Featured image: Coyote and Wolf block the access road to Yellowstone’s Stephens Creek buffalo trap, in an attempt to halt trucks from transporting wild buffalo to slaughter. Photo by Wild Buffalo Defense.
by Stephany Seay / Buffalo Field Campaign
Last Friday, two more people were arrested after attempting to halt Yellowstone from shipping wild buffalo to slaughter. The two men, Coyote and Wolf, with the direct action collective Wild Buffalo Defense, locked down to three concrete-filled barrels in front of the gate to the access road that leads to the trap. They were released from jail on Monday. Their brave act stalled operations for four hours.
Despite these courageous actions along with overwhelming public opposition to the slaughter, Yellowstone continues to kill buffalo. That morning, Yellowstone officials were so determined to send buffalo to slaughter — the very gentle giants the country has entrusted with their care — that they destroyed sensitive habitat to create a road around the blockade so that the trucks could get through.
This begs the question: whom does Yellowstone serve? Certainly not the global public, including Montanans, who are largely opposed to the slaughter of the last wild buffalo. Yellowstone presses on with urgency, capturing and killing as many buffalo as they can so they can make the cattle lobby of Montana happy. Yellowstone betrays Native buffalo cultures, the general public, their mission, the Organic Act, and, most importantly, the buffalo. Not even in Yellowstone National Park is our national mammal safe.
Perhaps in response to the embarrassment they feel from doing what they know is wrong, and to having their “government operations” interrupted again, Yellowstone treated the two men very aggressively and made shocking statements in defense of the slaughter, telling the protectors, “these buffalo are going to die and there’s nothing you can do to stop it!”
Yellowstone Captures More Buffalo, Far Exceeds Kill Quota
Yellowstone has further retaliated by capturing more buffalo, bringing the total captured to nearly 800 individuals. Even though it’s just a few weeks away from calving season, they still may not be done. Many of these buffalo are from the imperiled Central herd, who even Yellowstone admits are in dire straights. The buffalo managers (read: manglers) that entered this winter with a goal of killing between 600-900 buffalo have far exceeded this quota.
Given the number of buffalo captured for slaughter and quarantine, along with the excessive hunting that took place along Yellowstone’s boundary, more than 1,200 buffalo have been eliminated from the country’s last wild, migratory buffalo populations, which now hovers at fewer than 3,600. That doesn’t even include natural winter mortality, which can also take a heavy toll.
It is unknown how many remain in the Central herd, who numbered a shocking 847 before this killing season began. Over 100 were killed by hunters in the Hebgen Basin, and aside from a few radio-collared females, none of the bison managers know how many of the buffalo killed in the Gardiner Basin were from this highly endangered population. Yellowstone is acting in foolish haste to appease Montana’s livestock industry, making excuses not backed by science, ecology, or public sentiment to wantonly destroy this sacred, keystone species, who is a national treasure and the last of their kind.
Yellowstone’s buffalo slaughter continues to be challenged from every direction, and pressure on them is increasing and will continue to do so until they quit being puppets for Montana cowboys.
Hunting Has Ended
Hunting seasons have finally ended, so some buffalo are enjoying a respite. Of the buffalo who do roam free, BFC Gardiner patrols report that fewer and fewer are in the Gardiner Basin. Spring is here, and calving season will be underway in just a few weeks. Buffalo are starting to move to their calving grounds; Northern herd buffalo are heading up towards the Blacktail Plateau, while the surviving Central herd buffalo are slowly beginning to move into the Hebgen Basin.
There is hope in the coming of the calves. Grizzly bears are also waking up. Patrols cut fresh tracks of a young grizzly the other morning, and there has been another sighting around Horse Butte, and a couple inside the park. These bears are hungry and are looking for winter-killed buffalo meat — an extremely important food source for them after emerging from their long winter’s nap. We hope they will find enough food to eat, given that Yellowstone has stolen so much of it from them.
Patrols in the Hebgen Basin are making ready to serve as buffalo crossing guards, helping to warn traffic as buffalo migrate to their calving grounds. These rove patrols have saved many lives, both human and buffalo. Our night roves are particularly important, as that’s when buffalo tend to get struck by vehicles, because they are so difficult to see at night.
Patrols are also keeping a close eye south of the Madison River, where buffalo were not granted year-round habitat, and are therefore threatened by hazing operations conducted by the Montana Department of Livestock. But, thanks to the incredible victory of gaining wild buffalo year-round habitat on Horse Butte and lands north, we are also very much looking forward to the days we can just be on the land with the buffalo, watching the new calves arrive, spending time in their peaceful presence, listening to their stories.