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23 December 1998 Issue

A Problem That Has Me Buffaloed
by PrkStRangr, ARO staff

There were once millions of bison, the American buffalo, roaming the plains of the West. By the beginning of this century that number had been reduced to a few hundred by the railroads, the fur dealers, the U.S. Army and "sportsmen." In the war against the Native Americans, the U.S. Government promoted extermination of the buffalo to deplete the food supply of the western tribes and to break their morale.

Our first National Park, Yellowstone, had 25 bison eighty years ago. It is my agency's first and best success story, that through careful management, the National Park Service increased the size of America's last, free-roaming bison herd to over 3000 animals. Every day that I go to work I wear a picture of a bison on my badge, a reminder of that success story, and also a tragic reminder that over the last decade 3000 bison have been slaughtered to protect the interests of a handful of cattle ranchers in Montana.

When the bison wander out of the safety of Yellowstone National Park in search of food they are shot by agents of the Montana Board of Livestock, a group of cattle ranchers. They use the excuse that they are afraid bison will transmit disease to their cattle, but the real reason is a political power struggle to determine who will control the wild and public lands.

In the winter of 1996/97 over a thousand bison were shot or rounded up and taken to slaughterhouses, only half the herd survived. Last winter was a mild one for the area and most bison remained in the park. Thanks to the efforts of an animal protection group known as Buffalo Nations, a coalition of Native Americans and other concerned citizens who camped out in Yellowstone and literally placed themselves between the guns of the Montana livestock agents and the bison, only 11 bison were killed.

This Christmas Eve I am flying to Yellowstone for two weeks to join Buffalo Nations. I will do what I can to help them protect the buffalo. I will speak with rangers who work at Yellowstone in my attempt to gain a greater understanding of this situation. I want to give Yellowstone Superintendent Mike Finley the benefit of the doubt. But I wonder why it has taken most of this decade for the National Park Service to address this problem. And I wonder why it has taken the last 8 years for them to come up with a bison management plan. And I wonder why in that plan the fate of the last free-roaming bison herd has been placed in the hands of the Montana Department of Livestock, a group of unelected officials who are cattle ranchers. I wonder why 2000 head of cattle that are allowed to graze on federal land are given precedent over 2000 bison who belong to all the people.

And I hope to find a few answers in the northern wilderness.

The slaughter must end.

----the Park Stranger
PrkStRangr@aol.com


Visit Buffalo Nations' website at http://www.wildrockies.org/buffalo to learn more about the situation. You might like to send a Christmas donation to help them help the bison……

BUFFALO NATIONS
PO BOX 957
WEST YELLOWSTONE, MT 59758

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