Javascript Menu by Deluxe-Menu.com Jim's Eclectic World: February 2009


Welcome to
The
Magic of Yellowstone
A little bit of
Wonderland


Jim's Eclectic World

My Photo
Name:
Location: Bozeman, MT, United States

Hi, my name is Jim Macdonald, and I have an odd assortment of interests. In no particular order, I love Yellowstone, I am an anti-authoritarian activist and organizer, and I have a background in philosophy, having taught at the college level. My blog has a lot more links to my writing and my other Web sites. In Jim's Eclectic World, I try to give a holistic view of my many interests. Often, all three passions show themselves interweaving in the very same blog. Anyhow, I think it's a little different. But, that's me. I'm not so much out there, but taken together, I'm a little unusual.

(or other places to find my writings from the mundane to the supermundane)
  • The Magic of Yellowstone
  • A sample of Jim's writings
  • Buffalo Allies of Bozeman
  • June 2005
  • July 2005
  • August 2005
  • September 2005
  • October 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • August 2008
  • October 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • July 2009
  • September 2009
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • November 2011
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • Powered by Blogger

    Subscribe to
    Posts [Atom]

    FeedWind

    Monday, February 23, 2009

    What it was like to volunteer with Buffalo Field Campaign

    A small group of us with Buffalo Allies of Bozeman went down to volunteer with Buffalo Field Campaign on Saturday. I'm going to share a little here so that you know how easy it is to do and how much fun besides.

    Buffalo Field Campaign lives west of the park near Hebgen Lake and is mostly comprised of volunteers, a number of whom spend November through May looking out for the bison populations roaming out of Yellowstone. Because buffalo that leave Yellowstone are not generally tolerated by the state of Montana and have been subject to killing and hazing (or forced movement) in large numbers, Buffalo Field Campaign was founded to stand up for the wild buffalo of Yellowstone. Their primary focus is media and outreach, documenting what happens to the buffalo and educating the public at large in the hopes that the slaughter stops and that buffalo are respected and treated as wildlife, i.e., without being forced to stop at the arbitrary boundary of Yellowstone National Park. Buffalo Field Campaign was founded in the winter of 1996-1997, during one of the worst buffalo slaughters on record.

    Our group, Buffalo Allies of Bozeman, was founded by a small group of us in Spring 2008 during the worst slaughter of wild buffalo since the 19th century, and we were founded in large part to serve as a locally-based support group for other activists, including and especially Buffalo Field Campaign, working on the buffalo issue. We are in part here to help with the needs of other groups working on the buffalo issue.

    One goal that I have always had is to empower local people to take action on behalf of the buffalo. From my years in the anti-war movement, I became convinced that local movements have the greatest power to bring about change and are the most sustainable. Whereas national organizing can bring an issue to large numbers of people, often the participation is passive. People think that action amounts to signing petitions and giving money, but no one is expected to put their heart and soul into it. So, when I lived in Washington, DC, I did not know how you could be an anti-war activist and not take action with the oppressed communities in your locality. We spent a lot of time in our activism not simply marching but also serving the homeless community; we spent time trying to understand how militarism affected our neighborhoods. Being in Gallatin County, Montana, we are drawn necessarily to our environment, to what lives in our environment, and one crucial part of that is the buffalo.

    The point I am trying to make is that Buffalo Field Campaign has often depended on volunteers from across the country and across the world, sometimes from across Montana, but the Gallatin Valley has not always been a ready participant in buffalo activism. Bozeman has the reputation of a sleepy town of recreational enthusiasts and college students but certainly not social and environmental activists. However, if I am right about the ultimate need for local empowerment to local causes, then the success of the movement for wild buffalo will depend a lot on our success in Bozeman, the largest population center close to the wild buffalo migrating from Yellowstone National Park.

    That's why we organized a number of us to go down to Buffalo Field Campaign to ski and look for buffalo.

    This winter, only two buffalo have been killed. One was a buffalo in Idaho back in the fall; the other was killed on the first day of Montana's bison hunt in November. Outside of that, bison have simply not left the park and have not really come close. Two hypotheses have been offered: 1) Last year's record kill have left fewer bison to leave the park; 2) The mild winter has left grass plentiful and easily accessible within the park.

    Nevertheless, we felt it important to go down to Buffalo Field Campaign anyhow because we want to build a base of people who can be volunteers that can be called on when necessary. We also want this base of volunteers to be able to educate the general public here in Bozeman about what it's like in the field with buffalo and how people can take action on their behalf. Before this fall, none of us who went down on Saturday could have told you much of anything about what it was like or how to take action. Now, we feel we understand enough that we could hold our own workshops to let people know what it is like. In fact, on December 6, we did just that, after Mark from our group (whose picture you see) took the first steps for us.

    Volunteering with Buffalo Field Campaign is a lot of fun. At the very least, it's a ski trip into the Yellowstone borderlands in the world's most beautiful place. Saturday was quite sunny, and the snow was pristine, fields of white going on forever.

    When you volunteer with Buffalo Field Campaign, they like to know when you are coming to give them a heads up of what to expect. When you arrive, one of the volunteers will give you a tour of their grounds and how they operate, and you are bound to meet several people. There are usually somewhere between 10 and 30 volunteers living there from anywhere ranging from days to months. It's quite an operation and worth seeing. A lot of camp life obviously involves keeping the camp going. Every day, meals have to be prepared, grounds have to be cleaned, there are maintenance chores. If you come to Buffalo Field Campaign and have a particular skill - like say, fixing cars - you will find something to do that does not involve going out into the field with buffalo. Whatever skill you have - whether you think it's relevant or not - Buffalo Field Campaign can probably find a use for it.

    However, a great many people coming down want to go into the field. Before that happens, you have to understand what the campaign does and what its tactics are. As I mentioned, Buffalo Field Campaign is primarily a media campaign. When crews go out into the field, they take with them video cameras and radios in order to record and report what is happening. The campaign is nonviolent and nonconfrontational; they are there to document. If people want to take other kinds of actions - like for instance, setting up a blockade to stop a Montana Department of Livestock agent from reaching a buffalo - that is something you will do on your own. Actually, Buffalo Allies of Bozeman would support you - talk with us! - but is not what the campaign does when they are in the field.

    When you are ready to go into the field, and assuming there is snow on the ground like we had, Buffalo Field Campaign has you covered. I had my own set of boots and skis and was ready to go, but some in our group needed boots and skis. They'll do their best to set you up, though the truth is that they could use more bindings, boots, and even skis. One of our group repeatedly had an issue with his boots coming out of the bindings. One thing we can do in Bozeman is to provide ski equipment to BFC. However, if you don't have skis, that should not stop you. And, if you have never skied, that shouldn't stop you, either! One person in our group had only skied once while another hadn't skied since childhood, and yet within no time they were on their skis moving forward. There are patrols to flat areas, as well as very hilly areas, and what's more, you will always be paired with an experienced Buffalo Field Campaign volunteer.

    If the snow isn't good, people snowshoe. If there's no snow, they hike. Patrols on the west side of the park go along the Madison River at the park boundary, to lowlands near the Department of Livestock's Duck Creek trap, as well as to high overlooks like Sandy Butte. In our case, we went to the top of Sandy Butte, from which you can see the entire Madison valley inside the park. Sandy Butte is quite high, and though none of us were especially experienced skiers, most of us made it up. There we saw about four (perhaps, as many as six) buffalo, all of them small dots on the landscape, the largest small dot below us on Duck Creek, still about two miles from the park boundary. Apparently, buffalo have made it repeatedly to that spot without daring to venture closer to the park boundary. Though the buffalo weren't near, we were encouraged by seeing any at all, especially from such a stunning point.

    In the nearby distance, we heard the roar of snowmobiles, sounding like the Daytona 500 or a plague of locusts. It was quite a contrast in worlds and cultures, separated by the well marked park boundary.

    In any event, we had a blast on skis and returned to camp. When you return, you will be encouraged to stay for dinner, which they will provide. Dinners generally consist of vegan, vegetarian, and wild game alternatives. There's always plenty to eat. Before or just after dinner, every night, the group has a meeting, where they share their patrols and make sure that volunteers cover the tasks for the next day. People will be encouraged to share their experiences on the patrols and be part of whatever decisions need to be made at the meeting.

    Obviously, Buffalo Field Campaign would like people to stay the night and continue to volunteer. But, just as obvious, people in Bozeman much more often than not will need to return to their homes. However, each time you return, each time the people and places become more familiar to you, the more useful you will become as a volunteer. At this point, we in Buffalo Allies are mostly just tourists on skis, but we are getting information and experience that will continue to help us help Buffalo Field Campaign and the buffalo.

    I can say very sincerely that this is a very delightful experience that people should be encouraged to have. If someone wants to go up next week, we might be willing to go with you. And, if by chance we can't, we could tell you everything and set you up with the volunteer coordinators.

    In the spring, the buffalo will come out of the park to calve. They are likely to face troubles then, especially if they are in no hurry to return to the park. We can do something about this and be a positive force for the buffalo and a steady source of solidarity for Buffalo Field Campaign. Please consider joining us as we work to make that happen.

    Thursday, February 05, 2009

    Bison bill defeated in Montana, but what's the strategy?

    Montana House Bill 253 - the Montana Wild Buffalo Recovery and Conservation Act of 2009 - went down to defeat 10 - 8 on Thursday in the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee.

    What I am going to say now represents my views on this and does not necessarily reflect the views of anyone else in my group, Buffalo Allies of Bozeman. In fact, I suspect my views will go beyond most of the members of the group.

    I am having a lot of trouble understanding what the strategic purpose has been in pushing a bill that most people have acknowledged was likely to be defeated. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into this bill, especially by members of the Gallatin Wildlife Association, much like the blood, sweat, and tears they put into a similarly defeated effort in 2005. Back in June, Rep. Mike Phillips, who drafted and shepherded the bill, said very clearly at a forum that there was almost no chance of this passing if both Gov. Schweitzer and Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) did not support the bill. And, they didn't. Officially, they stayed silent, but they were against the bill. The Governor's policy advisor, Hal Harper, and FWP's Pat Flowers made their views known to activists before this ever went to committee.

    And, what do you know? It went down to defeat in committee. Imagine that; almost everyone knew it would fail, and it did.

    I believe in a diversity of strategies and tactics. If you can get a win in the state legislature, go for it. I'll be glad to help, even if I have very little interest in pursuing these tactics. However, what's the strategy here? Does anyone plan to hold anyone accountable? Republican representative Ted Washburn supposedly supported the bill and wound up voting against it. Is anyone going to call him out? Or, are people naive enough to think that if they are just a little more persuasive that people will change their votes?

    The problem for me always with using the legislature as a tactic is that it's liberal and reformist. It pretends that the system can be used to correct the abuses of symptoms in our society that are wrong. And, while it may be the case that occasionally you can treat a symptom, what really ever gets changed? What's wrong with Yellowstone, with buffalo, with everything in this region is not merely a symptomatic problem, a problem of just fixing this and adjusting that. Even if this bill had passed, we would still need to ask ourselves, what next? Like the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) that we decry as unworkable so too is the way the system functions.

    The fact is that Montana politics is dominated by the livestock industry, an industry that might economically be responsible for only 1% of GDP but has an outsized presence in the political power of the state. You don't negotiate with a fundamentally irrational power or pretend that it's just a matter of winning an argument. You have to fight a different fight. It's like a bantamweight taking on a heavyweight. You don't fight like that on their turf and on their grounds. And, if anywhere is their grounds in Montana, it's in the political establishment.

    The misguided idea has been that if you got wildlife advocates, environmentalists, other property owners, and sportsmen together, maybe you can politically overwhelm the livestock interests. Nope; you can outnumber them 4 to 1 in a committee hearing, you can win in the newspapers, but you won't win in Helena.

    HB 253 was a tame bill; it didn't do much. The IBMP would have still held sway. All it would have done is alleviate an incoherence in Montana law where wildlife were managed by a livestock department, while allowing property owners to determine whether they wanted bison on their property. They would have been allowed to call in the Department of Livestock to deal with problems; however, all of that might have been moot anyhow under the IBMP (it might have been for a court to decide). It was worth supporting as a tactical victory toward a larger aim except we all knew it didn't have a chance of passing no matter how many hours spent trying to get it passed.

    So, what is the strategy? I am going to find out, and I want to see what the Gallatin Wildlife Association has in mind. It's not enough that the issue is in the public dialogue unless there's a way to thrust that dialogue into further action.

    If there was one thing that happened was that a lot of pro bison groups that haven't been getting along that well got behind this bill in a way they didn't four years ago. If this is an exercise in movement building, that's great. But, then, I have trouble understanding why anyone is pretending that action in the legislature is the best means toward that end? Is it just the culture of the groups involved? That's what they do? I'd be fine with that answer so long as no one is pretending that the bison situation actually will be solved simply by passing a law. Because, it won't. This is a very long struggle that depends on a lot more changing.

    I believe we need to learn to embrace different tactics alongside this one. If we don't, this sorry story will just keep repeating itself until no one cares anymore.

    By writing so harshly, I don't mean to put down the efforts of those who pushed this bill. In fact, I admire them very much. I truly just want to know what's next, and if that hasn't been thought about, then we all had better start.