I was disappointed in the Aug. 14, 2015 Great Falls Tribune article, “Restoring buffalo is an act of healing” by the National Wildlife Federation.
The article claims that “[Original Americans’] lives centered on a close relationship with buffalo for thousands of years.” And yet, it proposes “restoring buffalo in and around the million-acre Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.” I firmly believe that buffalo and Original Americans were part of a vital dual species keystone species complex. Neither species could operate in its old, keystone function without the other. Losing its ecosystem partner would be devastating to the orphaned species. I believe that we saw this in the Original Americans when the bison disappeared, and I also believe that losing their ecosystem partners to small pox and war was the single most critical factor in the near-extinction of the buffalo. To just take bison alone, dump them on the CMR, and assume that abandoned bison will be every bit as healthy as bison that have their evolved ecosystem partners seems to me to be the height of disrespect to those partners. If it is true, and I believe it is, that Original Americans had a “close relationship with buffalo”, then buffalo should be going where there are Original Americans (or other people willing to fulfill that vital role) that can have a close relationship with them, and not into a great, big lake.
Almost half the article emphasizes how Original Americans have no contact with buffalo anymore. I was shocked by this claim. As far as I know, every Montana reservation has its own herd of bison. Certainly all the reservations that I’ve been on have bison… I’ve seen them. Why would the article dwell at such length on the idea that Original Americans can no longer eat buffalo, no longer see buffalo? My little girl can see buffalo belonging to Original Americans, surely their own little girls are able to. What is the purpose of denigrating tribal herds? These are the buffalo for which the “close relationship” yet exists. Isn’t that something that should be celebrated with pride? Montana’s impressive tribal buffalo herds are granted exactly one sentence, “Several Montana tribes already are working to restore buffalo on their lands.”
According to this article, “the ‘No-Action Alternative’ can [not] possibly be considered an option.” Why not? Right now, the tribes are free to own their own herds of bison and manage them in “close relationship”. Selling premium buffalo hunts brings in much needed revenue to the reservation. Giving the state of Montana control over bison would put the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (FWP) in direct competition with Montana’s tribes. And there is absolutely no reason to believe that the bison and their ecosystem would thrive under FWP management; the specters of disease and starvation loom.
Several years ago, I listened with horror as the FWP lawyer testified in court that Montana’s Original Americans cannot be trusted to effectively manage bison and therefore that control must be in the hands of FWP. Listening to that testimony made me feel physically ill. It is with great disappointment that I find the Great Falls Tribune and the National Wildlife Federation skating so very close to that same rhetoric.
Sierra Stoneberg Holt, Ph.D.