A second herd of ten genetically pure bison from National Bison Range in Montana joined eleven others from the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa on the Wind River Reservation marking an important milestone in a major initiative designed to return this critical species to the landscape and help revitalize a people’s culture and heritage.
The bison were released on Eastern Shoshone land in northwest Wyoming on Saturday morning. Members of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe were joined by community members, school children and representatives of the National Wildlife Federation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a formal ceremony with traditional drumming and song marking the occasion.
The return of bison to the Reservation is the culmination of more than 40 years of collaboration by the Tribe and the National Wildlife Federation’s
(NWF) Tribal Partnership Program in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Of great importance is having herds of genetically pure bison from multiple locations. The preservation of the wild-bison genome is a key component of NWF’s North American recovery strategy for bison. NWF’s work on Wind River contributes to other initiatives including those at Fort Peck and Fort Belknap reservations . The reintroduction of these additional10 animals is a crucial step toward restoring wild bison to the Western landscape and to a people. And calves, like the one born on Wind River last May are a testament to efficacy of the program.
Bison, once numbering in the millions, have been reduced to less than 100 by the early 1900s. Today, there are about 500,000 bison and nearly all (95%) are managed as livestock. But bison on the Wind River Reservation will be managed as a conservation herd. “We envision using these herds to establish multiple new herds across the West,” said Garrit Voggesser, National Director of Tribal Partnerships for NWF whose ultimate goal is to restore
1,000 free-ranging buffalo to hundreds of thousands of acres of habitat over the next decade. “And, when we look to restore bison to tribal lands and other lands across the country, you’re not only restoring a wild bison species, you’re restoring a landscape, a habitat, one that supports a plethora of wildlife. Simultaneously, you’re helping to re-establish Native people’s cultural and historic connections to wildlife and the land.”
Jason Baldes, Bison Representative for the Eastern Shoshone Tribe is optimistic about the return of the bison, “To be able to restore a connection to the buffalo is a way to help heal the past, it’s way to help heal us as native peoples.” He sees the return of bison as a way to connect tribal youth with their history and is using the project as a touchpoint to educate children about their tribal heritage.
As part of the restoration and community celebration, Native American Artist, Arturo Garcia conducted a painting workshop with the students at Fort Washakie School on Friday, October 20. Garcia also painted during the bison release.
The Wind River Reservation has a long history of conservation successes. The tribes designated the nation’s first wilderness area in 1938, more than two decades before passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act. In the early 1980s, they enacted hunting regulations to conserve wildlife. They have developed plans to manage grizzlies and wolves. The return of bison to the reservation is part of a larger quest to restore the species, once essential to the Plains Indians’ existence, across tribal lands.
Bison from Yellowstone have been released on the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap reservations in Montana. In 2014, U.S. and Canadian tribes signed a first-of-its-kind treaty to restore wild bison to their lands – grasslands and prairies covering a combined 6.3 million acres, nearly three times the size of Yellowstone National Park.
Bison images and video footage from our work at Wind River are available now at https://www.dropbox.com/sh/bw1g3uo87mbcbv3/AABkMhcALW0UkRNDRV93XP3Ka?dl=0