Buffalo Field Campaign: Yellowstone Turns a Blind Eye to the Sacred, Facilitates Genocide
It’s just below zero as we trek through freshly fallen snow on an unusually windless early morning, in the high hills above the Gardiner Basin. Taking advantage of the calm air that won’t rock our scopes and cameras, our patrol is on the way to a lookout spot high above Yellowstone’s Stephens Creek buffalo trap. The trap is miles away. The spot we’re at is one of the few places that we can see even a far-away glimpse into the industrial size monstrosity that has entrapped more than 450 of the gentle giants in the past couple of weeks. Yellowstone initiates a massive seven-mile public closure around their trap, obviously wanting to hide the horrible things they are doing to this sacred species, our national mammal. On our way to the lookout, our footsteps squeaking through the freezing cold snow, one of our crew shouts out, “wolves!” We all stop dead in our tracks. To the south of us, we can hear them, the beautiful, haunting serenade of a wolf pack, singing blessing songs to the morning, or, more like mourning songs to the travesty unfolding before us. The wolves know. We get to the lookout spot and it’s as bad as we thought: hundreds of buffalo in the trap, huddled together, eating hay rations, trapped on death row. Four park wranglers on horseback, and a white SUV are coming into the northernmost paddock of the trap which holds approximately 60 of the country’s last wild buffalo. This paddock is the veritable end of the line before the buffalo go in even deeper, to places they will never return from.
“Genocide,” our Blackfeet brother says. We nod in agreement. The U.S. Government continues the systematic destruction of the sacred buffalo, and for the same reasons, too. Only, these days, instead of Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill Cody, they call it “management” and the killers are the so-called guys in green: Yellowstone National Park. Donning buffalo on their uniform badges, they are the very ones who are obligated to protect the buffalo — the buffalo who are the main reason this park even exists, that people even come here. These “caretakers” are facilitating all of the trapping and most of the killing. As we watch through our scopes and binoculars, eyes teary from the blistering cold, or the pain in our hearts, the wranglers go in for the attack. It’s just another day in the park. Frantic, the sixty buffalo run away from the wranglers, but the only path open to them is the dark corridor that leads into the labyrinth of the trap, towards the bull pen and the squeeze chute, towards the end of freedom and family, into the tiny holding pens where they will spend their last hours in feces and fear, before being loaded onto livestock trailers headed for the slaughter house. The mournful howling continues. The wolves know. We join in.