Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
From  Issue
10 February 2002
An Update From the Field

From Buffalo Field Campaign - [email protected] 

As we skied along the Madison River yesterday morning searching for four bison in the dawn's mist we tried to make ourselves ready for another hectic day of hazing and capture. At least seven Department of Livestock (DOL) agents had arrived in town the previous afternoon. After the past two weeks, when 17 bison were captured and 12 slaughtered, we were becoming used to the patterns of the DOL.

My patrol-mates were Marco, a volunteer who traveled all the way from Germany to help the buffalo; Chris, a research scientist who has grown accustomed to extreme winter conditions after conducting research in the frigid waters of Antarctica; and Mike, who helped to form the Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC) in 1997. As we skied west along the river away from the park we were happy to find an old bull--we'd affectionately named him Houdini for his amazing ability to escape the DOL--on his way up the trail toward the park. Mike and Marco stayed with him to see that he crossed the highway safely while Chris and I made our way for the meadow a few miles down river.

The sun was climbing from behind the horizon when we reached the meadow and discovered three large bulls, their brown coats frosted white, lying beside a small tributary. (These were the same animals that, two weeks earlier, had wandered into the park hours before the DOL capture operation began and came back out the day the DOL left town.) Chris and I were with them about twenty minutes when the first one stood and shook his shaggy coat. The crystal rattling of ice filled the quiet morning as chunks of ice fell off his back. After a while he meandered across the tributary and into the woods, followed by his two friends.

Mike and Marco radioed from the highway to tell us that Houdini had gone into the park and to ask our location so they could meet up with us. Our two-way FM radios allow all the patrols to be in contact with one another and with the office. A car patrol at Duck Creek watches DOL headquarters and alerts the other patrols when the agents head into the field on their snowmobiles or when the helicopter takes to the air. Without the radios patrols would lack coordination and volunteers would have no forewarning of the DOL's arrival. Radios also allow our media coordinator to know what is happening in the field so he can write accurate and timely press releases.

By the time Mike and Marco had reached us, we were a little relieved. Duck Creek patrol had just contacted us to say all was quiet with the DOL. We built a fire on the edge of the meadow and shared stories. A bald eagle soared directly above us. Marco gave us a lesson in German. At 10 am we heard over the radio that two agents had left DOL headquarters and were headed our way. Marco and I went to check on the bison and found only two. A fresh set of tracks headed east and we decided to follow. We radioed Mike and Chris to tell them to
keep an eye on the two in the meadow while we went to find the lone bull.

After skiing east a mile and a half we got our first glimpse of him, wading in the river and nibbling tufts of grass from the exposed banks. He stayed in the river for a few hundred yards, slowly making his way to the park. A quarter mile from the boundary he swam across the Madison, coming less than twenty yards from a small flock of trumpeter swans. We watched as one of the swans took to the air above the bull. I tried to call to our "Rove" patrol and tell them to be ready to warn passing motorists of the bison's approach but because of a problem with their radio they couldn't hear me. Luckily no cars were coming when the bull hauled his body from the river, crossed the highway, and disappeared into the park. Not thirty seconds later the two agents came whizzing by on their snowmobiles, oblivious to the fact that the bull had just crossed.

We turned around and followed our tracks back to our friends in the meadow. We hadn't been there long when the DOL agents arrived. Rob Tierney, the agent in charge of the DOL's bison operations stopped by our fire and made small talk. He told us they had no plans to capture this week. He kept to his word yesterday and we enjoyed our first peaceful Wednesday in three weeks. As I sit in the office writing this week's update the quiet on the radio makes me believe this may be a safe week for America's last wild bison.

For more information, check the following website often:
Buffalo Field Campaign

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