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Under continued pressure from Montana livestock interests, Yellowstone National Park is sending hundreds of America's last wild buffalo—the National Mammal of the U.S.—to slaughter.
By Stephany Seay
Last week's report and photos about what we, and the buffalo, experienced during the two-day media tour of Yellowstone's bison trap could barely scratch the surface of the horrible things we witnessed. This video footage will bring you much closer.
On March 8 and March 9, Yellowstone National Park organized a media tour of their Stephens Creek bison trap, where 150 wild buffalo were being held captive for slaughter and potentially quarantine. All of what you see taking place here is paid for with your federal tax dollars. Some of the footage was shot by Buffalo Field Campaign's Mike Mease and some was captured by the park service's GoPro cameras.
One hundred fifty of America's last wild buffalo were run through the gauntlet of Yellowstone's Stephens Creek capture facility; 93 buffalo were shipped to slaughter by the InterTribal Buffalo Council and the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes, both of which are signatories to the Interagency Bison Management Plan. Another 57 buffalo—all orphaned calves and yearlings—are still being held in the trap.
Every person working at the trap is employed by Yellowstone National Park. The Montana Department of Livestock has Yellowstone trained so well, that the department isn't even present except when escorting buffalo to the slaughterhouses. These acts by Yellowstone National Park are horrific and criminal. There should not even be such a facility inside the world's first national park, much less anywhere else. There is no justification for the park service to commit these atrocities.
Yellowstone justifies its actions under the banner of the Interagency Bison Management Plan, which it could pull out of anytime. They may face a lawsuit by livestock interests if they did so, but, so what? So much new information has come to light, so much change has come to the landscape and such a groundswell of public support has emerged for wild, migratory buffalo, that a lawsuit might be hugely beneficial. The callous behavior of Yellowstone park rangers and biologists who are harming the buffalo reveals the gross disconnect that these people have from the sacred beings whom they are charged with protecting, and how wantonly they are willing to betray, not only their mission, but the sacred buffalo that the whole world expects them to protect.
WARNING: This video will break your heart. After watching it, you'll want to do something. Here are a few suggestions: Share this video with everyone you know, send it to your local and regional media, and share it with the White House and your members of Congress. Tell them to visit Buffalo Field Campaign to learn more.
Many thanks to the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the rest of our stellar legal team who made this media tour possible by representing journalist Christopher Ketcham and me in a lawsuit to gain full access to the trap. Showing the world even this brief glimpse of what Yellowstone is doing to the beloved buffalo—in service of Montana cattle ranchers—will bring us that much closer to putting an end to this madness, and bringing this trap down.
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By Stephany Seay
Addressing our relationship with the buffalo, Buffalo Field Campaign co-founder Lakota Elder Rosalie Littler Thunder once said, “human beings have forgotten their purpose." Indeed, those who work for Yellowstone National Park have certainly forgotten theirs: to preserve [wild buffalo], unimpaired, for present and future generations."
One hundred and fifty of America's last wild buffalo were certainly "impaired" this week, having endured the hells of Yellowstone's Stephens Creek capture facility. For some, this nightmare journey is still underway.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, in response to a public access lawsuit, Yellowstone National Park granted a media tour of their Stephens Creek trap. Mike Mease and I attended on behalf of the Buffalo Field Campaign. What we saw will give us nightmares, but it is critical for us to be here to get a brief glimpse of what goes on in this area Yellowstone hides from the public.
Captive buffalo were run through the gauntlet of a fortified livestock corral, “worked" in a squeeze chute called the “Silencer," where their blood was drawn, their teeth were checked for age and where they were weighed, tagged and “released" to flee down a long, dusty corridor where they were separated by age and sex and forever torn from their families. As you read this they are in the process of being shipped to slaughter.
Tuesday morning, beginning at the break of dawn, 75 frightened and confused wild buffalo were run through this house of horrors; early Wednesday morning 30 female buffalo from this group were crammed onto two livestock trailers hired by the InterTribal Buffalo Council and shipped to the slaughterhouse. Later that same morning, the remaining 75 buffalo endured the same mistreatment. On Thursday morning, 63 more buffalo went to slaughter, with another 75 calves and yearlings are being held “just in case" Yellowstone's 50 bison quarantine plan is approved.
The noise in the trap was deafening. Buffalo were slamming against the walls, ramming into each other and bellowing in fear or to find family members. The sounds they made with their voices and their bodies took over everything. They were crammed into the trap's “bull pen," where park wranglers on catwalks—silent for the media tour, but normally "yipping" and hollering—jabbed and prodded them from above, forcing them to move to desired locations and where pushed into "the Silencer."
This squeeze chute is Yellowstone's new machine which they claim to be more humane, but tell that to the wee calf we saw who had both of her horns broken off in that “kinder, gentler" apparatus. Every buffalo put up the fight of their lives, like the warriors they are. The little calves gave extra effort to escape with tenacious determination. They would jump, buck, thrust, kick and rear up, trying everything they could to break free. But they can't. Sometimes they would jump too far, too fast and the squeeze chute would close on their mid section or their horns. They were so scared and tried so hard to get out. Their tails were curled into “nines"—the most unmistakable sign that a buffalo is in serious distress.
on Wednesday morning by the InterTribal Buffalo Council. Approximately seventy more will suffer the same fate this morning. Photos credit: Stephany Seay / Buffalo Field Campaign.
From the squeeze chute, they were funneled down a corridor and into a sorting pen where they joined others of the same age and/or sex. During the media tour, we were only allowed up on the catwalks one at a time, briefly. We were only allowed to see into two of the sorting pens, though there were many more. Of the two we saw, the buffalo were looking up at us, as if asking why? What did I do wrong? Where's my mom? Where's my baby?
Through tears and promises, Mike and I talked to them. We told them we loved them, that not all humans are so mindless and cruel, that we and many others are fighting and praying for them. It was awful. They were banging around, running in circles, standing there looking forlorn. All we could do for them was document, promise their story would be told in our never-ending effort to cease this slaughter once and for all.
Our hearts are bruised and broken and what little we were allowed to see showed how important it is for us to get full access. This media tour was a token gesture, a mockery of real access.
To make a false impression on the media and members of the public, the park service trap wanglers tapered their vulgar behavior, which we know from years of viewing and hearing activities at the trap from over a mile away is thick with cowboy culture. The park rangers, biologists and other employees hid their humanity. The buffalo were just objects moving through a process. They showed neither emotion, relationship with the buffalo, nor remorse for the atrocities they were committing.
And how could they? If they let themselves feel, they would not be able to do what they do to these sacred beings. It was a well-oiled government buffalo slaughtering machine. What we were shown was not the truth of how these capture operations take place when out of public view. They had their behavior in check as they put on a show for the media. But the buffalo are honest. They were the only ones telling the truth as the park service shelved compassion and spun their lies to serve industry and intolerance. The audio coming from the buffalo, imprisoned and violated in the trap, was the stuff of nightmares. No matter how well park employees talk themselves into thinking what they are doing is beneficial, the buffalo tell a different truth. Their lives are as important to them as yours or mine is to us.
We will be haunted forever by this experience, but our pain is nothing compared to what the buffalo are going through. There is no such thing as “humanely" trapping, tormenting, tearing families apart and shipping buffalo to slaughter. Science does not supports this. Public opinion doesn't support this. The park's own mission and mandate runs contrary to these cruel and unnecessary actions.
But this will not last. The trap walls will come down.
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[Editor's note: For an update on this story, click here.]
Park rangers have begun capturing wild bison in the Stephens Creek trap within Yellowstone National Park. Since Feb. 20, approximately 150 of America's last wild buffalo have been trapped. According to park officials, all are destined for slaughter.
"Yellowstone's slaughter of wild bison is as lacking in scientific reason as it is in public support," said Buffalo Field Campaign's Stephany Seay.
The National Park Service claims that they are reducing the wild bison population due to the threat of brucellosis, a livestock disease originally brought to North America by Eurasian cattle. There has never been a documented case of wild bison transmitting brucellosis to livestock. Elk, who also carry brucellosis and have transmitted the disease to livestock numerous times in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, are free to migrate from Yellowstone and are managed by hunting based on sustainable populations in available habitat in Montana.
Buffalo Field Campaign habitat coordinator Darrell Geist says the state of Montana and Yellowstone National Park refuse to manage wild buffalo like wild elk, an alternative that would put the government out of the buffalo capture for slaughter business.
"Montana is blessed with an abundance of public lands but cursed by a statute that stands in the way of managing migratory buffalo as a wildlife species," said Geist. “Few people know that MCA 81-2-120 is almost entirely funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to back Department of Livestock management of wild buffalo. Without American taxpayer funding, Montana and Yellowstone National Park would have to changes their ways."
Yellowstone and the other Interagency Bison Management Plan (IMBP) partners have stated that they want up to 900 wild bison killed this year. More than 400 have already been killed by hunters. The agencies aim to kill hundreds of wild bison every year until they drive the population—now estimated at 4,400—down to just 3,000 animals. This population target is a result of livestock industry pressure to address unfounded brucellosis fears and Yellowstone's false premise that there are “surplus" wild bison.
Buffalo Field Campaign executive director Dan Brister questions the faulty science that Yellowstone and IBMP partners are operating under.
"There is no such thing as 'surplus' wild bison," said Brister. "Yellowstone's target population cap of 3,000 animals is nothing more than a politically derived number that has nothing to do with carrying capacity."
Yellowstone's capture for slaughter operations adversely impact the wild population's natural immunity to introduced diseases, including brucellosis and increases the risk of more virulent and persistent strains arising in the wild population. Cumulative impacts of management actions pose a significant threat to the viability of wild buffalo remaining in Yellowstone.
Under the voluntarily agreed to IBMP, Yellowstone National Park and the other IBMP agencies continue to operate under faulty assumptions and outdated information, in contravention of the agency's mandate to use the best available science to inform decision makers and the public.
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