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The Battle for YellowstoneMorality and the Sacred Roots of Environmental Conflict$
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Justin Farrell

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780691164342

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691164342.001.0001

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Buffalo Crusaders: The Sacred Struggle for America’s Last Wild and Pure Herd

Buffalo Crusaders: The Sacred Struggle for America’s Last Wild and Pure Herd

(p.119) 3. Buffalo Crusaders: The Sacred Struggle for America’s Last Wild and Pure Herd
The Battle for Yellowstone

Justin Farrell

Princeton University Press

This chapter examines the bitter, long-lasting, and sometimes violent dispute over the Yellowstone bison herd—America's only remaining genetically pure and free-roaming herd, which once numbered more than 30 million but was exterminated down to a mere 23 single animals. This intractable issue hinges on current scientific disagreements about the biology and ecology of the disease brucellosis (Brucella abortus). But in recent years, a more radical, grassroots, and direct action activist group called the Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC) has found success by shifting the focus of the debate away from science, toward the deeper religious dimensions of the issue. The chapter shows how the infusion of the conflict with moral and spiritual feeling has brought to the fore deeper questions that ultimately needed to be answered, thus making this a public religious conflict as much as a scientific one, sidestepping rabbit holes of intractability. It observes the ways in which BFC activists engaged in a phenomenon called moral and religious “muting.” This has theoretical implications for understanding how certain elements of culture (e.g., individualism and moral relativism) can organize and pattern others—especially in post hoc explanations of religiously motivated activism.

Keywords:   Yellowstone, bison herd, brucellosis, Buffalo Field Campaign, religious muting, moral muting

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