Friday, June 29, 2007

Saving America's Symbols: The Bison

I said I was going to write it, so here it is.Thanks to my fancy new newsreel, I learned of the release of a new book about the beginning of the conservation effort for the American Bison, back in Teddy Roosevelt's day, and it reminded me that I had planned to write this article.
Like the American Mustang, the Bison or Buffalo can be considered one of the founding creatures of our Nation. The constant migration of massive herds of Buffalo, and by massive I mean 30 million of the beasts, kept our great plains open and grassy, thwarting the encroachment of brush and trees. Entire cultures existed because of the Buffalo, Native Americans following the herds, hunting for what meat and hides they needed, and revering the Buffalo as they should, as a giver of life. Then, in the early-mid 1800's American settlers and trophy hunters from Europe began moving further west from the Mississippi. Buffalo were coveted for their hides and tongues, maybe their liver. The rest was left to rot. As the wholesale slaughter of Buffalo continued throughout that century (in the early days the herds were so thick you could shoot animals from a passing train) cultures and ecosystems began to suffer. Wolves, bears and mountain lions, while also coveted for their hides were also seen as competition for the elk and buffalo, and slaughtered. As more people came west and more of their life giving buffalo were taken, the great plains tribes came in to further and further conflict with settlers. By the turn of the century there were reportedly less than 30 buffalo left in Yellowstone National Park. Thats one MILLIONTH the number the great plains originally supported.
Today the American Bison continues to live under seige. While the Yellowstone population is up to a healthy 4000 animals, and South Dakota's Custer State Park holds 1,500, some of these buffalo are virtual prisoners in their supposed sanctuary. By nature the buffalo is a wanderer. This is how 30 million of them could be sustained by our American prairies. They are constantly moving to new grazing, rarely overgrazing an area. However, in Yellowstone National Park they can be rounded up and/or shot if they wander outside the park's three and a half thousand square miles. Speculation that the buffalo carry cattle diseases has ranchers in the northwest states up in arms and prepared to shoot the beasts on sight. My first response to this would be: "Don't you vaccinate your cows, man?" Furthermore, studies have shown that elk also carry the diseases, and elk are not restricted. No case of a buffalo transmitting the disease to cattle has ever been cited, and buffalo seem to naturally prefer not to mingle much with cattle. To me it seems like these animals are not 'living free' within our National Parks, but are being contained as a tourist attraction in a no-touch visual petting zoo. Animals of such dignity deserve better treatment than that.
I shall now descend from my high-horse (Really, he's 16.1!) and leave you with some links to information on buffalo and how you can help save them once again from the thoughtless and selfish actions of mankind. (So glad I'm a woman!)

Defenders Bison Page: Send letters to Congressmen urging them to stop the hazing, containment and slaughter of buffalo.

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