When I was sixteen, my family took a road trip to Yellowstone National Park. I watched in awe at the herds of bison roaming the fields and creating traffic jams in the roads.I didn’t realize that six years later i’d return, not as a visitor, but as an organizer for the Sierra Club, working as a bison advocate. I moved to Bozeman, MT mid-April, from San Diego, CA. In the past month-and-half I’ve been here, I’ve visited the Park a few times. And each time i’m greeted by bison, and their bison calves feeding, playing, and sleeping.
To a Park visitor, bison represent iconic wildlife to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem; but to some southwest Montana residents, bison represent the contentious politics of the region. Such contention of this magnificent creature has led to the federal and state agency slaughter and hazing of bison, with hundreds killed each year. Even helicopters are used to chase the bison back into the Park. Before I started working here, I never knew any of this. My ignorance led me to believe that of course the bison must be protected. After all, they do live in Yellowstone National Park, and what’s more protected than a national park? And I don’t think i’m alone in this line of thinking.
And while this issue has been nationalized in the past, the bison fight has gone on for too long. I find that many people are tired of hearing about bison and frustrated by the inaction and lack of state leadership. The deeper you dig into the politics and history of bison management in the region, the more twisted and counter-intuitive it all gets.
A couple weeks ago I attended a Board of Livestock meeting. At this meeting, the Board was supposed to vote on expanded bison habitat, with a “compromise” of a decreased number of bison. Instead, they chose to indefinitely postpone the vote. The livestock industry representatives bashed on bison with complete hatred, and fear, for the animal.
Despite this, there’s been progress. The proposal for expanded habitat only arose because of a citizens working group that achieved what was thought to be impossible – consensus base recommendations. The group consisted of both wildlife advocates, and representatives from the Stockgrowers Association. Furthermore, we are working with other NGOs on a coexistence fencing project to build bison tolerance with landowners surrounding the Park. And after the Board’s vote, Governor Bullock mandated that the hazing of bison can occur on private property only if there’s landowner permission.
And this is where we are. It’s 2014, with new science and knowledge surrounding brucellosis and bison, but with an outdated law and an outdated Board of Livestock. To the Park visitor this summer, I hope you respect the bison’s boundaries, and understand that after enduring a harsh winter, they have to endure a harsh haze back into the Park. To the local residents, I hope you join me, and others, in building bison tolerance, in raising awareness, and in advocating for expanded bison habitat. Just because the Board of Livestock remains inactive, doesn’t mean that we have to. Call Governor Bullock TODAY at (406) 444-3111. Urge him to take strong leadership on expanded bison habitat.
Stay tuned for future posts of this bison installment.
Kiersten Iwai is the Sierra Club’s GYE campaign’s newest organizer. Questions, comments, want to help out? Contact her at email@example.com.