Witnessing Bozeman Police and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) today scare and tranquilize a wild bull moose who had made his way into Bozeman in the shopping area near WinCo foods and Ross, ultimately tranquilizing him in the parking lot outside Subway, brought up deeply held traumatic experiences I had witnessing FWP, the Montana Department of Livestock, the National Park Service, and the U.S .Forest Service torture, haze, and slaughter buffalo in and just outside Yellowstone National Park. It was horrifying to see this in my own town.
The State of Montana and the Federal Government for decades have been responsible for the deaths of more than 10,000 bison and countless other harms to wild buffalo when they leave or even approach leaving Yellowstone National Park. For decades, Buffalo Field Campaign has documented this, and I spent an entire season in 2010-2011 living with them and out in the field documenting what happens to wild buffalo who happen to end up in Montana. Let me tell you, it isn’t only not pretty, it’s horrifying. It is horrifying to see newborn baby calves forced to run for dozens of miles, often getting separated from their mamas, as helicopters and horses chase them. It is horrifying to see a buffalo gunned down and have other buffalo watch stunned, nuzzling their noses in their dead friend’s carcas. It is horrifying to see things I don’t even dare write about because they are too gruesome and disgusting to put into a post.
But as much as that stuck with me, I’ve been away from the field for many years as I’ve focused on other things. Yet, in towns even as small as Bozeman, we don’t get far away from the way authorities treat people. In Washington, DC, I really did see more than a dozen police beating up a black man in the streets in open daylight – unable to defend himself from the onslaught. In Bozeman, we have a September video of a woman being held down by three police after one had punched her, that same one with his head on her face, as they tie her up – all on the simple charge of public indecency. I have witnessed cops hiding behind trees in Kirk Park on a mission to catch skater kids who might have marijuana. We have seen unhoused residents handcuffed because they can in order to do what? It’s not even clear, as no one was even arrested. In another case, we have witnessed an undercover actively looking for open containers on unhoused men who have nowhere else to drink but on the streets.
Still, I did not ever witness what I have read about in the case of other animals but had never directly witnessed until this morning. I was out running some errands. At approximately 11:10 AM today, I noticed police blocking an area roughly in front of WinCo and behind Ross, where there is an open field. I drove around to an area where I could see what was happening, as I am prone to do copwatches when I see police activity going down.
But lo and behold, coming out from a small tree was this beautiful giant bull moose; however, he was agitated. I saw him running around, and then I saw an FWP vehicle move around the edge of him. Aghast, I clearly saw what was likely to happen, as I also saw a horse trailer near by. In all of a few seconds, I went from delight at seeing my first ever moose in Bozeman to horror of realizing he was considered unwelcome. A man got out of the truck with a small gun that I assumed to be a tranquilizing gun. He shot, and I don’t know if he hit him or missed this first time, but the moose started moving all over the place and behind Ross and Michaels and then eventually out of my site line.
I felt like I was suddenly back in the field watching what happened to wild buffalo. In the case of the moose, he was in town, a growing town that keeps building further and further into habitat, but regardless, there are ways to coexist. Yes, moose are erratic. Any local will tell you a moose is far scarier than a bear. They have a mean streak and can attack. But so do we humans in much greater force. You can learn easily to coexist with moose and not have incidents. Millions of ill-behaving tourists prove this all the time in Yellowstone. The number of incidents is exceedingly rare despite the poor behavior of tourists and the notorious reputation of moose. The truth is despite every provocation in the world and an animal that doesn’t even need to be provoked, coexistence happens pretty easily. I cannot remember the last time someone was actually killed or had more than a broken arm from a moose kicking it. Yet, this moose didn’t stand a chance here. It apparently had to be gone. It had to be removed. The police had to come in. FWP needed to get that tranquilizer out.
Of course, that’s bull. This is authoritarianism at work. They don’t care about wildlife; they don’t care about people. They don’t care about black or indigenous lives. Their existence is justified in fear. They say, “What if this happens? Who will protect you?” They sensationalize the exception and make it the rule – their rule. Why the fuck do we need them? We don’t need them! We don’t need them to be shooting wildlife with tranquilizers in public. We don’t need them harassing anyone in the streets. We don’t need them at all! We certainly don’t need them killing wild buffalo just trying to get a toe hold of their former range back, range we took from them on a mission to colonialize a continent and wipe it of native and indigenous people and their cultures. It is sickening and disgusting.
We move on; we accept this becomes normal. We just do. It’s not normal that people with large vehicles occupy grids with their gas guzzling vehicles and remove anything that crosses paths with it. It’s not normal that one group of people with one skin color treats everyone worse with another skin color. It’s all really fucked up.
I always believed buffalo work was a radical cause because buffalo are not just another wildlife issue; they represent a relationship with the land and a value choice. To let buffalo roam is to give up an authoritarian view of land management. Because buffalo go to human areas, it forces us to reconsider our entire idea of “property rights” and moves us to figuring out how we are all in this together and need to share. Most wildlife want little to do with us, but buffalo go where we go – into the valleys. And so for me, this moose was indicative of that. He went where we go, and instead of taking the chance to marvel at what might be, we remove any hint of it immediately.
Honestly, what happened with this moose is messed up. Why do we think this is okay? Why do we think this is normal? Can’t we do better and live with the idea that maybe we have a moose around that we have to navigate? Why is navigating around a moose worse than what we do now navigating around an authoritarian police state? These are things to think about. Why do we accept one thing and not the other?
It does provide another poignant reminder of why I am not merely a dancer, why I am an anti-fascist anarchist dancer. It’s not enough to tell people they should feel free to express themselves. We need to work for the conditions that allow us all to be free enough to dance and to respect all who live and breathe on this planet.