An Event in Missoula, Montana on October 25, 2010
It never fails. Every time I find myself driving across the immense open space and undulating landscape of the front range in Montana, I puzzle myself over the absence of bison. And each time I hear about the threat posed to livestock by wolves, I wonder how different it would be if bison were out there. Just today, I was speaking to Chief Jimmy St. Goddard of the Blackfeet Nation about restoring balance to nature (versus plopping species down onto landscapes), and he stated “wolves will go where the bison are.” Humans, being lazy by nature, tend to think that given the choice between cows and bison, wolves would favor the slow, dumb ones. But we’ve never given them that choice. Since wolves co-evolved with bison, I tend to think Chief Jimmy knows what he is talking about.
Last year, WWP’s Montana office premiered “Lords of Nature” in Montana, a film documenting the importance of top predators like wolves to healthy ecosystems. Scientists were surprised to learn after reintroducing wolves into Yellowstone that there was a dramatic improvement in riparian ecosystems, benefitting fish and birds and creating a cascading beneficial effect on the food chain. Then we had a lively panel discussion that included Montana Wolf Coordinator Carolyn Syme. In arguing for management authority in federal court, Montana emphasized how “all species fit together”, with the wolf being an “integral part” of the ecosystem. But when asked why bison should not then be welcomed back to Montana, Syme refused to answer, pretending the question was a matter of opinion, not science.
This year, we are presenting two films with a panel discussion. We’re excited to show the new High Plains Films documentary on bison, “Facing the Storm.” According to the filmmakers, the film shows that “the American bison is not just an icon of a lost world, but may very well show us the path to the future.” In a second theatre, we will be showing a film that premiered at the Wildlife Film Festival last year, “The Wolf that Changed America.” It’s a remarkable story about a wolf bounty hunter named Ernest Seton who was hired in 1893 to kill America’s last wolf, a notoriously crafty and elusive wolf named Lobo, and was so changed by the ordeal that he became a global advocate for wolves and helped spearhead America’s wilderness movement. Afterward, there will be a panel discussion with George Wuerthner, author of “Welfare Ranching”, Richard Manning, author of “Rewilding the West”, FWP Commissioner Ron Moody, and Chief Jimmy. Buffalo Field Campaign Spokesperson Stephany Seay will moderate the discussion.
According to recent scientific studies by independent experts, wild bison present almost no risk whatsoever of transmitting brucellosis to livestock. So the kind of balanced wildlife management approach we intend to discuss in this public forum is socially feasible, scientifically justified, morally compelling, and economically smart. Please join the dialogue.
Tom Woodbury, Montana Director, Western Watersheds Project.
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