, I can look up and see artwork from kids. “I heart buffalo – Tatanka roam free!” “Don’t kill the buffalo!” “I love buffalos.”
The headquarters of Buffalo Field Campaign is located in a 100-year-old cabin that was originally built for railroad workers. The irony that a building originally constructed by one of the prime instruments of western colonization is now being used to house a resistance movement isn’t lost on us.
But the walls are thick and the old stonework throws heat from the big wood stove nicely. This is a good place now. A 20-year spirit of resistance emanates from the patina on the lodgepole pine walls and the hearts of the people moving through the space. It’s practical, too. We’re close to the areas where hunting and hazing pressure is highest, and having a place to warm up, eat a delicious meal (fresh 20-inch trout and wild rice last night), and sleep soundly is important after a day out skiing in 5-degree temperatures.
Sitting around camp this afternoon after returning from patrol with a few friends, we talked about how the dominant culture is killing everything. Prairie Dogs are being poisoned en masse in Colorado (and elsewhere). Pinyon-Juniper forests are being bulldozed into oblivion. The oceans, the watery womb of all life on this planet, are dying.
Places like Buffalo Field Campaign provide a starting point for building effective resistance. Long-term, grassroots projects based on non-compromising defense and material support are essential. And organizations allow for enough resources to be gathered in one place to be more effective.
In an article titled, “Once, the Monsoon,” my friend Suprabha Seshan writes about her work in plant conservation in the Western Ghat mountains in India. She writes of the breathtaking beauty of her home, “where a small team of dedicated ecosystem gardeners, skilled in various aspects of horticulture, plant conservation and Western Ghat ecology, grow native plants of this mountain ecosystem, or biome, through techniques honed over four decades of experimentation and practice.
“The trails are full of jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) and smashed, partly-eaten remains of its relative, the ainili (Artocarpus hirsutus), which sports smaller orange fruits with a spiny skin enclosing lobes of sweet flesh and large seeds. Wild jamuns and mangoes, rose apples, guavas and sweet limes, and dozens of forest tree species are also fruiting. Bonnet macaques, Nilgiri langurs, Malabar grey hornbills and giant squirrels are gorging in the canopy. Someone reported seeing a troop of lion-tailed macaques with babies. It is feasting time for everybody in this valley: wild boar, humans and cattle included. Elephants come by at night, attracted from afar by the smell of overripe jackfruit—to them, a delicacy.”
Her team cultivates more than 2,000 species of highly endangered plants, “mostly from areas that have already been deforested.” She describes their work as a search-and-rescue mission, writing that “we refer to these plants as refugees, similar to human refugees suffering the depredations of war, displacement, climate change and general toxification of the environment.”
The monsoon that brings life-giving rain to the Western Ghat mountains is failing because of global warming. Rains are coming late or not at all. All the beings that are dependent on the monsoon, including humans, are at risk of total collapse because industrial civilization is destroying the Earth’s climate. The heroic work being done at the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary could be undone by the collapse of the biosphere as a whole. Suprabha concludes her article by saying that we need to be asking where our loyalty lies: with “the machines or the monsoon?”
Here with the buffalo, the same questions are occurring to me. The heroic work of defending the buffalo is absolutely essential, and unless the death march of this culture is stopped, the buffalo are headed for the same extinction that faces us, too.
I want a world in which wild buffalo roam 60 million strong and in which the monsoon brings rivers of rain to the Western Ghat mountains. This will require working with organizations like the Buffalo Field Campaign and the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, and it will also require dismantling the larger systems that are killing the planet.
Without both approaches—fighting for the local, and dismantling the global—we, and the buffalo, and the monsoon, are doomed.