Friday, March 16, 2012

Roam Free

After my first visit to Yellowstone, I joined the Buffalo Field Campaign as a contributor. It saddens me that these massive, but magnificent critturs are endangered as they roam outside the confines of Yellowstone. Perhaps you will find the following report worth a moment of your time. You may even choose to contribute to the efforts on their behalf.

The following article came as an email today.

Spring is definitely in the air here in Yellowstone Country. The sun waxes, temperatures rise, the snow melts, and wild buffalo are on the move with the awakening of the earth. The gentle giants carry the season in their quickening steps and the next generation in their wombs.

Buffalo Field Compaign continues to run full patrols in both the Gardiner and Hebgen Basins, as buffalo begin to cover a lot of ground. It seems that the agencies are, for now, sticking to their word on allowing buffalo to roam for a while in the Gardiner Basin. Last week in Gardiner, for the first time in recent history, a few family groups of buffalo were able to simply enjoy walking the landscape without threat of hazing, even on Church Universal and Triumphant land. It was strange for us to feel that the buffalo were safe on lands where they have always been harassed or killed for even gazing towards. To be sure, the Montana Department of Livestock was watching the buffalo closely, but under the new Gardiner Basin tolerance decision, the agency was unable to touch them. While this was a big win for those particular buffalo that week, it is a small step in the larger effort to protect the buffalo's access to their historic habitat.

One mature bull was not so lucky. After daring to step foot near buffalo-unfriendly private land, he was chased into the hunt zone. One morning we saw him grazing peacefully along the Yellowstone River. That afternoon we found his enormous tracks in our yard. The next day we discovered his remains along with those of a younger bull. The younger bull had lost his entire family to hunters the weekend before and, until the mature bull arrived, had spent his mourning alone. These two bulls and two other buffalo were shot by Nez Perce hunters this past weekend. With these kills, more than 4,000 wild buffalo have tragically been eliminated from America's last wild population since the year 2000, when the Interagency Bison Management Plan was signed.

This young bull was shot by Nez Perce hunters late last week. The weekend before, the other four buffalo that were in his family group were also killed by hunters. He had been alone for a number of days after losing his family, until a mature bull was pushed into this area, where they met up and eventually died together. BFC photo by Stephany. Click photo for larger image.

Montana's Hebgen Basin brings its own challenges for the buffalo and BFC volunteers, as the shaggy mammoths migrate through the Madison River corridor to their traditional calving grounds around Horse Butte. In order to get there, buffalo have to cross the high-speed Highway 191, used heavily by eighteen-wheelers. BFC volunteers are out watching the roads closely, armed with our gigantic hot pink warning signs, and our night patrols are going out every evening right now. While BFC's efforts to warn traffic of buffalo on or near the roads have saved numerous lives over the years, without safe passage infrastructure it is unfortunately impossible to prevent all accidents. Warnings only work when they are heeded. Very early Tuesday morning, just after midnight, a buffalo was hit and killed by a motorist.

Montana is finally admitting that buffalo live in the state! These helpful signs have recently appeared along Highways 89, 191 and 287 in both the Gardiner and Hebgen Basins. BFC commends the Montana Department of Transportation for taking this important and necessary step, which will benefit wild buffalo and motorists alike. BFC photo by Stephany. Click photo for larger image.

After a lot of pressure from Buffalo Field Campaign, the Montana Department of Transportation (MDOT) is taking this issue much more seriously. Over the years we have enlisted their help with the placement of large marquee signs that flash the warning, "Animals on Road," which are placed at critical points on Highways 191 and 287, and turned on when migration begins in earnest. These signs have been very helpful in the Hebgen Basin, and after last spring's bull buffalo bonanza in the Gardiner Basin, we asked the MDOT to place these signs on Highway 89 as well. To our pleasant surprise, they have! The MDOT even went a step further and are now in the process of putting up permanent warning signs that read "Bison on Road - 55 MPH" (shown above). BFC sends out big thanks to the MDOT for helping to make the dangerous highways a little bit safer for everyone. BFC will continue to do everything we can to keep buffalo safe along the highways that cut through their migration corridors, and we will continue to advocate for safe passage infrastructure that will allow wild buffalo and all area wildlife to make it across the highways alive and unscathed.

Roam Free!