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Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC) News from the Field
August 1, 2005
|Summer provides a bit of respite for the Yellowstone buffalo. Safe for a few months from the incessant hazing, capture, and slaughter operations that plague their Montana winters and springs, buffalo in the summertime are, by and large, free to be buffalo. For the Buffalo Field Campaign, working to protect the buffalo and their habitat is a year round job and this summer is no exception. Last week provides a good example of our "off season" work.
Last Monday, July 25, BFC hosted a "Bison Summit" with Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer. The purpose of the meeting was to ask the Governor to show greater tolerance for free-roaming bison in Montana and to allow members of the Yellowstone herd use of lands in the state where they are currently subjected to hazing, capture and slaughter.
With the generous help of the Patagonia outdoor clothing company we assembled a first-rate panel of bison and brucellosis scientists, Native Americans, and members of the local community. For more than two hours we met with the Governor in West Yellowstone, presenting him with a different perspective than the one he regularly hears from the stockgrower-influenced Department of Livestock. We demonstrated through sound science some of the misconceptions that fuel the present slaughter and made a strong case for allowing Yellowstone buffalo to migrate unimpeded to their spring and winter habitat in
BFC board member Scott Frazier opened the meeting with a beautiful prayer for the buffalo and, after thanking the Governor for
travelling to West Yellowstone to meet with us, presented him with a gift of sweetgrass.
Dr. Paul Nicoletti, D.M.V, a world-renowned brucellosis expert from the University of Florida, made a compelling case against the current bison management regime and offered a positive vision of a more common-sense approach. Dr. Nicoletti told Governor Schweitzer that the current bison management plan "is not based on the best available scientific evidence; has resulted in the unnecessary killing of large numbers of bison; is not based on an accurate assessment of the risk of bacterial transmission from bison to cattle; relies on inappropriate tools and techniques designed for use in livestock; and ignores the more serious threat of brucellosis transmission from feedground elk to cattle." He went on to add that "current management strategies result in the unnecessary killing of large numbers of bison, are not appropriate for use in a wild, free-ranging species, and are not publicly acceptable."
Dr. Mary Meagher, who studied the Yellowstone bison for more than 30 years as Yellowstone's lead bison biologist, discussed the history and importance of the Yellowstone bison herd. Drawing on her decades of field study, Dr. Meagher discussed bison movement patterns and the way human activities have altered those patterns. She concluded her presentation with the sober assessment that the future of the Yellowstone National Park bison herd--the only population that wasn't exterminated in the 19th century--is currently at serious risk.
BFC allies, board members, coordinators, and volunteers then made a strong case for more sensible bison management, stressing ideas that will resolve, diminish, and ultimately solve the bison management controversy. Keeping the emphasis on risk management, we showed the governor and his aides why brucellosis isn't the threat that the livestock industry makes it out to be and offered concrete suggestions for more common sense (and cost-effective) approaches to simultaneously keeping bison in Montana and Montana brucellosis-free.
Flo Gardipee, BFC board member and a doctoral student currently conducting research on the genetics of the Yellowstone herd,
discussed the Yellowstone herd's genetic singularity and the importance of protecting the Yellowstone bison. DJ Schubert from the Humane Society of the United States illustrated how infinitesimally small the risk of brucellosis transmission from wild bison to
livestock really is (so low, in fact, that such a transmission has never occurred).
Beth Sullivan, manager of the Dillon, MT Patagonia Outlet spoke about the importance of wild bison and other native wildlife to the
regional economy, reminding Governor Schweitzer that tourism, not cattle ranching, is the economic heart of the region surrounding Yellowstone National Park. Local resident Carrie Taggert of Horse Butte Neighbors of Buffalo (HOBNOB) discussed the pleasure she and other local residents derive from the presence of buffalo as well as the shock and horror they experience when their neighborhoods are disrupted without warning by Montana Department of Livestock agents flying helicopters and riding snowmobiles and ATV's as they chase, harass, and capture buffalo. Montana resident Stephany Seay reminded Governor Schweitzer of promises he made while campaigning for governor ("buffalo will enjoy greater tolerance" and "The DOL is
ill-equipped to manage bison.") and urged him to follow through on his words so she can vote for him again. "I take the buffalo with me into the voting booth," she said.
A young Native American man named Mike from the Fort Peck Reservation spoke passionately about his peoples' connection to the buffalo and how the current slaughter was killing not only the buffalo but the people whose lives are intertwined with the lives of the buffalo. Scott Frazier closed the meeting by urging Governor Schweitzer to heed some of the suggestions offered during the meeting and by giving thanks to the Governor for taking so much time to listen to the concerns of those of us to whom the buffalo are important.
While it remains to be seen whether Governor Schweitzer will act on any of the suggestions he was presented with, we know that he was deeply affected. At numerous times during the meeting, which lasted more than two hours, the governor asked insightful questions, revealing that he has given a great deal of thought to this complex issue. We now have an open dialogue with Governor Schweitzer and are hopeful that he will take steps to offer the Yellowstone bison protection in the great state of Montana.
Last week's Bison Summit with the Governor wouldn't have been possible without the generous strategic and financial support of
Patagonia. Thank you. Thanks also to Beth and Holly for travelling from Dillan, to D.J. for coming from Texas, to Dr. Nicoletti for
journeying from Florida, and to all who joined us in person for the meeting or in spirit from across the country. The Buffalo Field Campaign is everyone everywhere who cares about the buffalo and our work would not be possible without each and every one of you who supports our crucial work.
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