Commentary: Save the Wild Buffalo

What is life?  It is the flash of a firefly in the night.  It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime.  It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the Sunset.


Blackfoot, 1890, on his deathbed

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    Commentary: Save the Wild Buffalo kgnu


Whether you identify as religious, spiritual, or agnostic, the words of Crowfoot have value, meaning, and some semblance of truth.  We experience life through our surroundings; from our environment, nature.  We learn about life through personal experiences and the experiences of others, both living and dead. We take what we learn into our lives, they inform and shape our decisions and actions.

After 15 years in the field working to protect America’s last free roaming buffalo as a volunteer and board member for Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC), I have learned that to understand environmental conflicts, like the hazing and killing of wild migratory bison, we have to look at morals, culture, and science.

In a recent interview in Highlander magazine Ben Goldfarb asks Justin Farrell, a sociologist at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, about his book, The Battle for Yellowstone: Morality and the Sacred Roots of Environmental Conflict. Farrell explains that “the overwhelming techno-scientific approach we take to environmental issues, while often useful, tends to discourage other approaches.  But these conflicts have cultural and moral dimensions.”

In the recent Denver Post article, “Restored bison near Fort Collins bolt to prairie open space” (11/1/15), by Bruce Finley, we learn of a Colorado State University reproduction physiologist in Fort Collins who is growing genetically pure bison in her laboratory.  Her scientific approach appears pure, i.e. save genetic material from wild Yellowstone bison condemned to slaughter and ensure lasting genetic purity for buffalo bred in Colorado.

Yet, where is the morality in killing thousands of wild, free roaming buffalo in Montana only to harvest their genetics and replicate them in a lab in Colorado?  Why not just let them roam?

There is a cultural importance, not just genetic, that makes the Yellowstone buffalo unique.  They are the direct descendants of the 23 individual animals that survived the mass slaughter and brought bison to the brink of extinction in the 1800’s.  These buffalo have the behavioral memory of being wild and migratory.  They link our current culture to our past and show us how to ensure our future.  Most biologists and scientists agree that the restoration of migratory bison to the Great Plains would ensure healthy soils, robust bio-diversity, and clean waters.  Wild free roaming bison are a keystone species.  If allowed to roam, they would restore the American Heartland, biologically and culturally.

The wild bison of Yellowstone are often described as “disease carrying”.  Truth be told, they carry the antibodies to the cattle disease brucellosis, which can kill the first calf of a buffalo or cow.  However, brucellosis does not negatively affect wild bison because they are effectively inoculated in that they carry the cure.  Further, wild buffalo have never transmitted brucellosis to cattle which is the big fear that drives a management plan that calls for capture, slaughter, and quarantine.

In a recent World Wildlife Fund Gift Catalogue, WWF shares the goal of their Bison Initiative; to establish at least 5 herds of 1,000 disease free and genetically pure buffalo in the Northern Great Plains by 2020.  WWF works with tribal communities to re-release wild Yellowstone bison subjected to 4 years of quarantine onto reservations thus returning them to their “cultural home”.  Due to misunderstood science and political pressures, WWF supports the capture each year of 100 wild bison calves.  These baby buffalo are held in chain linked fence cages for 4 years where they are artificially fed and in zero contact with their family groups.  Thus, there is no opportunity for them to learn wild migratory behavior.

The first quarantine cohort went to Ted Turner, however.  This broke the initial agreement of the quarantine deal but continued the cultural practice of changing contracts with Native Peoples for the benefit of wealthy land owners.

If you are going to harvest the genetics from doomed wild buffalo in Yellowstone and support a quarantine program that smells of domestication, will you also join the efforts of Buffalo Field Campaign to protect and gain habitat for our only wild, free roaming migratory buffalo?  Can you support good science, morally-based decisions, and the cultural significance that the Yellowstone bison represent by helping BFC to stop the slaughter?

Please, Join Us in the Field!

For the buffalo,

Justine Sanchez

Vice President, BFC Board of Directors

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    Commentary: Save the Wild Buffalo kgnu




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