The War Against the Buffalo Continues in Yellowstone
by Festus

The last wild American bison continue to be harassed, captured and slaughtered by the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL), National Forest Service and National Park Service. Although it has been a mild winter in the Yellowstone ecosystem, more than 20 bison bulls migrated out of the park in January. They have spent the winter grazing along the Madison River bottoms and at Horse Butte, a traditional winter range for Yellowstone bison. If not for the deadly, military-style tactics of the DOL, these bulls would have an easy, peaceful existence.

On February 14, after several unsuccessful attempts to haze the bison back to the park with snowmobiles, DOL brought out its helicopter. Flying as low as 10 feet above the wildlife-rich river bottoms, the copter fired explosive rounds and blasted a siren to haze the bulls two miles back into Yellowstone. It then proceeded to Duck Creek where it hazed six bulls that had never left Yellowstone but were near the border, about two miles into the park. Ironically, none of the bison were on cattle-grazing land.

Peace and quiet along these corridors is vital for the survival of elk, moose, bald eagles, trumpeter swans, wolves and many other wildlife that winter here. Disruptions caused by the DOL threaten all wildlife in the area, at the most critical time of year—with Yellowstone National Park's approval.

After a month's hiatus, in which the bison quickly returned to their previous location along the Madison River, the DOL flew their death machine again. On March 14, the copter rounded up 15 bulls on the Madison and attempted to push them into the Horse Butte capture facility. As the copter approached the butte with its quarry, Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC) volunteers moved into position.

Utter chaos reigned at Horse Butte for the next four hours. When the snow settled, seven bison had been captured. Seven volunteers were arrested and, thanks to their efforts, eight bison had escaped the trap. Knowing they had saved eight bulls from likely slaughter made the activists' sacrifice a sweet one. Unfortunately, two of the captured hulls tested positive for brucellosis antibodies, and were sent to slaughter. The other five were tagged and released, all having suffered wounds during the capture and testing process that threaten their survival.

In the following week DOL returned and attempted to capture three bulls at Horse Butte. In an awesome display of true power, one of the magnificent bulls wallowed right in front of the DOL agents, stood up and flipped sand in their direction with his horns. The bulls then turned and ran up the butte, quickly disappearing over the ridge. With frustration evident on their faces, law enforcement officers arrested two protesters who had allegedly crossed an arbitrary closure line on Forest Service land.

The following day, DOL flew its helicopter over Duck Creek and Cougar Creek and captured seven bulls that had left the safety of the park. One protester was arrested at Cougar Creek for allegedly disrupting the operation. Three of the bulls were sent to slaughter and four tested negative. These were released the next day, obviously traumatized.

When DOL agents returned to Horse Butte, though, they found a tripod erected on the access road to the capture facility. Despite 24-hour security along the road, one volunteer occupied a platform 30 feet up in the blockade. He was removed with a cherry picker late in the day and arrested, but was successful in keeping the bison at Horse Butte from being captured.

On March 23, during a planned "week of action" to end the slaughter, BFC held a rally at the Gallatin National Forest office in West Yellowstone. Decked out in costumes representing the many species that live in the area, the protesters demanded an end to the deadly activities of the DOL on Forest Service land. Two people were admitted to the office, without costumes, to talk with District Ranger Stan Benes. Benes, however, could only offer up a list of the usual, lame excuses as to why he is powerless to change the status quo. The question still remains: Why do Montana cattle interests hold so much power over the National Forest Service and Yellowstone National Park?

March 25, 50 people attended a prayer ceremony hosted by the Ehnamani Sundance Church. In the ceremony, we gave thanks to the Great Spirit and asked for strength, for protection of the bison and for the enlightenment of those that would continue the reckless slaughter.

More than 70 people gained valuable experience in the field, helping end the slaughter of the last wild bison by attending the "week of action." Early April brought a new threat, as hundreds of pregnant females and calves began to head west toward Horse Butte. So far, DOL has only attempted to haze them back to the park, but been largely unsuccessful.

BFC will stand by its commitment to this incredible herd. Every day in the field the bison teach us valuable lessons, and amaze us with their beauty, grace and power. Our family continues to grow in numbers and in strength. BFC is the only group working in the field to document and stop the indiscriminant slaughter of America' last wild bison.

For more information, contact BFC, POB 957, West Yellowstone, MT 59758; (406) 646-0070; (406) 646-0071 fax; buffalo@wildrockies.org.

© Earth First! Journal May-June 2001

 

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