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WEST YELLOWSTONE – The spring bison haze is already a bit of a Montana spectacle. But with the warm weather this year, a performance artist has joined the chaotic army of horseback riders, cameramen and the resurrected Department of Livestock helicopter that push bison across the state line and into Yellowstone National Park.

On Wednesday morning, riders from the Montana Department of Livestock and Fish, Wildlife & Parks trotted through the backyards of some of the homes on Horse Butte, a populated area a mile north of West Yellowstone. They were chased occasionally by irritated yells of “get off my property.”

With May 15 as the designated target date when bison are to be returned to the park, the riders were focused on herding about 30 bison toward an area where they could join a larger herd.

Horse Butte homeowner Pam Wright was watching from her neighbor’s deck as the riders approached the resting bison and their calves.

“It’s an annual event unfortunately,” Wright said. “The babies are just lying there. They’re just so tired. It’s animal cruelty to push them so hard.”

Fifty yards away standing on her own deck, homeowner Diane Winter shouted at a government rider that he was on her property.

“I’ve watched this every year, and I don’t like it. It turns it into a dangerous situation where it isn’t normally,” Winter said. “I like bison. They’re one of the reasons I moved here.”

Winter said she supports the proposal to make Horse Butte open to bison year-round. That proposal is still making its way through a scoping process after public comments were received last summer.

Residents clustered in groups along Buffalo Drive or stood outside their homes to watch the helicopter skim the butte nearby as it pushed about 300 bison off the 500-plus-acre Galanis property to the northwest.

Rob Galanis won’t allow the horseback riders on his property to haze bison. So the helicopter flew low to herd bison to the public land where 10 riders took over.

In March, DOL executive director told the, Chronicle that helicopter use would be minimal because the Interagency Bison Management Plan partners decided not to use federal funds to pay for it.

But Buffalo Field Campaign volunteer Mike Mease said the helicopter has been in use everyday from morning until mid-afternoon, starting on Monday when riders started rounding up smaller, more dispersed herds.

But Wednesday was the big push and more than 20 riders helped the helicopter move the bison along the southern edge of Horse Butte and across U.S. Route 191.

The haze has a lot of history, both for the people and the bison. Many of the animals plodded toward the park, far ahead of the riders.

“They go into the park naturally,” Winters said.

On the southern edge of Horse Butte, Buffalo Field Campaign volunteer Josh Osher waited, video camera in hand, for the riders to bring the large herd into view.

Osher has observed the haze for a decade, longer than most of the other young volunteers or the riders. Even though he doesn’t approve of what they do, Osher greeted a few riders by name as they rode past with the herd.

But the newest face on the scene was performance artist Lila Roo, who was busily trying to move her props to the top of the butte along the highway before the bison came across.

Roo was assembling a 12-foot-tall cardboard-and-tubing bison that would erupt “blood” – red plastic streamers. She designed it to communicate “the injustice of the bison haze, but also the larger injustice of this nation’s bloody slaughter against the first Americans and indigenous creatures.”Roo creates similar large-scale artwork and has staged performances worldwide, but this was her first time in Montana.

Before she could begin her project, which she planned to unveil later in the afternoon, the

helicopter appeared overhead and soon bison were surging across the highway. By 1 p.m., the quiet returned as the forest swallowed the bison and the riders who had just a few miles to go to the park boundary.

Roo, who didn’t know that bison still existed before a few months ago, was awed.

“This has gone from being an art project to being a big part of my life,” Roo said.

Laura Lundquist can be reached at 582-2638 or llundquist@dailychronicle.com. Follow her on Twitter at @llundquist.

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