Wild Bison: BFC Update from the Field 1/10/08

Today’s Buffalo Field Campaign Update from the Field features a compelling account of BFC’s patrol coming upon a buffalo injured by a collision with the sheriff’s vehicle and the group’s introspective struggle with how to best proceed.

When we returned, she had not moved. Her condition had not seemed to change. Patrols radioed in to ask for everyone’s input. There was a variety of responses. If the game warden came, could we talk him into letting her body rest there in the willows, to be food for the ravens, wolves, coyotes and bears? They would never allow it. But this buffalo was in a bad way.

Buffalo Field Campaign
Yellowstone Bison
Update from the Field
January 10, 2008
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AMERICAN BISON ELIMINATED from the last wild population in the U.S.
2007-2008: 51
Total Since 2000: 2,069
*includes lethal government action, quarantine, state and treaty hunts
In this issue:
* Update from the Field
* For the Love of Buffalo ~ 2008 Valentine’s Day Cards Available!
* Volunteer on the Front Lines with BFC!
* Photo of the Week
* Last Words
* Update from the Field

Dear Buffalo Friends,

The snow around West Yellowstone is now belly-deep to adult buffalo. It is amazing to watch them crater their massive heads through the snow, humps supporting the side to side motion that pushes snow aside like an ancient plow; using head and hoof they clear the many feet of winter’s blanket that covers the life-giving grasses. Buffalo look up from their grazing with snowy faces, ghost-like and dreamy, but with the most serious task at hand. Surviving winter is no small effort. It takes a lot of time and energy for them to get to just enough vegetation to make it through another frigid day.

Some of the buffalo won’t see another day. Ten more have been killed in the hunt, bringing the total to 51 as of this writing. We also lost another female buffalo to a collision with a tractor trailer truck. Winter, though beautiful, is a season of death and sleeping and in the lives of wild buffalo that migrate into Montana it is an extremely dark and poignant time of year.

As we reported last week, three buffalo were hit by the sheriff’s vehicle on New Year’s Eve, one being killed instantly, and two wandering off injured and disappearing in the woods. A few days later, BFC patrols found one of those injured buffalo. She was bedded down in the willows, just a few yards off the side of the highway near the Madison River. She was so still that patrols nearly walked right up on her before they saw her. She was still alive but made no effort to take notice of them or move away. Knowing her injury was human-caused, patrols struggled with what to do. Should we leave her there to die, possibly agonizing from internal injuries? Or should we call the game warden to end her suffering? We knew if the game warden was called, her body would be hauled to the dump, and nobody wanted to see that disrespectful thing happen to this beautiful buffalo. Nor did we want to leave her there knowing she was suffering. But how could we know what she was feeling? How could we be sure of anything going on inside her body and mind? One of our elders reminded us that we cannot know, the buffalo and all animals have ways and knowledge far more intuitive and in tune with the rhythms of the universe for our human arrogance to comprehend. Perhaps she was taking the time to rest, to heal herself, or to meditate upon her approaching release from this world. For that day, patrols decided to let her alone. At that night’s meeting, we discussed her at length and decided to check on her again the next morning.

When we returned, she had not moved. Her condition had not seemed to change. Patrols radioed in to ask for everyone’s input. There was a variety of responses. If the game warden came, could we talk him into letting her body rest there in the willows, to be food for the ravens, wolves, coyotes and bears? They would never allow it. But this buffalo was in a bad way. Folks at camp decided to trust the judgement of those in the field. They had been with her for two days. The game warden was called. As it turned out, there were hunters in town as well. The game warden approached some hunters and let them know about this buffalo. So instead of going to the dump and being incinerated with the trash, she became sustenance. Her life was not wasted.

Hopefully she did not have a calf. There have been too many hunters killing in ignorance or haste, who have not paid attention to the family dynamics of the various buffalo groups and consequently have orphaned at least three calves, possibly more. One of the buffalo recently killed on Horse Butte had a calf, but the hunters who shot her didn’t notice. And a few days after this buffalo was killed, her calf was seen wandering alone, down Cougar Creek trail just a few miles from where this baby lost it’s mother. A lone calf will not survive the winter.

Another of the orphaned calves was shot on the north bluffs of the Madison River on Friday, by Salish-Kootenai hunters. They had been paying attention and knew that this baby bull did not have a mother or any surrogate, and hence hardly a chance at survival. So, instead of killing a big “trophy” bull or a cow, they shot the calf. One by one, the buffalo go down by the bullet. There is too much death. We’ve all seen too much, and yet in our own heartache we constantly remind ourselves that it is the buffalo who are going through this, not us. We are bearing witness so that their story is told and the call of the last wild buffalo will be heard by the people who will come to their defense. It is the buffalo who are simply trying to exist as they have forever, bombarded by human politics, ignorance, and greed. In the face of it all, they press on as they always have. These strong survivors call us to task to champion their right to live free, and our freedom to choose to live right. Heed the call of the last wild buffalo, join us on the front-lines and tell everyone you know that the shaggy beings who can make the earth shake are waiting for us all to help set them free.

Roam Free,

* For the Love of Buffalo ~ Valentine’s Day Cards Available!

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, BFC is once again offering you the opportunity to send an original, hand-crafted card to the special people in your life. Our card is appropriate for all relationships, it lets the recipient(s) know that you are a person of compassion and good heart, and most importantly, it raises critical funds for Buffalo Field Campaign, allowing us to continue the important work of defending America’s last free-roaming, wild bison.

For a minimum donation of $15.00 we will send a special 4-1/4″ x 5-1/2″ Valentine featuring a photo to your special someone. The cards contain brief information on BFC and our work and a special love-inspired inscription.

Card orders must be received by Monday, February 4; please order early. We’ll time the mailing to arrive by Valentine’s Day. To order, just click on this link: https://secure.groundspring.org/dn/index.php?id=1807, donate a minimum of $15, scroll down to “Valentine Card,” then move below to the “Valentine Info Box” and write the recipient’s name and address as well as how you would like the card signed. To complete, scroll down and fill in general and credit card info into the secure server. If you’d rather pay through the mail, send a check along with the name and address of your Valentine and how you’d like the card signed to: BFC, PO Box 957, West Yellowstone, MT 59758.

* Volunteer on the Front Lines with BFC

People always look at me a bit strangely when they hear that I’m headed out for Montana, in the middle of winter, once again. “Doesn’t it get cold out there?” they ask, and I assure them it does. But West Yellowstone in the wintertime is a lot more than just the consistently coldest spot in the continental US (a fact that I was rather proud of noting last year as I experienced the first “real” winter of my life). It is also scenic snowcapped vistas, heartbreakingly beautiful sunrises and sunsets, the warmth and coziness of the BFC cabins and clothes, the love and camaraderie of friends old and new–all brothers and sisters in our stand for our buffalo cousins. Most of all winter is the time of year when weather and instinct push animals, large and small, out of the high places and into lower elevations to forage. For most animals in the park this means crossing a line that was carved through the trees less than 150 years ago. For the buffalo this line often means death, for on the other side hunters wait with guns and knives to take the lives of our noble cousins.

We need more people to stand on the front lines with the buffalo. We run full patrols everyday, no matter the weather, and often volunteers will stay in the field all day, or go out day after day without a day off. It can be easy to get burned out and that is why it is important to have enough volunteers to give everyone the time to rest that they need. It is an exciting time to be out here whether it be skiing, snowshoeing and standing with the buffalo, or helping keep the cabin running and getting the word out about the BFC and a native bison population.

For more information on volunteering, please visit our web site http://www.buffalofieldcampaign.org or contact Kasi, our Volunteer Coordinator at volunteer@buffalofieldcampaign.org or call 406-646-0070.

Hope to see you all in the field,


* Photo of the Week


A beautiful young bull buffalo makes his way through snow that is belly-deep. The grass he and his relatives needs to get to is many feet below. Photo by Stephany.

* Last Words

“People are equal partners with the plants and animals, not their masters who exploit them.”

~ Haida Gwaii, Traditional Circle of Elders







  1. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    I think the working out of this dilemma, what to do with the injured bison, is a wonderful example of how the BFC works.

    Deeply concerned with the fate of this bison, the patrol that found her didn’t make a snap decision. All the members of the BFC talking together came to a true understanding of what was the right thing to do, a decision that I’m sure the bison herself understood.

    The BFC is a truly democratic group of folks.

  2. Elli Avatar

    We out there in the world (like me in Germany) are with you and the buffalo in our heart, and we are so grateful for the work you are doing.

    Thank you BFC!

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Brian Ertz