Where is the outrage at the indiscriminate slaughtering of bison?

April 30, 2023 4:32 am

A billboard put up in Helena that opposes the slaughter of bison from Yellowstone National Park (Photo courtesy of Alliance for the Wild Rockies).

This winter, tribal members killed more than a thousand bison on public lands after they migrated out of Yellowstone Park, seeking snow-free grazing areas. But most conservation groups remain silent in the face of this butchery.

This slaughter has numerous ecological and evolutionary impacts on wild bison.

The tribal kill selects against those bison who tend to migrate by eliminating them from the population. Tribal slaughter removes biomass from the park that would otherwise support wolves, grizzlies, and other wildlife if they remained in the ecosystem to die from predation or natural causes like starvation. The removal of such many animals exacerbates the impact of past genetic bottlenecks. And the indiscriminate killing is harming bison’s social bonds.

Yellowstone bison are unique. They are among the few bison herds in the West that have largely influenced evolutionary processes like predation, starvation, and other limiting factors.

Despite these ecological and evolutionary impacts to the bison and Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, many conservation groups, including the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Buffalo Field Campaign, Sierra Club, and National Parks and Conservation, among many others, are willing to ignore this bloodbath because the folks slaughtering bison are Native Americans. I can’t help but believe that if white hunters killed more than 1000 bison, these groups would be up in arms over the carnage.

Ironically some of these organizations, like the Buffalo Field Campaign and Western Watersheds Project, support the tribal slaughter of bison, while simultaneously advocating the listing of Yellowstone bison under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

They say they want bison to roam free but say nothing about the “lead” fence blocking migration created by tribal slaughter on Yellowstone’s border.

Tribal members say the buffalo are their brothers. I don’t understand how slaughtering your “brothers” shows respect or concern for their welfare.

Furthermore, tribal slaughter may be illegal.

What one hears from tribal advocates is that “treaty rights” give the tribes’ the authority to kill Yellowstone bison. However, treaty rights are not unlimited. One limit of the treaty right is “ceded lands.”

Treaties are specific about which lands constituted the reservation and what lands were ceded territory. None of the tribes currently killing bison near Gardiner have ceded territories there.

The Gallatin Wildlife Association recently used the Freedom of Information Act to question the Custer Gallatin National Forest assertion that the tribes have treaty rights to kill bison by Gardiner.

Here is the response to the GWA questions.

  • No Executive Orders empowering tribes to hunt were found.
  • No records or statutes other than the treaties that empowers tribes to hunt. (And the treaties specifically outline the “ceded” lands, none of which are found near Gardiner, Montana.)
  • Finally, no records were found that would attempt to “prove” rights to hunt. The agency does not “permit,” “authorize,” or “allow” tribes to hunt on National Forest System lands.

The fact that a federal agency like the Custer-Gallatin National Forest cannot find any documentation that authorizes hunting by the tribes near Yellowstone National Park, suggests that “treaty rights” are limited.

Even if tribal hunting were legal, these same organizations are unwilling to condemn the bison hunt. Even though hunting/trapping wolves is legal in Montana, it hasn’t stopped these organizations from expressing disgust over the wolf kills, but when it comes to the tribes slaughtering bison, there is silence or even support for this tribal-bison bloodbath.

Unfortunately for Yellowstone’s bison, many conservation organizations have been taken over by the Anthropocene Booster mindset, which puts human desires, in this case, tribal hunters, ahead of the ecological, evolutionary and natural rights of wildlife and landscapes.

Protecting, not killing, Yellowstone bison is how to heal our relationship to wildlife and land.

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