You know those certain people you meet where you cannot stop listening and nodding in agreement with? The ones where their stories are so captivating and genuine that you’re left feeling only inspired and hopeful? Well, Mike Mease, co-founder of the Buffalo Field Campaign in Montana, radiates all of that energy. He went from living in a teepee for twelve and a half years to fighting one of the hardest fights in Montana: the protection and conservation of the wild buffalo.
Being on course with the Wild Rockies Field Institute, we have studied cases so complex and diverse that it is difficult to even find simple groundwork for restoration. Large issues like pika, whitebark pine, and arctic grayling decline, and the Superfund site in Butte, can all be overwhelming to say the least. To add to it all, Mike enlightened us on the hazing that occurs along buffalo migration routes. In Yellowstone National Park, the wild buffalo are ‘safe’ with no hunting or extreme development. However, the buffalo like to give birth near the Hebgen Lake—which is outside the park. In this area, the wind is so strong that it blows away the snow providing more fresh grass. So, around mid to late March, large mixed groups, many being pregnant females, move toward the Horse Butte Peninsula.
We traveled up miles of dusty and windy roads to get one of the highest views of the Peninsula. It was pure sunshine with large gusts of winds swaying the endless wildflowers. I tried to imagine watching the powerful and iconic buffalo move in synch across the land safely and peacefully. Yet, Mike painted us an entirely differently picture.
During their migration, the Department of Livestock come in with hell-roaring ATVs, helicopters and horses that chase and haze the animals back into the park for countless hours. Additionally they take numerous buffalo and slaughter them when they are unable to haze them back into the park. WHY? All to protect the cattle. Cattle are susceptible to the disease Brucellosis that many buffalo have. In fear of this disease disrupting the large beef industry, the department believes that the cattle have grazing rights. How could we possibly choose which species have more value? Or how can we not come to an agreement of coexistence?
Mike has been working for eighteen years on this complex and challenging issue. Though the depressing hazing has been continuous, he stands his ground in believing in these animals. He enthusiastically explained that his campaign strives towards ending this hazing operation. With motivation, toughness and long, cold hours, his team videotapes the Department of Livestock in action to gather more media hype and awareness around the issue. Mike emphasized that these animals deserve to be truly wild. More than anything, he expressed such genuine respect for the buffalo. They’re incredibly family-oriented animals whom demonstrate compassion and love. We have so much to learn and consider from the largest animal left in North America. Here are some great lessons from Mike and the buffalo!
Realize that we’re all in this together. Draw strength from others.
Bison herds range in size and are ordered in intricate social structures. Members form strong bonds with each other.
Love your mother.
Offspring may remain with mom for as long as three years after birth.
Protect the children.
Calves go in the center of the circle.
Care for your home, the Earth. Leave it better than you found it.
Bison move continuously as they feed, rarely overgrazing an area, unlike cattle. Their hooves till and compact the soil, to which they add beneficial fertilizer.
Remember to have fun!
Bison are gregarious, social creatures. At one month old, calves form play groups!
We had the honor of visiting the Buffalo Field Campaign headquarters. The campaign survives through an immense amount of community support and ambitious volunteers. If you choose to volunteer at BFC, you are clothed, fed and sheltered for your efforts in saving the buffalo. The environment was enough to convince me! Alongside his teepee that he once lived in, Mike has his office and the bunkhouse built on a beautiful piece of land with big skies and astonishing acres of wilderness. Alongside their headquarters are quaint cabins where staff reside. How could you not want to volunteer? Mike believes in dreams and vision; he wanted to create a place that enables creativity and passion. With a focus on community strength, everyone’s voice is considered and respected, which is exactly what the BFC wants for the buffalo as well!
Maybe Mike is some hopeful activist who wants love and respect for all. But regardless of the fight you are fighting for, he encouraged us to find our own personal passion that is worth living for. His charisma and sincerity reflected on all of us out here and inspired us to live out our dream no matter what direction it may be in. Even with the large scale of buffalo harm, and years of little progress, Mike will not give up. He sent us on with a jolly hug and a hopeful, “we are the change we want to see.”
For more information and to learn how you help protect America’s last wild buffalo, contact them at: