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Montana Buffalo Hunt
Temperatures in Western Montana have plummeted in the past few days. Volunteers in West Yellowstone sustained lows of -45, while Gardiner temps dropped to -20. Snow and ice blanket the landscape while chilly winds bite with sharp teeth. The cold hard bones of the Crone's hand lay their grip on all in sight. It is a season both beautiful and deadly; especially deadly if you are one of the last wild buffalo. Those bearing witness are hard pressed to not let the cold creep into their own still-beating hearts. The pain of watching these gentle giants gunned down again and again is sharp and intense and mourning comes to each of us in different ways.
Montana's illegitimate bison hunt has so far claimed the lives of 14 bull buffalo, members of the country's last wild herd. Since we last wrote, five more friends have been shot dead near Gardiner. Volunteers in Gardiner have been witnessing the most death, watching from close range as our gentle friends die as a result of Montana's ignorance and greed. One gunner, a twelve-year old boy accompanied by his parents, took more than three hours from the first shot to the final fatal bullet to bag his prize. As we've come to learn during this hunt, wild buffalo do mourn. Again and again volunteers have witnessed other herd members coming to the fallen buffalo, trying to help them get up again, or standing in silence when they realize they wont rise anymore. According to some Native American traditions the dead buffalo is considered not good to eat if other buffalo behave this way.
Montana is still trying to ignore reality and celebrate this hunt. They pat themselves on the back and claim it's a "normal" hunt, one they are quite proud of. But everyone else knows it's a deadly joke, a farce, and it's totally illegitimate. There is no place in this state where wild bison are free to exist in peace at any time of the year. On the contrary, elk and deer (cows also infected these animals with brucellosis) are free to come and go, and have healthy resident populations. Wild buffalo, however, are ecologically extinct in Montana. This means they don't - aren't allowed to - naturally exist within Montana's borders. Whenever they cross the man-made line and enter Montana, they are immediately subjected to hazing, capture, slaughter, quarantine and now shooting. How can Montana hope to save face?
Yesterday in West Yellowstone volunteers witnessed Department of Livestock (DOL) agents delivering a semi truck full of hay. They dropped it off at Dale Koelzer's, where the Duck Creek bison trap is. Maybe the hay is for the horses they'll use to haze buffalo with in the spring. Or maybe they may again try to lure hungry buffalo off of National Forest and Park Service land, into the trap. Maybe Shane Grube has some friends with bison hunting permits that have yet to fill their tags. Or maybe it's just that trapped buffalo must have hay to eat. Who can tell what the DOL has in store? We are watching.
For now, DOL agents can sit back, relax, inspect livestock, and enjoy the holidays; right now they've got others doing their dirty work. Do the bison "hunters" know they are pawns in the state's buffalo-eradication game? Field patrols in Gardiner have been attempting to educate them, and it seems a few are beginning to understand that Montana's ill-treatment of the last wild buffalo leaves much to be desired.
Meanwhile, with the hunters mostly swarming through Gardiner and the DOL busy with other tasks, back in West Yellowstone a natural and beautiful thing happened: a mixed group of nearly 20 buffalo migrated out to Horse Butte. They traveled through the night, crossing the Madison River's south shore towards the north bluffs. They made their way to Horse Butte where they grazed, played, and slept in peace for a few days, then when they were ready, they slowly made their own way back into the park. The DOL has suspended hazing operations in certain areas during the hunt, so these buffalo were virtually ignored by all but BFC volunteers who watched them from a respectful distance. Had the DOL been out hazing, likely the buffalo would have turned around and come back to the Butte until they decided they were finished. As it was, the buffalo - left alone by hunters and the DOL - simply got to be buffalo. No one's brucellosis-free status was "threatened" during this natural bison migration. This is as it should be - as it could be - as it will be. Hold on to that vision.