Where the Buffalo Roam on the Welfare Ranch

    My most recent article in Harper’s — find it here — chronicles the several weeks I spent in May 2007 wandering around with the Yellowstone buffalo herd, the last free-roaming unfenced genetically pure herd in the world. In what amounts to the usual sad and sorry spectacle called “government at its best,” the animals are harassed, chased, shot at, and killed during their spring migrations, courtesy of state and federal “livestock agents” working at the behest of the ranching industry.

    Montana cattlemen claim the wild herd threatens to spread disease among their stock, threatens the availability of grass on public lands, threatens the ranching industry itself. This is simply not true. The real reason for the persecution of the buffalo, I argue, derives from psychological factors as old as the colonization of the West by white men. In a land where extremes of drought and flood often play out in the same year, those who extract a tenuous living from the land are adversaries of the land: To survive they exert a violent control, eliminating any and all competition. Free-roaming buffalo aren’t part of that cowboy equation. What’s most interesting in all this mess, though, is that the “rough and independent” rancher is in fact a welfare queen — sucking hard on the tit of your tax dollars and mine. Read more in the Harper’s piece.

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