Cracker Rounds, Throwing Stone, Bull Shot

When the buffalo still refuse to cross the river, the agents hastily and aggressively turn them east towards another muddy crossing and proceed to fire off at least twenty more cracker rounds.  Photos by Buffalo Field Campaign.

When the buffalo still refuse to cross the river, the agents hastily and aggressively turn them east towards another muddy crossing and proceed to fire off at least twenty more cracker rounds. Photos by Buffalo Field Campaign.

GALLATIN NATIONAL FOREST—After last week’s intense frenzy of hazing, buffalo were back on the move, returning to areas they had been forced out of. This made the weekend busy for patrols along the highway, but thanks to our hot pink road signs, no buffalo were struck by vehicles. Most of the buffalo migrated back to suitable habitat along the South Fork of the Madison River, south of Horse Butte, where the Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) has zero tolerance for them. By Monday morning, much to the chagrin of the DOL, more than 130 buffalo were gracing this beautiful grass-filled landscape. Another senseless hazing operation was imminent. DOL and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) agents once again descended upon the South Fork to abuse wild buffalo and displace migratory birds such as Sandhill cranes and white pelicans.

uffalo are not allowed to rest, drink water, or graze.  Most of the adult females are very close to giving birth.

uffalo are not allowed to rest, drink water, or graze. Most of the adult females are very close to giving birth.

After hours of chasing two large groups of buffalo around in circles, the operation moved from the South Fork, east down the Madison Arm Road of Gallatin National Forest.  The bellowing of the DOL and FWP agents, yelling “YAAAAAAAA!!” and “HEY! HEY HEY!” and even “HEEE-HAWWWWW!” shouted over and over and over again, echoed throughout the forest and in all of our heads. All species: bald and golden eagles, wolves, moose, grizzly bears, elk, and more – suffer this mad cowboy disease, and there’s not a single cow on the landscape. The agents have been repeatedly hazing wild buffalo out of so-called tolerance areas, where the buffalo – so many of them just hours away from giving birth – are allowed to be.

For multiple days each week, buffalo are repeatedly pushed for miles over dusty roads and fallen trees, without time to graze or even drink water. As has been the DOL and FWP’s tactic this spring, the hazing doesn’t end until the buffalo cross north over the Madison River. Sometimes it doesn’t end there, as agents will follow the buffalo across the river, pushing them towards Horse Butte. These agents assume that the buffalo are going to behave like livestock and stay where they are told. But buffalo don’t adhere to man-made laws or stay on one side or the other of imaginary lines; they follow the power of their ancient instincts. As soon as the agents are gone, the buffalo resume the disrupted journey back to their chosen ground.

Once these Madison Arm Road hazes reach the water’s edge, buffalo immediately dip their heads for a much-needed drink. The edge of the lake is thick with spring mud and the buffalo’s hooves sunk in deep, but as thirsty as they are, even wet earth offers a bit of relief to a parched throat. Bellowing with laughter and cracking jokes, the agents wait at the water’s edge for the buffalo to cross. If the buffalo don’t move fast enough, the bullies break out their shotguns to fire explosive rounds that scare them away. As the video linked below shows, they even stoop to throwing rocks. As the buffalo are forced to move off of their ancestral lands as these mean men laugh it up, congratulating themselves on a job well done, our heads fill with anger, our hearts break, and our resolve strengthens.

BuffaloAhead_BFCseay-1After Monday’s haze, on our way back to our car, we passed through a group of about 100 buffalo, heading west towards the South Fork. We knew that on Tuesday they would likely be hazed.  One young female had birthing material hanging from her, but no calf. Where was the calf? From a radio-collared female we saw, we knew this group had been hazed very recently, and that this forced removal likely caused her to miscarry.

On Tuesday this same group was found along the South Fork and were hazed down the same path again. Wednesday morning, checking the South Fork for buffalo, patrols found one lone and very pregnant female who was likely separated from her family during a previous haze. She is nervous and distraught about being away from the herd. Alone she is extremely vulnerable to hungry wolves and grizzly bears.

Tuesday afternoon it was learned during Monday’s haze, a lone bull buffalo had been shot on Pat Povah’s ranch, where there are currently no cattle. Inquiring with Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, we learned that Povah had been complaining, so FWP contacted a state hunter who did not fill his buffalo tag, and had him come shoot the bull. FWP says they are going to try using this new tactic to “teach” buffalo not to go onto Povah’s property. It’s possible they will allow a bull a week to be shot in this manner.

All these crimes against wild buffalo can end if we repeal MCA 81-2-120, the law that gives the DOL authority over wild bison in the state and classifies them as near vermin in Montana. Right now you can do two very important things to end this war against wild buffalo: 1) Call and email Montana state vet Marty Zaluski (406) 444-2043 /mzaluski@mt.gov and tell him to end the abuse of America’s last wild buffalo and adhere to agreements for tolerance; 2) call and email Governor Bullock 406-444-3111 / governor@mt.gov and urge him to take action to repeal MCA 81-2-120. With this law repealed, the DOL will hold no power over wild buffalo.

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