Report from BFC rally in Helena, May 14, 2008
Some of us in Buffalo Allies of Bozeman went over to the State Capitol building in Helena to support Buffalo Field Campaign's rally for the wild buffalo in and near Yellowstone National Park and to protest Governor Brian Schweitzer's part in the largest slaughter of wild buffalo than at any time since the 19th century.
This season to date 1,607 buffalo have been killed, according to Buffalo Field Campaign. As the killing continued, I joined a new group dedicated to providing support for the buffalo. One part of that mission is to provide solidarity to other groups with related missions. As a result, those in our group gladly support Buffalo Field Campaign; a few of us found the time to take the trip to Helena - a town I personally had never before been.
While we were in Helena, hazing of buffalo west of the park had begun. That was among the first topics of conversations among participants. The National Park Service in their press release have promised a "slow haze." As one of the rally participants said, "There's no such thing as a slow haze with a helicopter."
The rally itself was a small affair on a breezy and cloudy day in Helena. Besides hundreds of tombstones in place of the record number killed this winter, there were a couple of banners. One in particular was held by rally participants at the corner of the intersection. Food was provided by Seeds for Peace, and there was a small skit involving the impossibility of interagency juggling of the Interagency Bison Management Plan. A juggler tried repeatedly to juggle six items only to have the items fall to the ground. Participation at the rally was small. Besides the BFC volunteers who were there - most of BFC were in the field monitoring the bison haze - the next largest group was from Bozeman. We met a person from Bozeman who had just found out about our group via the revised press release as it appeared in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle that morning. There were also a couple people from Helena there.
However, because of the location, there was not too much interaction with local people. A few stopped to look or came over to ask questions. From my personal standpoint, the point seemed to be one of spectacle so that a visual image of the death might be put on the Governor's lawn, indeed the lawn of the people of Montana - all of us in a small way culpable for not stopping this embarrassment. If the image provokes, then the action will be a success. I suppose reports like this - whether they are read and seen - will be part of the story of this particular action.
There was a television media person who came at the end of the rally. She was from ABC in Helena and interviewed Joe Gutkoski from our group. Joe traveled with us and is an amazing marvel to me. He has been working on these issues for a very long time, on the front line for the buffalo long before there was a Buffalo Field Campaign. Joe seems to know everyone in Bozeman; more remarkably to me, he knows everything about the land and wildlife along every square inch between Bozeman and Helena. I learned so much from him riding in a car, about river flows, about where dams are, where irrigation is, the history of land and water fights on a particular parcel of land, about the loss of 99% of bighorn sheep this year in the Elkhorns. He was at a meeting early in the morning; later he finished the day at our Buffalo Allies of Bozeman meeting. I hope I can have that much dedication and energy as time goes by.
The rally ended with a kind of comical farce, a trip up to the Governor's office to give Governor Brian Schweitzer (along with Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Suzanne Lewis) a "Buffalo Bill Award" for having killed the most buffalo since any time since the 19th century. We marched into the State Capitol, up the stairs, and into his office to present him the award.
Predictably, Gov. Schweitzer was not in the office. Instead, there was an intern there ready to greet us. The young man admitted that he knew very little about the issue but said that we should all stay in touch, that the governor loves to hear from his constituents, and he had ready a press release that the governor had issued that very day in anticipation of the rally (though one that has not appeared on his Web site as of this report). The scene was rather amusing. Bureaucracy insulates itself putting people on the line not empowered to do anything to deal with people who would like to raise an issue.
At one point, some of the governor's staff peaked in through the doorway. However, they soon scurried back into their office. Instead, it was an intern and buffalo friends engaged in a kind of silly banter. I said aloud that perhaps we should just sit there until he returns, but that wasn't really the plan.
From there, the rally ended. Perhaps, the governor got the message; however, it will take people continuing to let him know how badly he has turned his back from his campaign promises for him to feel the punishment. Schweitzer somehow has overseen a bison slaughter worse than his predecessors; however, he has done it with the gall to pretend that he is making progress on bison management. Buffer zones and split-state status and now the CUT deal all are slick ways to obscure the point - he is not doing anything to stop the killing.
If this rally had some shortcomings in getting the message across, it is only that much more imperative that we do more. It was heartening to see our town represented in Helena; with that, let's do more.