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.
An adult female buffalo held captive inside Yellowstone’s trap. She’s imprisoned in a small, dung-filled sorting pen until such time as trucks and trailers arrive to send her and her friends to slaughter. Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.
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.
There is hope in the coming of the calves. Photo by Stephany Seay, Buffalo Field Campaign.
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.
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].
by Wild Buffalo Defense
Media Contact: Talon BringsBuffalo, 646-352-2126
An hour before sunlight on march 5th two members of the Wild Buffalo Defense collective named Cody and Crow descended from the hills onto Yellowstone National Park’s Stevens Creek buffalo trap and using a steel pipe, locked themselves to the bars of the “Silencer”, a hydraulic squeeze shoot that holds buffalo for testing, shipping and slaughter. In freezing temperatures the individuals blocked the buffalo processing facility and prevented the park from shipping wild buffalo to slaughter.
When asked why he was taking this action Cody stated, “I am standing with the plains Indians as a member of the Ojibwe tribe in Minnesota, I have a Blackfeet friend who helped me protect my territory from the line 3 pipeline and now I am here for him and the buffalo. I have a love for the people. That’s what my mom passed down to me. And I have love for the environment and animals and I feel like I have an obligation to protect them. If I have to put my body on the line to do so I will.”
The two Yellowstone buffalo herds are the last free ranging, genetically pure, plains buffalo in the United States. These buffalo are decedents of the 23 that survived the buffalo extermination campaign that the US government implemented in the 1800s to starve the plains Indians into submission.
Today the Stevens Creek Buffalo Trap costs the Yellowstone Parks Service 3 million dollars per year to maintain and despite years of public opposition continues to operate their capture-for-slaughter facility within the park boundary. Activists and tribes allege that the Montana cattle lobby controls how the Parks Service manages of the wild buffalo. Crow, the other individual who locked himself to the facility stated “They say they need to kill the animals to stop the spread of Brucellosis, but the wild elk have Brucellosis and they are allowed to roam free because the cattle industry is not worried about elk competing for grass and the state receives income from the elk hunting permits.” Every year the facility captures and sends roughly 1000 animals of the 4000 wild buffalo population to slaughter.
While the two individuals locked themselves to the shoot, some activists gathered at the gate of the facility with banners reading “Wild buffalo slaughter = cultural genocide.” Their signs spoke to the connection between the culture of the plains tribes and the wild buffalo, suggesting that by exterminating the last wild buffalo, Yellowstone is effectively attempting to do the same to the culture of the plains tribes. The non-violent direct action came in the wake of a decision by the Montana department of livestock and the animal plant and health inspection service to deny the Fort Peck Indian reservation the right to receive wild buffalo from the park.
To Support Wild Buffalo Defense please contribute to our campaign and legal fund!
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Featured image: A single mom with seven calves who she is caring for. More than likely, only one of these calves are hers, and the rest of these babies are buffalo she adopted after their mothers were killed by hunters. BFC photo by Stephany Seay.
by Stephanie Seay / Buffalo Field Campaign
It’s just below zero as we trek through freshly fallen snow on an unusually windless early morning, in the high hills above the Gardiner Basin. Taking advantage of the calm air that won’t rock our scopes and cameras, our patrol is on the way to a lookout spot high above Yellowstone’s Stephens Creek buffalo trap. The trap is miles away. The spot we’re at is one of the few places that we can see even a far-away glimpse into the industrial size monstrosity that has entrapped more than 450 of the gentle giants in the past couple of weeks. Yellowstone initiates a massive seven-mile public closure around their trap, obviously wanting to hide the horrible things they are doing to this sacred species, our national mammal. On our way to the lookout, our footsteps squeaking through the freezing cold snow, one of our crew shouts out, “wolves!” We all stop dead in our tracks. To the south of us, we can hear them, the beautiful, haunting serenade of a wolf pack, singing blessing songs to the morning, or, more like mourning songs to the travesty unfolding before us. The wolves know. We get to the lookout spot and it’s as bad as we thought: hundreds of buffalo in the trap, huddled together, eating hay rations, trapped on death row. Four park wranglers on horseback, and a white SUV are coming into the northernmost paddock of the trap which holds approximately 60 of the country’s last wild buffalo. This paddock is the veritable end of the line before the buffalo go in even deeper, to places they will never return from.
“Genocide,” our Blackfeet brother says. We nod in agreement. The U.S. Government continues the systematic destruction of the sacred buffalo, and for the same reasons, too. Only, these days, instead of Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill Cody, they call it “management” and the killers are the so-called guys in green: Yellowstone National Park. Donning buffalo on their uniform badges, they are the very ones who are obligated to protect the buffalo — the buffalo who are the main reason this park even exists, that people even come here. These “caretakers” are facilitating all of the trapping and most of the killing. As we watch through our scopes and binoculars, eyes teary from the blistering cold, or the pain in our hearts, the wranglers go in for the attack. It’s just another day in the park. Frantic, the sixty buffalo run away from the wranglers, but the only path open to them is the dark corridor that leads into the labyrinth of the trap, towards the bull pen and the squeeze chute, towards the end of freedom and family, into the tiny holding pens where they will spend their last hours in feces and fear, before being loaded onto livestock trailers headed for the slaughter house. The mournful howling continues. The wolves know. We join in.
A bird’s-eye view of Yellowstone’s Stephens Creek buffalo trap. The massive closure is an attempt to keep the public from seeing what Yellowstone is doing. BFC photo by Stephany Seay.
Anticipating shipments to slaughter, the next morning we rise even earlier to get our sites on the trap before the trailers arrive. We are well ahead of schedule. Our presence, our vigilance is the only way for anyone to know what is taking place here, for anyone to know what is really happening to the buffalo. Once posted up, we send one patrol high into the hills for an even better birds-eye view. Even so, both lookouts rely on the powerful magnification of spotting scopes to see anything, and tiny-dot-anythings at that. With the naked eye, the trap and it’s happenings are hardly visible at all. The trap is so strategically located that Yellowstone’s shame and desire for secrecy are apparent. Just before dawn, multiple vehicles start arriving to the trap. The unmarked rigs of the wranglers, a few park service law enforcement officers, Yellowstone’s bison biologist, Rick Wallen, and others, get ready for another day of wild buffalo abuse. Then the stock trailers show up, flanked by law enforcement escorts. It takes less than an hour for them turn wild buffalo from sacred, free-born beings into “pounds on the hoof” headed for the slaughter house.
2018 03 01 03 003 Update3 Buffalo Field Campaign Stephany Seay 2018 800 Two stock trailers drive through Yellowstone, and groups of buffalo, taking buffalo who were captured at Yellowstone’s facility to slaughter on Wednesday morning. BFC photo by Stephany Seay.
The dominant culture — not even those who might care — can’t bear to look into the face of the reality of its actions. It views the human supreme; born out of a cold arrogance lusting for control, enabling the conversion of the living into the dead for profit. Forgetfulness, mindlessness – “with guns and laws and truth that lies” – help grease the gears of the machine; numbness is the key to conducting wildlife “management.” It is said that once you see, you cannot unsee. A self-inflicted blindness enables it —to see would break their hearts and force their souls wide open. So, with brutal efficiency, the government workers keep their blinders on, do their jobs, and hold fast to the agreed upon Interagency Bison Management Plan.
Approximately 450 wild buffalo have been captured in Yellowstone’s trap, and nearly 250 have been killed by hunters just across Yellowstone’s boundary. By Yellowstone and Montana’s own standards, the middle-end of their 600-900 kill quota — in place to appease Montana’s cattle interests — has already been met. After the last few weeks of extremely unsavory ‘hunting’ along Yellowstone’s north boundary, very few hunters have come to kill buffalo this week. Many have left here utterly disgusted, vowing never to participate in such a slaughter again.
With their enormous, shaggy heads, buffalo face into a storm. We have much to learn from our relatives, the buffalo. BFC photo by Stephany Seay.
Before and after bearing witness to this insanity, we are reminded of the real reason we are here. Other buffalo, who were not in the trap, gave us the gift of remembering and connection, the honor of being in their presence and living in the moment. They help us remember who we are fighting for — and with — and why. The buffalo help us connect with their humbling ancient wisdom; a truth so incredibly sacred because of its gentle simplicity and rightness.
The blizzard came in quick and heavy, and the buffalo moved right along with it as they always do. With their heads into the storm, grazing and walking, sparing and goofing around, they look up at us for moments with the eyes of god, the faces of ghosts, awakening memories of ages past and future potentials. Still here. Still present. Still doing what they have always done since buffalo time began. Where they walk, ravens feast on the gut piles of their recently killed relatives, strewn across the landscape at Beattie Gulch, a beautiful place that has become synonymous with death. And, yet, the buffalo still come, still offer life, staying among the living. Obstacles be damned. These ancient beings have survived Ice Ages; now the question is: can they survive the U.S. government? In the joy of sharing time and place with the buffalo, in our pain and anger fueled by management plans, being in the company of friends both human and buffalo recognizing each other, committing to each other again; in our solidarity among our comrades we understand that all of these things come from love. Profound love. The buffalo and their wildness, their teachings of sorrow and joy, their obligation to the earth, and ours to them. These realities keep awake our spirits, reaffirm and strengthen our vow: yes, you will survive, and we will give ourselves to make sure of it; fighting for you, along side you.
by Max Wilbert / Deep Green Resistance
“One person died and another was badly burned when a gas well exploded here last year,” my friend Adam says, pointing to an oil well set back a hundred yards from the road. We’re on the plains beneath the Front Range in Colorado, where the Rockies meet the flatlands. Oil country. Wells and fracking rigs are everywhere, scattered among the rural homes and inside city limits.
I’m on my way home from volunteering with Buffalo Field Campaign outside Yellowstone National Park, and I’ve stopped in Colorado to see friends and learn more about the fight against fracking that’s going on here.
Adam explains to me that there are thousands of wells in the area, despite widespread opposition. Cities have passed laws against fracking, been sued by industry groups in response, and lost the lawsuits. Democracy is clearly less important than profits in the United States—but that’s no surprise to anyone who is paying attention.
A few days earlier, Buffalo Field Campaign held the first annual Rosalie Little Thunder memorial walk through Yellowstone National Park.
We walked 8 miles past “the trap” where Yellowstone National Park uses tax money to trap and send to slaughter wild buffalo, past APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services) facilities where buffalo are captured, confined and subjected to invasive medical testing and sterilization, and past Beattie Gulch where hunters line up at Yellowstone’s boundary to shoot family groups of buffalo en masse as they walk over the Park’s border. As we walked, I watched two of Rosalie’s sisters holding hands as they walked together in honor of their sister.
Cresting a small rise, we came upon a group of more than a hundred buffalo, grazing and snorting softly to one another. As we approached the herd, indigenous organizer and musician Mignon Geli began to play her flute, accompanied by drums. As if they could sense the whispers from our hearts and the prayers carried in the music, the buffalo began to move south, further into the park and towards safety.
Safe for the moment. But by late March, that entire group may be dead. Yellowstone National Park workers—including biologists—will lure the buffalo into the trap, confine them in the “squeeze chute” for medical testing, and then ship them to slaughter. As I write this, there are about three hundred buffalo who have now been trapped, very likely including the one pictured above.
I’ve never seen a wild buffalo confined in a livestock trailer, but I’m told it’s a horrible thing. Some describe it as a metal coffin on wheels.
Earlier today, I gave an interview to a radio show. The host asked me about why Deep Green Resistance focuses on social justice issues in addition to saving the planet. My response was to quote my friend, who explained it more concisely than I ever could when she said, “all oppression is tied to resource extraction.”
In other words, racism doesn’t exist just for the hell of it. It was created (and is maintained) to justify the theft of land, the theft of bodies, the theft of lives. Patriarchy isn’t a system set up for fun. It’s designed to extract value from women: free and cheap labor, sexual gratification, and children (the more, the better).
I wrote earlier that protecting the buffalo requires dismantling global systems in addition to local fights. That’s because the destruction of the buffalo today is tied into the same system of “resource” extraction. Buffalo can’t be controlled like cattle, and they eat grass, which makes ranchers angry. The ranching industry exists to extract wealth and food from the land. It does this by stealing grass and land from humans and non-humans, and privatizing it for the benefit of a few.
The story is the same with fracking. The people of the front range are dealing with atrocious air quality and poisoned water. Cancers and birth defects on one hand, and big fat paychecks on the other hand, will be the legacy of the short-lived fracking boom. That, and the destruction of the last open spaces that have been preserved from urban sprawl. No vote or political party can make a difference, both because the two major parties are thoroughly capitalist and fully invested in resource extraction, and because the U.S. constitution is set up to privilege business interests above all other considerations.
There are differences of opinion at camp. These divides emerge during late night conversations around the woodstove and during long car rides. But looking at the rampant oppression and resource extraction we’re facing, it strikes me that we must remember to stick together. One of my friends says that we must practice radical forgiveness. Another often says that we must learn from how the buffalo take turns breaking trail in deep snow, the strongest taking the longer turns.
On the Rosalie Little Thunder memorial walk, indigenous activist Cheryl Angel spoke about how Rosalie’s fighting spirit lives on in each of us. She made a material change in the world that those of us who live have a duty to carry on.
At BFC, there is a quote from Rosalie that is often mentioned. She said, “Remind yourself every morning, every morning, every morning: ‘I’m going to do something, I’ve made a commitment.’ Not for yourself, but beyond yourself. You belong to the collective. Don’t go wandering off, or you will perish.”
Permaculture and resistance, restoration and direct action, working inside the system and revolutionary action, aboveground and underground—we all must work together to tear down the brutal empire we live within, and to build a new world from the ashes.
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