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The Buffalo War 2001

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Bullfrog Films, PO Box 149, Oley, PA 19547; 800-543-FROG (3764)
Produced by Buffalo Jump Pictures, Inc., in association with Sweetspot Pictures, Inc.
Directed by Matthew Testa
VHS, color, 88 min.

Sr. High - Adult
Agriculture, American Studies, Environmental Studies, Native American Studies

Date Entered: 11/09/2018

Reviewed by Linda Frederiksen, Washington State University, Vancouver, WA

Graphically depicting the controversy surrounding wild bison herd management in Montana, The Buffalo War takes on the question of public land stewardship in the West. The key stakeholders in this struggle are environmental activists, conservationists, Native Americans, landowners, and federal and state government officials. This high quality, emotionally charged documentary describes the activities of these divergent groups.

The film opens with the forced removal of an activist from a metal cow-crossing grate by law enforcement officers. Protesting the capture and destruction of buffalo that graze outside Yellowstone National Park, environmentalists are in conflict with the Montana State Department of Livestock and ranchers who fear the spread of the disease brucellosis. Conservationists, as well as federal agriculture and national park staff, argue that the bison do not pose a real or substantial threat to Montana cattle-owners. Yet, in 1996-97, over one thousand buffalo, or nearly one-third of the Yellowstone herd, were slaughtered when they foraged for food outside the park.

Also engaged in this war are Native American people, whose spiritual connection to the bison prompts a 500-mile protest march by members of the Lakota Sioux tribe to Yellowstone Park. The trek from South Dakota to Yellowstone Park ends with a description of a Sundance piercing ceremony.

While giving an accurate account of the conflict, including interviews with most of the key players, the film is not unbiased. Notably absent from the conversation are state livestock officials, and they are clearly presented as the culprits in this story. According to the Montana State Department of Livestock Web site, the agency continues to use aggressive measures to eradicate brucellosis from public lands.

Intended as a vehicle for raising awareness about the subject, The Buffalo War is the winner of several awards. Using exceptional editing, photography and sound techniques, the film argues convincingly for the protection of this uniquely North American breed.