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Audra Green of Juneau feels passionately that wild animals should be allowed to graze undisturbed. That's the reason Green is spending several months in West Yellowstone with the Buffalo Field Campaign (formerly Buffalo Nations).
"I heard about it a couple of years ago from a friend who was doing a college internship here," Green, 25, said in a telephone interview. "I can't just sit back and let animals go extinct, so I am a volunteer here."
The clash between the Montana Department of Livestock and fans of the American bison began in the winter of 1997. Deep snow at the higher elevations of the 2.2-million acre Yellowstone National Park drove the buffalo to roam outside the park, bringing them close to domestic livestock. The DOL feared that buffalo might transmit to livestock a disease called bucellosis and began rounding them up with trucks, snowmobiles and helicopters.
"The DOL is in town setting up a capture facility today (Thursday)," Green said. "Our patrols will go out on snowshoes and skies. We sit with the buffalo and monitor. We take videos of DOL activities and send them to Bozeman and get them on the news. Our main objective is to let the public know what's happening."
Mike Mease, campaign coordinator, said more than 1,000 volunteers like Green have served at West Yellowstone in the past four years. "We have had volunteers from every state as well as Europe, Israel and Australia. At any one time we have 25 to 50 people who stand with the buffalo who wander outside Yellstone. The state of Montana has a zero tolerance for wildlife even using national forests. The buffalo need to come to lower elevations outside the park for winter forage."
DOL officials test buffalo for bruselosis, and then shave them to mark them as tested. Those who test positive are sent to a slaughter house.
"We definitely feel we are accomplishing something," Green said. "The people in town like the buffalo and like to see them; they don't like the capture campaign."
Green says she "does it all." In addition to snowshoeing and making videos in the snow, the volunteers write letters and write criticisms of environmental impact statements they feel are not based on good science. They also take turns cleaning the cabin where they stay and cooking.
"In the winter of 1997, the population was down to almost 1,000," Green said. "So far the DOL has killed three this year. By our being here, it greatly reduces the impact. If we weren't here, there would not be buffalo, period."
Green has been in West Yellowstone since the beginning of November. She will fly home for the holidays, and then return to Montana. "The season for the campaign goes until June, but I have to be in Gustavus in May," she said. She works as a kayak instructor for Glacier Sea Kayaks.
For more information, see the Buffalo Field Campaign Web site at www.wildrockies.org/buffalo/.