- By Stephany Seay
Guest Opinion. It is time for a cease-fire in the so-called buffalo hunts that take place on the western and northern edges of Yellowstone National Park.
Last winter was the worst “hunting” season the buffalo suffered since the 19th century. Winter came early and hard and we witnessed one of the largest migrations into Montana long before Yellowstone was established. No less than 1,175 buffalo were killed — the majority of them were slaughtered in the killing fields of Beattie Gulch in the Gardiner Basin — mostly by tribal hunters. Most of the tribes currently hunting under treaty right actually extended their hunting seasons to take advantage of the situation. It’s bad every year, but last winter Beattie Gulch became a massacre site with gut piles stretching as far as they eye could see, many of them encased baby buffalo who would never see the light of day. A river of blood ran down Beattie Gulch into the Yellowstone River. The hunters ignored the tragedy they had caused, and instead patted themselves on the back for a successful season.
Roam Free Nation, along with our allies at the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Gallatin Wildlife Association, and the Council for Wildlife and Fish, recently sent a letter to Gallatin National Forest Supervisor Mary Erickson, asking her to close Beattie Gulch to bison hunting due to serious concerns for public safety. For Roam Free Nation, i’s much more than that; the well-being of our National Mammal is the gravest concern. The Yellowstone buffalo are currently being considered for Endangered Species Act listing by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, yet in the meantime, nearly every single one gets gunned down after stepping out of the park, so listing can not come fast enough. We know those who “hunt” there will fight us, because they have a sovereign right to kill. But, just because you have a right, doesn’t make it right. Humans have a responsibility and obligation to ensure the viability and evolutionary potential of hunted populations, and all creatures we share this Earth with.
Such is not the case in these so-called hunts.
At the October 2023 Interagency Bison Management Plan meeting, Yellowstone’s head bison biologist, Chris Geremia, warned state, federal, and tribal decision makers — as he has for many years now — against any lethal action in the Hebgen Basin, near West Yellowstone. Why? To attempt some semblance of protection for the imperiled Central herd; the last truly wild, migratory buffalo left in the country. The Northern herd migrates into Montana’s Gardiner Basin; the Central herd migrates into both the Gardiner Basin and Hebgen Basin, meaning they are doubly impacted by mismanagement actions. The Central herd has been in decline for over a decade. Yellowstone biologists continue to warn against hunting in the Hebgen Basin, but these warnings continue to fall on deaf ears. As I write this, already 8 bull buffalo have been taken by state hunters near West Yellowstone. It is a disservice by hunt managers to ignore these warnings, and it is utter disrespect and irresponsibility by hunters to continue to kill. It’s time for hunters to stop doing the dirty work of Montana’s Department of Livestock and their cattle interests.
These killing frenzies are not sustainable. Wild buffalo will never be able to restore themselves so long as there is no restraint by hunters and no enforcement by hunt managers. The buffalo barely have any opportunity to access or express themselves on the meager “tolerance” zones they’ve been granted. A cease-fire is in order to allow them to do just that, then we work together for more buffalo on a much larger landscape.
Stephany Seay is the co-founder of the Montana-based Roam Free Nation, a Native-led organization who works to defend the last wild buffalo and all of wild nature. More information can be found at RoamFreeNation.org.
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