Sunshine pours over the landscape in the Hebgen basin, illuminating the distinctive red color of a buffalo calf. Its mother looks after the calf as it feels the warmth of the spring sun, and she dutifully grooms the young one as it comes awake for the first time. Within hours, the calf is moving around.
The calf’s first steps are shaky, careful and slow. It stumbles in between its mother’s legs, peering around the sandy shores of Hebgen Lake, taking in the brand new world. The calf’s red fur is still matted and wet, and the mom is quickly cleaning up the afterbirth. All is safe at the moment, but she knows that wolves will track a new birth if she doesn’t clean up.
It doesn’t take long to work up an appetite. Still shaky, the calf seeks out milk from its mother. She patiently waits as the little one learns how to nurse below her. Finally, the calf has success, and enthusiastically begins to drink. In the next few months of nursing and grazing on nutritious green shoots this baby buffalo will grow rapidly. It must put on the weight to make it through the winter, so the bulking starts just hours after birth. Buffalo are built to survive.
For the last wild buffalo in Yellowstone, new life is a miracle to celebrate. This new generation will learn the herd knowledge they need to survive, and someday pass that knowledge on to others. These new buffalo will heal degraded land, and create habitat for all other animals that call Yellowstone home. New calves are the reason we stand with the buffalo, the hope for a better future that we fight for. BFC’s executive director James Holt reminds us that “every time a calf stands is a victory for us.”
In a world of problems, buffalo give us solutions. New buffalo give us hope. Old buffalo give us wisdom. The last wild buffalo give us a way forward.
A buffalo basks in the sun on the banks of the Madison River
Buffalo are everywhere. Hundreds of wild buffalo from the Central herd are returning to their traditional calving grounds in Hebgen Basin. Every day more buffalo arrive following the Madison River across highway 191 to Horse Butte peninsula, a favorite destination. Spring is one of the busiest and most fun times of year for BFC’s field patrols. From sunrise to sunset and beyond, patrols deploy BUFFALO ON ROAD signs along highways 287 to 191 to 20 to calm and alert travelers, counting the herds and recording their locations, and talking with locals and visitors who are enjoying the presence of these sacred animals.
Family groups of buffalo pass us on the roads, in the forest, and through the rivers. The tiredness and hardships of winter fall off in thick tufts of hair as they prepare for summer and times of plenty. Some buffalo have a limp, others have visible ribs, and the soon-to-be mothers are so encumbered by their calves they must be slow and deliberate in their leadership of the herds. Despite their challenges, the herds continue their march to their calving grounds, the place they know they will heal, regenerate and restore themselves.
The Hebgen Basin
In watching the buffalo we learn about ourselves. The matriarch and leader of her group, carefully watches over her family members to ensure they are safe, well fed, and looked after. Young bulls are enjoying their last year with their family before joining up with other bachelor bulls. Yearlings prance and play, bringing much needed cheer after surviving a hard winter. No member is left behind. All buffalo are part of and have a place in the herd.
Spring migration is a reminder of a better future for the buffalo, and a better future for all of us. Residents of Yellowstone Village on Horse Butte represent what it means for humans and wildlife to peacefully coexist. BFC has deep and strong ties with this community of people who welcome the buffalo’s migration with open arms. All over the neighborhood you can see BFC’s “Buffalo Safe Zone” signs in nearly every home. Local residents have a clear message to share with all Montanans: we can live and thrive with wild buffalo still roaming their territory.
Buffalo enjoy a spring day behind BFC’s “Buffalo Safe Zone” sign
Peaceful coexistence in West Yellowstone could easily occur in many other communities across the Great Plains and beyond if we would only let the buffalo roam once again. In a world where so many are focused on problems, buffalo bring us solutions that will benefit people everywhere. Restored grasslands, biodiversity, clean water, enhanced topsoil, and beauty will follow the buffalo wherever they are allowed to roam. We stand with the buffalo so that we can all have this healthy and abundant future.