Buffalo Soldiers

By on June 22, 2011

Editor’s note: The online version of this article has been edited and expanded from previous versions of this story.

A herd of buffalo, numbering in the hundreds, some of the approximately 3,500 remaining genetically pure, perpetually wild Bison bison in North America, pours over the green knolls of Cougar Meadows from the northwest. A gang of riders on horseback, whooping and shouting, pushes the herd down a dimple between two hills and up another knoll. The riders wear cowboy boots and cowboy hats and they carry side arms and Tazers. Several are wearing the tan, pinched felt hats that crown the National Park Service’s uniform. The riders had driven the bison since morning, across 15 miles of forested terrain. The day was winding down.

We had hiked to Cougar Meadows, seven miles inside Yellowstone National Park’s western border, hours ago, and the three of us settled onto a long dead tree lying atop the knoll to await the arrival of the herd and the 15 riders chasing it. Mike Mease positioned his digital video camera and tripod on the hill’s crest, pointing it to the northwest. A stocky, jovial man with soft green eyes, brown and grey hair down to his shoulders, and a full beard, he hoped to catch just this moment: the buffalo’s arrival at Cougar Meadows. It’s a scene he’s filmed in more years past than he’d like to concede.

Elizabeth Robertson, a young, wayward artist who was normally soft-spoken, stands with us, glaring at the riders. She’s wearing buffalo-tooth earrings and a canvas skirt, both of which she fashioned herself. Mease has the camera running as the buffalo stumble uphill through a mess of fallen trees, the riders never more than a few steps behind. One of them commands us to move closer to a nearby stand of young lodge pole pines. Mease agrees, begrudgingly, but tempers flare quickly.
“You should be ashamed of yourselves. You’re disgusting,” Robertson hisses at the riders, though it’s doubtful they can hear her: they are dozens of yards away, over open ground, with the wind blowing.

A rider hollers at us: “You, on the hill! Move! Now!”

“He just told us to go to the timber, so shut up,” Mease shouts back, his eyes squinting with outrage.

When the herd mounts the knoll, a dozen feet and mounted government agents are all that separate us from the shaggy, sleepy-eyed animals. The air becomes thick with the musky scent of their dung and urine.

“Do you enjoy your job torturing wildlife?” Robertson asks a rider walking by on his mount. “Is this why you became a park ranger? So you could herd wild animals off their habitat? How do you sleep at night?”

The rider gives no response. He doesn’t even look at her.

The riders gather and then walk their horses west across the rolling fields, towards the northern bank of the Madison River as the buffalo graze in silence, Robertson seethes with indignation and Mease packs up his camera.

Opposites attract
Every spring, since 1996, employees of Montana’s Department of Livestock, its Fish, Wildlife and Parks agency and several federal agencies “haze” hundreds of Yellowstone buffalo that exit into southwestern Montana during the winter back into the park. Hazing is part of the Interagency Bison Management Plan, a coalition of agencies formed to protect Montana’s cattle from potentially catching the disease brucellosis from bison. The Park Service says hazing protects bison by moving them from somewhere they’re not welcome to somewhere they’re adored.

Before the coalition of federal and state agencies formed the modern IBMP in 2000, Montana’s solution to buffalo outside of Yellowstone was simple, and considerably less tolerant than hazing: they killed them.

Fifteen years ago, Mease, now 49 years old, an environmental and human rights film documentarian, and Rosalie Little Thunder, an elder in the Lakota Native American tribe, founded the Buffalo Field Campaign, an environmental activist group that works to stop the haze. Thousands of people have flocked to BFC’s rustic headquarters in West Yellowstone, Mont., to fight for the bison’s right to have year-round habitat outside of the national park. They say millions of taxpayer dollars are wasted harassing the buffalo for the benefit of a few hobby ranchers, and they believe that the IBMP’s fear of brucellosis is misplaced and exaggerated.

Periodically in Jackson you’ll find the BFC’s newsletter in local businesses, sitting alongside issues of JH Weekly and the Jackson Hole Daily. The organization sends out emails containing video compilations of the haze, photos of it, and reports—often fairly indignant ones—of the events. Mease and volunteers film the videos out in the field and he edits them. He calls them “low-lights.”

Because of persistent winter conditions in Yellowstone this year, the IBMP didn’t begin hazing operations until June 1, more than a month later than is typical. I drove up to West Yellowstone on May 31 and parked my truck among more than a dozen other vehicles sitting in front of the log cabins, teepees and yurts that make up BFC’s headquarters. I wanted to find out more about the haze: how it is conducted and whether it’s as cruel as BFC claims. I also wanted to learn more about the people who make up BFC, why they are so passionate about buffalo and what they do to protect them. For three days, I hung out with a widely known but misunderstood group of activists. They were young and old, dreadlocked and clean cut, career professionals and career misfits. At its core, the BFC is an activist media organization—its volunteers perform the role of citizen journalists: documenting the haze and spreading word of it in hopes of inspiring the public to call for its end.

Moments after arriving at BFC’s camp, I met Peter Bogusko. Bogusko had a wispy mustache and he tucked his braided dreadlocks beneath a baggy knit hat. Bo He has spent the last seven years working with the BFC. As the camp’s volunteer coordinator, he gave me a quick and well-rehearsed tour of headquarters—the bunkrooms in the main cabin where volunteers crash; the stash of donated cross-country skies and an extensive wardrobe of donated Patagonia apparel; the small, cluttered media cabin “where the magic happens”; the radio communications cabin that is the camp’s central nervous system during hazes; and, of course, the outhouse. All the buildings and most of the furniture at BFC HQ are wood, and it all has a slick, shiny, worn veneer. Camp lies huddled up against a forested mountainside. Hebgen Lake’s northern arm extends between it and the muscular Madison Range to the southwest and. Standing on the main cabin’s front porch, you can easily see the Madison River Valley in Yellowstone off to the southeast.

Joined by Stephany Seay, BFC’s media coordinator, Bogusko and I jumped into a rickety silver Subaru and drove around West Yellowstone to see how the buffalo were getting on before the haze. During the drive, they laid out more of the basics for me. Every winter, bison herds migrate out of Yellowstone’s northern and western borders into their traditional calving grounds in Gardiner Basin and West Yellowstone. When they do so, they unwittingly wander from the safe-zone of the national park—called zone one—into a thin swath of federal land, mostly U.S. Forest Service property—zone two—where they’re tolerated certain times of the year and not others. Beyond that five-mile swath lies zone three.

“For all intents and purposes, zone three is the rest of the country,” Seay told me.

The IBMP defines the zones and decides how to manage Yellowstone’s bison herd outside the park. Its members include the Montana Department of Livestock, the state’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks department, the Park Service, Gallatin National Forest and the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Three Native American groups joined the IBMP in December 2009 to advocate for tribal hunting rights. Fifty-eight bison were killed this past winter in West Yellowstone and 67 in Gardiner Basin during the tribes’ buffalo hunts. An 1855 treaty between the United States and some Native American tribes ceded thousands of acres of tribal land to the government in exchange for the right to hunt on public land near Yellowstone.

According to IBMP documents, Yellowstone’s bison herd is chronically infected with brucellosis, a bacterial disease that can cause cattle to abort their first calves and can induce a persistent fever in humans that is difficult to cure. The most likely way you can contract brucellosis is by drinking raw milk. You can’t get it from eating meat from an infected cow, but the worry is that Montana’s cattle could catch it from buffalo. IMBP representatives say that could lead to economic sanctions and jeopardize Montana’s $2.4 billion agriculture industry. Montana’s 2.5 million cattle are valued at almost $3 billion according to the state’s figures.

When bison cross the Yellowstone border into Montana, the state has jurisdiction over them. In the mid-1980s, buffalo entering the state from Yellowstone were shot dead by FWP employees. Later that decade, FWP began guiding private hunters to the herds so they could “hunt” them. Even the head of the DoL called them “hunts.” Bogusko and Seay called them “canned hunts.” That’s when the animals are given no route for escape. In the case of buffalo, they were often “hunted” in the winter, in such deep snow that running away was a virtual impossibility. Beginning in 1995, the DoL assumed management of bison in Montana, and they shot them. When the modern IBMP was adopted in 1996, its stated purpose was to maintain a “wild-free ranging bison population” and address the risks of brucellosis. Under the IBMP, agencies still killed buffalo. They captured them, sent them to slaughter and tested some for brucellosis. They also started hazing bison back into the park. In the last five years, hazing has become the preferred way to manage buffalo in Montana, though some animals are still killed. IMBP agencies killed at least 127 bison this winter, and conservation groups claim that more than 1,400 were killed in 2008. Others are captured for vaccination and sterilization studies.

On the other side of the fence, the BFC began following the hazers and the bison in the winter of 1996-1997. More than 3,000 volunteers have ventured to West Yellowstone to help Yellowstone’s bison and the campaign tasked with defending them. The effort has helped lower the speed limit around West Yellowstone, during the bison’s migration season, from 75 miles per hour to 55mph. The group’s greatest success probably lies in its ability to keep the plight of Yellowstone herd in the public consciousness, however minimally.

About 25 volunteers were there at the beginning of June when the haze began in earnest. Most of them were youngish, ragamuffin activists. They wore heavily patched clothing. They rolled their own cigarettes, lots of them. Many of the volunteers I met recently came out west from the East Coast. All but two of the male volunteers I saw had some manner of facial hair. They were big-hearted and passionate people, if a little self-serious in some cases.

The BFC was made up of people like Liz, a companionable young Canadian who had temporarily chosen the activist group over college. There was “Red,” tall and gangly, with long flame-colored hair. Red didn’t want his picture taken and wore a sheathed machete lashed to his upper thigh with shoelaces. And there was Jim, kind of your everyman character: a mild-mannered, middle-aged husband and father of one who worked as a copyeditor in D.C. before moving his family and his job to Bozeman. Their reasons for joining the BFC ranged from personal interest in the species to a philosophical antipathy for what the haze represents. They took me in as one of their own and into the field to show me what the haze is all about.

The problem with bison
The day before the haze, Seay, Bogusko and I park a derelict Subaru at the junction of highways 191 and 287 and watch a large mixed herd of bison—cows, calves and yearlings—graze on the side of the road. As far as I can tell, the bison look content, at home. One guy driving a large white truck nearly rams into a young buffalo as he drives hastily down 287, but otherwise nobody seems to have a problem with the animals.

Bogusko and Seay wave at the bison, speaking to them as if they are overgrown house pets. “Hello, Mr. Buffalo,” Bogusko says to a yearling staring at us, bleary-eyed. “They don’t have very good eyesight, so when they look at us, I like to wave to let them know we’re here. I also like to think it helps them tell us apart from the hazers.”

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For Bogusko, a native of Maryland and a Brown University graduate, the fight for the buffalo is a fight against manifest destiny and the expansion of invading empires. “I see what’s happening here as what Europeans have always done in this country, which is displace native populations,” he told me.

“The plight of the buffalo is symbolic of oppression, corporate destruction and ecological disaster,” Seay said. The buffalo, to her, is a representative microcosm of any number of other conflicts and problems: clean air, clean water, the war in Afghanistan.

As we drive home, Bogusko and Seay tell me that as far as they’re concerned, the IBMP’s management of buffalo is basically a range war, a battle for the West waged for centuries, a conflict between native occupants and foreign invaders. As I would learn, many BFC volunteers hold this opinion. For them, ranching is a form of persistent colonial imposition, not unlike the white man’s subjugation of Native Americans; and the agencies hazing the buffalo are as malignant as the 19th century pioneers who annihilated millions of bison in an exorbitant display of control and puissance.

They told me elk pose a greater threat of disease to Montana’s ranching industry than do bison, and that if the DoL were seriously concerned about cattle health, the agency would focus its efforts on elk. Indeed, a government study conducted this winter found that brucellosis is on the rise in northwestern Wyoming’s elk herd. And another study, published last fall in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases, determined that elk, not buffalo, “are most likely the origin of recent outbreaks of brucellosis in Greater Yellowstone cattle.” But, the BFC argues, Montana wouldn’t dare handle elk the way they handle buffalo: doing so would enrage legions of hunters and hunting outfitters and could have a harmful impact on the state’s revenue from hunting. A spokesman for the DoL conceded there is more reason for to be concerned about elk infecting cattle with brucellosis than there is about buffalo. And Christian Mackay, the agency’s executive director, said steps have been taken to keep elk away from cattle, though he didn’t elaborate on how that is being accomplished.

Before the storm
All the BFC volunteers and coordinators gathered in the rustic main hall at headquarters the evening before the haze for the nightly meeting and a mission briefing. A somber mood fell over everybody, and a fleshy, unwashed scent brewed in the room. One guy farted, unapologetically, throughout the meeting.

The meeting was as orderly as everything at BFC. They run a tight ship there. Everybody must wash their hands before they eat and clean their own dishes afterwards. There is a strict no-drugs-or-alcohol policy. People volunteer without a moment’s hesitation to do the unsexy housekeeping that’s extraordinarily necessary when you’ve got more than two dozen strangers sharing the same quarters. A crew of people worked periodically to disinfect one nine-bunk, multitier bunkroom—“The Post Office”—using bottles and bottles of rubbing alcohol. It’s one person’s job to make sure everybody’s being excellent to one another. That person’s job title: the vibe watcher.

After some perfunctory business, Mease laid out his recommendations for tomorrow’s game plan. While BFC’s organizational structure is cooperative in nature, with no one and everyone in charge, Mease is regarded as the de facto jefe. “I know everyone probably wants to experience this,” he told the volunteers, “And I want to try to get everybody involved.” Mease’s tone was that of a general talking to his soldiers before they throw themselves into combat, and the mood suddenly struck me as martial: these were people gearing up for something intense that they had prepared for and anticipated. Indeed, I heard Seay say on more than one occasion that the haze is like war, especially when the helicopter’s flying.

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This is what Mease’s plan involved: one group of volunteers would be stationed near Duck Creek, in view of a private home where IBMP agents stage their hazing operations in the morning; Darrell Geist, a veteran volunteer and Mease’s longtime collaborator, would run “bear patrol,” watching to see if the haze disturbed the area’s federally protected grizzly bears; Mease and Elizabeth would wait for the haze to reach Cougar Knoll; six volunteers would rove around West Yellowstone, looking for hazing action; and two would trail the hazers and the herd as they crossed from the Gallatin Forest into the national park. His plan received sober approval and the thumbs up from all present.

Seay, functioning as the meeting’s moderator, then moved on to the late business. Mease issued an anti-cotton advisement: “If it starts raining and snowing tomorrow and you’re wearing cotton, you’ll be worthless to us and to the buffalo.” Robertson testified about the personal travails volunteers might experience during the hazing. “You’ll probably be emotionally affected,” she told the silent room, staring into the middle distance. “Be prepared. This isn’t easy for everyone to do.”

The meeting closed with a song. Heather Cullin, a 45-year-old data and outreach manager with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (the activist group documented in the cable TV series Whale Wars), played the role of “sharebear” for the evening. She stood in a corner of the room and sang a soulful rendition of John Denver’s song “Wild Montana Skies.”

Hazing initiation
We awake before dawn on Wednesday morning, the first day of the haze, and eat breakfast in silence at BFC headquarters. Again, the mood seems grave. Or maybe just sleepy. In any case, the National Cotton Council of America would not appreciate the scene: everybody at breakfast is wearing a mix of wool and synthetics.

The morning air is crisp and penetrating. Seay, Bogusko and I pile into a different ramshackle Subaru at 6 a.m. and station ourselves as lookouts at the IBMP’s staging grounds. We’re joined by a newly arrived volunteer: Jacob, an itinerant archaeologist originally from Idaho Falls, Idaho, in his early 30s. He sports a cool urban-hippie sense of fashion and his relaxed, reflective demeanor instantly charms me. The three of us post up near Duck Creek and fluff our arms around our torsos to keep warm as we watch government trucks, some pulling horse trailers, arrive at the agencies’ staging grounds.

As the trucks drive past, Seay or Bogusko relay their arrival over the radio to BFC HQ. They recognize nearly every federal and state employee on sight and know all their full names. They even know their vehicles’ license plate numbers. They squawk their reports into the radio and the radio operator on the other end—the farter from last night’s meeting—repeats the reports to verify the info and ensure its dissemination to other volunteers in the field. The agents driving past and the activists occasionally give each other little waves, the kind of perfunctory politeness you encounter on rural roads from rural people across America. But when APHIS employee Rebecca Frey shows up for work, Seay and Bogusko are less than excited.

“Oh, it’s Becky. Isn’t that lovely. It’s so good to see you,” Seay gushes. Regardless of what she felt, Seay seemed to feel and express it intensely.

Bogusko is more straightforward: “Get the fuck out of here.”

Like Mease, his friend Darrell Geist, and a few other BFC people, Jacob is a hunter. He bagged two elk last year. Other volunteers at BFC are diehard vegans. As we’re killing time in the car, Jacob tells me he likes the harmony of opinion at the camp. “It gets a mix of people from Montana, the Intermountain West, hunters,” he said. “And then you have your inner-city folks that have been active on other animal rights campaigns who don’t eat any animals. When they get together [at BFC], everything works out.”

Seay and Bogusko sip constantly from mason jars of yerba maté as we sit in the car for an hour and half, waiting for the haze to begin. Jacob regales us with a story about a party in Missoula, Mont., gone wrong—a fire “moved” from a backyard into the road; firefighters; cops; pepper spray; a couple of arrests; a drunk vagabond who clambered into the fire truck and his subsequent arrest—and he and Bogusko trade synopses of Chuck Palahniuk novels. The sun rises. We continue to wait for agency employees to head out on the haze.

“I can’t fucking believe it,” Seay says in disgust as we watch a truck loaded with National Park Service employees pull by with a horse trailer. “I wonder how much money they’ll burn today,” Jacob wonders aloud. A report by the Government Accountability Office in 2008 noted that IBMP actions cost more than $2 million annually. The feds pony up about 95 percent of that tab; Montana picks up the rest.

By 8 a.m., the government trucks and horse trailers start filing down the driveway in front of us and pull out onto Highway 191. The haze has begun. We follow an agency convoy down the wash-boarded Madison Arm Road, a dirt road that parallels the Madison River as it flows out of Yellowstone. Five NPS and FWP riders saddle and mount their horses, and Bogusko and Seay assume their roles as citizen journalists. With a Forest Service law enforcement officer—the BFC call Forest Service LEOs “Freddies”—looking on, Seay helps Bogusko white balance his video camera. Bogusko has just begun to film when the Freddie—a young, squinty-eyed guy whose badge said his name is J. Janik—accosts him, ordering him to “back up, please.” It is not a polite directive. Janik delivers it forcefully, as a “lawful order,” and he’s close to Bogusko’s face when he repeats a second time, and a third. Seay glares at him from beneath the visor of her short-brimmed patrol cap and tells him, “You don’t have to be afraid. We’re not going to hurt you.” Janik stands statue still, with his hands crossed at his belt buckle like a military recruit. In the face of such stolid bureaucracy, Seay and Bogusko decide to just leave the scene.

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With that tense moment behind us, we venture out to the edge of a plateau overlooking the serene Denny Creek area where we watch two of the horsemen ride slowly across a wide field towards a herd of about 30 buffalo in the distance. They are grazing on private property. Frogs lazing in Denny Creek croak. Willow shrubs lining the creek sway in the slight wind. A helicopter comes in from the east, surveys the area, spooking a horse and a colt in the field, and then flies away.

When the hazers reach the herd they labor to move the animals across the field in a cohesive unit. The wind picks up out of the west. Watching the riders slowly move the herd, I can’t help but empathize with them. “Doesn’t that kind of look cool,” I ask Bogusko as he films the hazers pushing the buffalo down a bluff, through the creek and up onto the plateau. “I mean, what they’re doing—the cowboy thing and all. Moving big beasts across such beautiful country, the mountains, the field, the creek. The “Western-ness” of it all. It looks like it’s probably a kind of cool thing to do.” The sideways look he gives me from behind his women’s-frame sunglasses is all I need to know how wrong I am.

The animals look high strung and fearful as they run in tight formation through the tall lodge pole pines, riders close behind. The riders chase the animals onto the dirt road to drive them north and then east towards Yellowstone. All the while, Bogusko films and Seay radios the events in to HQ. The march is slow and silent but for the riders whooping and hee-yahing to keep the bison moving. The animals themselves make little sound as they trudge down the dusty road. The calves struggle to keep pace. Seay mostly curses the riders and snaps photos as Bogusko continues filming.

The fieldwork of a BFC volunteer isn’t very glamorous. The riders order them to keep a reasonable distance behind the haze at all times, giving them a prolonged rear end view. And because they walk behind the herd and the riders, they endure a pungent medley of the physical perfumes of large mammals—the scents of horse and bison feces and manure—as well as the manner of their production. Following behind the haze, I stepped in more piles of runny bison crap than I care to remember.

The animals have been on the move for two hours when it becomes apparent that one of them, a small calf belonging to an aged cow, is struggling.  The cow has a frantic look in her eyes as she tries to keep her calf close, but she never threatens the hazers hounding her and her calf. In fact, during the three days I spend observing the haze, I never witness any bison behave aggressively towards the hazers or their horses, no matter how aggressively they are treated. Mease told me that in his 15 years scrutinizing the haze, he has seen cows bluff charge hazers, but never attack them, and no BFC volunteers have been injured by bison.

The hazers cut the old cow, her weary calf and two yearlings out of the herd because they can’t keep up. They then push the herd across the Madison River into Yellowstone as the four estranged bison fight to catch up. With Mease filming from the rivers’ bank, the four exhausted animals ford the rushing water to rejoin their herd.

Troubleshooting the IBMP
It was early afternoon, and the buffalo had already been pushed seven miles through the forest. They still had another seven miles to go to reach Cougar Meadows, where Robertson, Mease and I arrived after a short hike from Seven Mile Bridge on the Gneiss Creek Trail. By the time the bison reached the meadow, their numbers had more than doubled from when I had last seen them grazing in the willows on the eastern bank of the Madison. Mease positioned his camera perfectly and got the shot he was banking on for his “lowlight” compilation: the awesome sight of hundreds of bison spilling over green plains in open country, an almost anachronistic scene, one more familiar in the 1800s than in the early 21st century. For Mease, Robertson, BFC volunteers and the organization’s supporters, the scene was tainted by the actions of the hazers and thus the IBMP.

The IBMP management plan is supposed to increase tolerance for bison roaming outside the park in a three-step process. A GAO report in 2008 found the agencies had made little progress towards that goal. The first step in the plan was twofold: develop a remote method for vaccinating bison against brucellosis and eliminate grazing rights at the almost 9,000-acre Royal Teton Ranch in Gardiner Basin, north of Yellowstone’s border. Step one should have been achieved by winter 2002-2003. The report stated that the agencies were still stuck there.

Progress has been made on step one since 2008. Grazing rights at the Royal Teton Ranch have expired, meaning that buffalo will be better tolerated north of the park, particularly in the winter and spring. Vaccination and sterilization studies conducted by APHIS are ongoing. The IBMP has also made efforts to address other faults described by the GAO, such as more clearly defining its goals, fostering better cooperation among agencies and acting more transparently and in better faith with stakeholders, including conservation groups like BFC.

“A lot of hard work and discussion has taken place in recent years within the IBMP to develop and implement adaptive strategies into bison management,” said Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash. “There is some increased tolerance on the west side of the park and somewhat increased tolerance as of late this year for bison in Gardiner Basin.”

To the BFC, bison are not the problem and the IBMP is not the solution. Ranchers and their cattle are the problems. Mease said the IBMP agencies, especially the DoL, should work to control the most easily managed element: cows. He and other BFC volunteers say the IBMP is a bloated government program that harasses wildlife for the benefit of a few “hobby ranchers,” whom, they say, only bring cattle onto their property for a few months of the year.

“You round [cows] up numerous times every year and you vaccinate them for numerous things,” he said as we sat on a dead tree atop Cougar Knoll, waiting for the arrival of the bison. “Why don’t we just build fences around the handful of cows in this area and let buffalo be the wild species that they are?” BFC members often asked the same questions.

Christian Mackay, the executive director of the DoL, claims the brucellosis vaccine for cattle loses efficacy after a number of years, and he says the IBMP considered fencing, but the heavy snowfall and wetlands in West Yellowstone preclude it. In Mackay’s mind, the BFC is perpetually indignant. “They won’t be happy with any advances made in the IBMP, and they’re not happy with any additional tolerance [of buffalo in Montana]. They have their manifesto and anything short of that won’t cut it.” I think Mease would agree.

Behind the haze
Thursday morning breaks colder and earlier than I anticipate. After another quiet breakfast, three other volunteers and I are dropped off across from the IBMP’s staging grounds. I had seen much of the haze the previous day, but there was an eight-mile gap in my understanding that stretched from Yellowstone’s western border to Cougar Meadows. So I joined the “park patrol” that follows the haze to its terminus.

Noah, Dustin, Alex, are all in their 20s. We chat and perform light calisthenics while we wait for the hazers to move a sizable mixed herd of bison off some private property near the 191/287 junction and towards us. There are fresh bear tracks in muddy patches on the Duck Creek Road. Alex, a young girl from the Bay Area, and Dustin, a college-holdout from Utah, are BFC newbies. This is Noah’s third haze. Clouds, shaded grey and black, carpet the sky and the air is thick with moisture. Alex has a radio and we listen in from time to time to learn how the haze is shaping up. Ducks cavort in the creek in pair

 

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