Thursday, April 5, 2012

BFC Celebrates 15 Years with the Buffalo

* Update from the Field ~ BFC Celebrates 15 Years with the Buffalo
This week marks the 15th anniversary of my moving to a little trailer in Gardiner, Montana to start what is now known as Buffalo Field Campaign.  Lakota elder Rosalie Little Thunder and I put together this frontlines presence to protect the buffalo.

Mike Mease speaks for wild buffalo.  BFC file photo.  Click photo for larger image.

As I sit here today on Horse Butte watching hundreds of buffalo enjoy being buffalo with no harassment, torture, or slaughter, I reflect on how far we’ve come.  During the years leading up to the formation of Buffalo Field Campaign any buffalo that stepped foot outside of Yellowstone Park were killed by many different methods as soon as the government agents spotted them.  The agents gunned down whole herds and then sent in Native Americans to do all the work of gutting, butchering, and hauling the carcasses out of the woods while livestock agents sat back out of earshot making rude comments.  They shot and killed buffalo in front of children waiting for the school bus and on the way to and home from school.  Gut piles were left in visible places for the whole community to see and smell.  The buffalo that were captured and sent to slaughter had their heads, hides, and meat sold at auctions and the Department of Livestock (DOL) kept the money.  The DOL even kept the money when Yellowstone National Park killed buffalo with our tax dollars.  All of these atrocities committed against our country’s last descendants of the millions of buffalo that once roamed the continent were hidden from the public.
During the winter of 1996-‘97 an estimated 3,500 buffalo existed in Yellowstone and that same winter the Department of Livestock and National Park Service (NPS) shipped 1,084 buffalo to slaughter.  Another 400 to 800 died naturally from the harsh winter.  I had to do something. 
   BFC file photos.  Click for larger images. 

I had noticed that wherever I had my video camera the agents had avoided killing buffalo.  I would find the largest herd of buffalo out of the Park and in danger and stay with them.  The DOL would go shoot smaller herds.  This became a founding philosophy of the BFC.  We would document and hold the government accountable for every action that they took against the buffalo.  If we could be with the buffalo that are out of the park we could show the world and stop the senseless slaughter.  Years of documenting the slaughter gave us the ability to produce videos and newsletters for outreach on the issue.
  BFC co-founders Mike Mease and Rosalie Little Thunder and the buffalo bus that began to spread the word to save the last wild herds!  BFC file photo.  Click for larger image.

Our first move was to educate Yellowstone visitors.  Exercising our free speech rights in Yellowstone National Park, we have staffed tables at popular spots in the park for the past 15 summers.  During the first year I also traveled to Grand Teton National Park, attended music festivals, and drove to other events in a Volkswagen bus that several artists had magically transformed into a giant buffalo.   I drove that van more than 10,000 miles, sending donations home as I received them to pay the Campaign’s bills.
  The original BFC crew sitting on the porch of the new headquarters in West Yellowstone.  BFC file photo.  Click for larger image. 

That fall we had the opportunity to move into our current headquarters near West Yellowstone and we jumped on it.  The summer’s outreach resulted in a solid foundation of supporters and a solid corps of volunteers coming from all over the world to stand with and defend the buffalo.  These volunteers set up blockades, locked down to the capture facilities, and did anything they could think of to stop the killing.  The resulting arrests brought publicity and media attention that the government did not want.  During our first year in the field only 11 buffalo were killed in contrast to the nearly 1,100 killed the previous winter.  We were making a difference.
  Direct action!  "Brucellosis:  Kill the Myth, Not the Buffalo!" BFC file photo.  Click photo for larger image. 

The following year brought yet more volunteers and more buffalo migrated out of the park.  On Forest Service Road 610, during an extremely cold winter, a blockade was erected to stop the Horse Butte capture facility from being setup.  This structure turned in to a 17-pole art piece that held off all harassment of the buffalo for more than seven weeks.  Many people endured 40 degrees below zero nights, perched high on a platform dangling from the structure to help save the buffalo.  Nonviolent direct action was the foundation of this country and I have been honored to be with many individuals that have chosen this path in defense of the buffalo.  I have personally been arrested three times for the buffalo.  Two of these arrests were illegal attempts by the agents to prevent me from documenting and were thrown out of court.  These arrests inspired some volunteers to put themselves through law school.  These lawyers now defend the buffalo in our all-important legal wars.   Buffalo are still dying but now more people are aware.  The buffalo sent to slaughter now are given to reservations or food banks and the DOL no longer profits from their sale.  As the years go by the arrests keep coming and national pressure starts to grow.
  Mike Mease and Rob Burns of the Gallatin County Sherriff's Department.  BFC file photo.  Click for larger image.

A new “kinder, gentler” PR ploy has largely replaced the wanton shooting and capture: hazing the buffalo back into the Park.  This war zone approach spreads the harassment to all wildlife in the ecosystem.  Imagine you are standing along the banks of the meandering Madison river watching the snow melt as birds return from their winter homes, grizzly bears feed on winter kills, moose, elk and deer nibble on fresh grasses, and buffalo moms nurse their newborn calves.  Now imagine the chaos as the DOL’s helicopter descends upon this tranquil scene from over the horizon and flies 20 feet above the buffalo’s head.  ATVs and angry horseman arrive next, yelling, honking horns, and throwing rocks to chase the animals from the National Forest.  Pickup trucks, forest and park rangers, Gallatin county sheriffs, and highway patrol officers relocate anything in their path.  This is how this last intact ecosystem is abused with your tax dollars.
    The "kinder, gentler" approaches to wild buffalo abuse, paid for with your tax dollars.  BFC file photo.  Click for larger image.

The brucellosis argument loses weight as elk spread the disease to livestock in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho and all three states lose their coveted brucellosis-free status.  Yet no action is taken against the elk, just the killing of more buffalo.  Buffalo have never once transmitted the disease brought here and given to our wildlife by cows.  Despite the closing of the last cattle grazing allotment on Horse Butte and new landowners who want buffalo on their properties, the state still won’t “tolerate” buffalo and continues to kill them.  Baby steps are the common used term for progress on the buffalo issue.  While the buffalo are allowed a few more steps out of the park, they’re never given year-round access to habitat and are always subject to a “drop dead” line across which they cannot step.  Yellowstone buffalo are the only species that is expected to stay within the park.  What a buffalo goes through in a year has changed a little but still they must endure a lack of tolerance and even death.

From November through February for the past seven years the buffalo have been welcomed to Montana with a so-called hunt.  Many years every buffalo to cross the boundary is killed.  Native Americans have been force-fed the hunt as the only way they can have their treaties recognized by the state and federal governments.  At present four reservations have had their treaties recognized to hunt.  The buffalo management plan calls for a cap of 3,000 on the buffalo’s total population.  This will make sure none of the first nations will ever be allowed to subsist from the buffalo again.   BFC honors and respects the treaty rights of all first nations and is actively working to help remove this disgraceful plan and put people that have the buffalo interests at heart in charge.
  BFC file photo.  Click for larger image.

As long as volunteers continue to join us in the field and supporters continue to make our work possible with their contributions we will stand and fight for the buffalo.  More than 5,000 volunteers have come to stand with the buffalo from every state in the US and countries around the world.  The majority of BFC’s funding is contributed by people sending donations of $50 or less.  This message that the people want us to continue the fight keeps me strong every day.  But it is the buffalo that will make me never leave until this land is theirs again.  They have the lessons that humanity has forgotten or never learned.  Everyone counts in the buffalo world.  Everyone is just as important as everybody else.   Together we can do anything.  I will be here until this ends or I die.  Thank you all for allowing me to dedicate my life to this most important work.

With the Buffalo,
Mike Mease

* BFC Flashback

  One of BFC's first winters in the field with the buffalo.  BFC file photo.  Click photo for larger image.

Here is the very first Update from the Field, dated October 22, 1997.  Co-founded by Lakota elder Rosalie Little Thunder and videographer/activist Mike Mease, the front lines wild buffalo advocacy group began as Buffalo Nations.  Out of respect for the People who are Tatanka Oyate, the Buffalo Nation, we soon changed our name to Buffalo Field Campaign.
  This is the print newsletter Buffalo Field Campaign put out after the 1998-1999 season.  Click on the image to download and read the newsletter. 

Have a BFC Flahsback you'd like to share?  In honor of our fifteen years on the front lines with America's last wild buffalo, we'll be sharing BFC blasts from the past over the course of the year.  If you'd like to share some of your stories please send them!  Photos are also welcome!

* NEW TAKE ACTION!  Tell Governor Schweitzer to Call off the Dept. of Livestock!
Hundreds of wild buffalo are currently enjoying peaceful times on Horse Butte, important habitat where there are never any cattle.  Very soon, wild buffalo will begin to give birth.  Horse Butte and the surrounding riparian and forested landscape are favored by the central wild buffalo herds, who migrate west from Yellowstone into Montana every spring.  Most of these lands are cattle-free public lands and some are buffalo-friendly private lands, where buffalo should be allowed to roam year round.  Yet, by May 15th, the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) and other state and federal agencies will descend upon this wildlife-rich ecosystem to terrorize the animals and harm the habitat, using horsemen, helicopters, and a variety of law enforcement to forcibly move (haze) native wild buffalo - including newborn calves and pregnant cows - out of Montana.
Montana is the lead entity in decisions made about wild buffalo in the Hebgen Basin, with the MT Department of Livestock calling all the shots.  Please tell Montana Governor Schweitzer to call off the Department of Livestock, halt the hazing and let wild buffalo follow their own instincts to return to summer ranges.

* Nominate Buffalo Field Campaign for the 2012 Green Awards

Buffalo Field Campaign is in the running for Great Nonprofits' 2012 Green Awards to identify top-rated nonprofits focusing on environmental issues around the globe.  We need your help if we are to win.  Your story can help BFC gain valuable feedback and guide others who might provide support by donating or volunteering.

Please take three minutes to help nominate Buffalo Field Campaign by writing a review by April 30th!

* Missing Your Buffalo Family? Return to the Front Lines!

  Thank you for having spent so much time here before and we want you to come home again!  BFC file photo.  Click photo for larger image.

Hey Buffalo Family!!!

Spring is here and so are the buffalo.  We are so grateful to be in the field watching these amazing creatures soaking up the warm rays of spring sun, feeling the nutrition of the green spring grasses, romping and running with their herds.  Our collective energies seem to be relaxed and for the moment at ease.  Our volunteers, however, know what is coming down the line and we are honoring our calm and reflective time now as we prepare what will surely be disruptive and trying actions in the future.  We are blessed with a great new crew of volunteers, and we could use the help of experienced BFC volunteers to help us guide them through the coming heavy hazing season.  If you're missing the buffalo and your buffalo family, please come on home to us!  We need you!  Get in touch and come home to the buffalo.

Support Coordinator
Buffalo Field Campaign

* BFC Wish List:  Assorted Optics

We could use some help to (literally) keep our sights on the buffalo.  We find ourselves in need of new optics:  Cameras, binoculars, spotting scopes, and equipment to steady these optics.  Below is a section of our wish list that focuses on optics including quantities that will help keep all BFC field volunteers well-equipped.  Any contribution for these items is extremely helpful and important to the campaign, whether it is a ten dollar donation towards optics or the entirety of the list.  Thanks to each and every one of you for loving the buffalo and for keeping BFC going and our volunteers prepared in the field every day.  If you can help with these assorted optics wishes please contact our gear coordinator.
  • (6-10 pairs) compact high-resolution binoculars, water- and fog-proof, 7-10x 35-70mm magnification
  • (6-10 pairs) full-size high-resolution binoculars, water- and fog-proof, 7-10x 35-70mm magnification
  • (3-5) high-resolution spotting scopes, standard tripod- or window-mounted, with zoom, 16-60x 60(+)mm magnification
  • (3) compact tripods
  • (3) full-size fluid head video tripods
  • (3-5) Walking/Ski pole Monopods with standard camera mount (eg. Leki, Tracks brands)

Click HERE to view BFC's complete Wish List

* Gorgeous Buffalo Artwork Available, Sales to Benefit BFC

  Click image to view and purchase.

BFC supporter Julia Lucey is an incredibly talented artist whose work is featured in BFC's Wild Bison 2012 calendar.  Julia says, "As many of you know, a great deal of my inspiration comes from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The last genetically pure Bison are found here, but are challenged daily to follow their natural migratory paths ... I have given 5% of all of my sales to [Buffalo Field Campaign's] cause since I began my art career. I recently designed some cards for them (which will be available for sale from BFC later this spring). The etchings I made while trying to find the right design for them are for sale now on etsy with 100% of the sales price going directly to them."

Thank you so much Julia!

View and purchase:  Julia Lucey Buffalo Art #1   **  Julia Lucey Buffalo Art #2

* Endangered Buffalo Fact of the Week

Smaller bison herds gradually lose their genetic diversity.  A herd of 2000-3000 bison will lose an estimated 5% of its alleles each 100 years.  A herd of less than 400 bison will suffer some degree of inbreeding.  South of Canada, there are but forty-four non-commercial bison herds on native range.  Thirty-three of these herds are fewer than 400 animals.  Forty-two herds have fewer than 2000.  Of the two herds with fewer than 2000 bison, one is inflicted with a substantial amount of cattle genes.  Only the Yellowstone herds exceed 2000 animals and apparently have no cattle-gene introgression.  (Jim Bailey, Belgrade, Montana)

Jim Bailey's papers, and other bison conservation papers, can be downloaded and viewed HERE

Have a fact you'd like to share with us

* By the Numbers

AMERICAN BUFFALO ELIMINATED from the last wild population in the U.S. The last wild population is currently estimated at fewer than 3,700 individual buffalo.  Wild bison are currently ecologically extinct throughout their native range in North America.

2011-2012 Total Buffalo Killed: 29

2011-2012 Government Capture:
2011-2012 Government Slaughter:
2011-2012 Held for Government Experiment:
2011-2012 Died In Government Trap:
2011-2012 Miscarriage in Government Trap:
2011-2012 State & Treaty Hunts: 28
2011-2012 Quarantine:
2011-2012 Shot by Agents:
2011-2012 Killed by Angry Residents:
2011-2012 Highway Mortality:  1

2010-2011 Total:  227
2009-2010 Total:  7
2008-2009 Total: 22
2007-2008 Total: 1,631

* Total Since 2000: 4,001*

*includes lethal government action, trap-related fatalities, quarantine/experiments, hunts, highway mortality

* Last Words

"Those of us already here roam the fields with the buffalo daily and have a kinship with them. The magnificence and ruggedness of these beautiful animals has all of us in awe of their role in nature and humble us in our own role. There is nothing quite like the sight of buffalo playing while a bald eagle flies overhead, a coyote hunts for scurrying food, a wolf howls in the not-so-far distance, while we keep a watchful eye out for the D.O.L. All in a day's work at Buffalo Nations. So come out and be ready for action or help support us in anyway you can. "

~ From a December 29, 1998 Buffalo Nations alert, which can be read in full HERE

Do you have submissions for Last Words? Send them to us! Thank you for all the poems, songs, quotes and stories you have been sending!  Keep them coming!

Media & Outreach
Buffalo Field Campaign
P.O. Box 957
West Yellowstone, MT 59758

BFC is the only group working in the field every day
in defense of the last wild buffalo population in the U.S.


Join Buffalo Field Campaign -- It's Free!


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