YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK / GARDINER, MONTANA: Yellowstone National Park has initiated wild bison capture operations in their Stephens Creek bison trap, and plans to send hundreds to slaughter in coming weeks. Yellowstone asserts that these actions are necessary to appease Montana’s livestock industry which claims wild bison pose a threat. Bison were recently bestowed with the honor of being designated as the United States’ National Mammal.
“Bison were recently granted national mammal status by the U.S. Congress because they embody such monumental significance in this country, as a symbol of the wild, untamed land, as the true shapers and stewards of native grasslands and prairie communities, and for their profound cultural importance to many indigenous tribes,” said Stephany Seay of Buffalo Field Campaign. “Yet here we have the supposed care-takers of the country’s last wild, migratory herds shipping them to slaughter to cater to the whims of producers of an invasive species – the domestic cow.”
Bison once roamed most of North America, numbering tens of millions strong. They were nearly driven to extinction in an effort to subjugate Native Peoples and to clear the land for livestock grazing. Yellowstone National Park boasts the last stronghold of continuously wild American buffalo in North America. The roughly 600,000 bison who exist in the country today are largely privately owned and ranched as domestic livestock, or intensively managed on public lands. The migratory wildlife species is ecologically extinct throughout its native range, with Yellowstone and small fractions of neighboring Montana being the last place they continue to survive.
Capture operations at Yellowstone’s Stephens Creek bison trap began Saturday, January 7, 2017. BFC field patrols in the Gardiner Basin report that forty-four wild buffalo are currently being held. Yellowstone and other bison managers plan to slaughter or domesticate — if a controversial quarantine plan is approved — upwards of 1300 wild bison this winter, all in an effort to appease the powerful Montana livestock industry. Livestock interests claim that wild bison may pose a threat of spreading the livestock bacteria brucellosis back to cattle, something that has never happened in the wild. Livestock proponents also claim that Yellowstone’s bison population is too numerous for the land base, yet Yellowstone’s grasslands are thriving, and wild buffalo have never come close to overreaching sustainability within the Park.
“Montana’s livestock lobby continues to play deadly political games with this keystone species which is not in the least guilty of the crimes cattlemen blame them with,” said Seay. “In truth, invasive cattle have left death, pollution, and destruction in their wake across the lands of the West, and only wild, migratory buffalo can heal these injuries. Only wild buffalo can restore the grasslands and prairie communities, which are some of the most threatened habitats in the world.”
In addition to capture, wild buffalo face other fatal dangers if they migrate out of Yellowstone’s boundary into Montana. Like other migratory ungulates bison must leave the park in order to survive Yellowstone country’s harsh winters. Less than a mile from Yellowstone’s trap, just outside the boundary, hunters wait, ready to shoot any who leave the park.
Capture operations are going to interfere significantly with state and treaty hunting, which is currently in full swing. Wild buffalo are being hunted along Yellowstone’s border by hunters who hold Montana tags, and by four Native tribes — the Confederated Salish & Kootenai, Nez Perce, Shoshone Bannock, and the Umatilla Confederacy — who hunt buffalo under treaty right. Hunters are upset that Yellowstone has begun capturing so early, and most are adamantly opposed to the capture and slaughter of wild, migratory buffalo.
“In one direction lies the trap, in the other the gun, and these attacks last for months on end without respite,” said BFC’s Seay.
While BFC does not agree with the way buffalo hunting is currently taking place, given the limited landscape, small buffalo population, and firing line-style, we do hope that we will strengthen our common ground with hunters and bolster solidarity efforts aimed at ending the trapping of wild buffalo for good. Unfortunately, the limited landscape where buffalo are allowed to roam facilitates highly unethical hunting practices which not only manifest in the gunning down of wild buffalo at Yellowstone’s borders, but forces the buffalo to flee back into Yellowstone and become trapped by park officials.
“Buffalo are bottled up in the Gardiner Basin and have no escape. Hunters at the Park’s boundary are in competition with each other, and also in a race against the trap,” BFC’s campaign coordinator Mike Mease. “In the midst of such management madness, wild buffalo have nowhere in the Gardiner Basin where they aren’t being shot by hunters or captured for slaughter by Yellowstone officials.”
At a fundamental level, Montana and its livestock industry are responsible for the buffalo slaughter. Buffalo Field Campaign is working to change and challenge the status quo of the Interagency Bison Management Plan. Wild bison advocates must work to repeal MCA 81-2-120 and remove the Montana Department of Livestock’s authority over wild buffalo, and also insist on a new plan that respects wild buffalo like wild elk in Montana.
“Any action that does not fight this intolerance and excessive killing, or that fails to advocate for the buffalo’s ability to live freely on the lands that are their birthright, poses a threat to the buffalo’s long term survival and evolutionary potential,” said Stephany Seay. “Montana has played its cards so slyly that they aren’t feeling much of the heat anymore; instead, all the entities who should be the strongest allies for wild buffalo — Native Peoples, subsistence hunters, Yellowstone National Park, buffalo advocates — are pointing fingers at each other. It’s the same old game of divide and conquer.”
Buffalo Field Campaign exists to protect the natural habitat of wild migratory buffalo and native wildlife, to stop the slaughter and harassment of America’s last wild buffalo, and to work with people of all nations to honor the sacredness of wild buffalo.