Wind River Tribes Unite to Return Bison to Their Native Homeland

"The Wind River Tribes have deep historical, cultural, and ecological connections to bison"

09-14-2012 // Garrit Voggesser
Bison having a snack

A historic, joint resolution approved by the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes seeks the restoration of wild, genetically pure bison to the Wind River Reservation.

The resolution passed by the two tribal councils Wednesday and an accompanying letter have been delivered to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar requesting that Yellowstone bison, currently being held on Ted Turner’s Green Ranch in Montana, be relocated to Wind River and formally asks for government-to-government consultation to make their request a reality.

In May, Salazar issued a directive to Interior Department agencies instructing them to identify the priority landscapes where the bison could be restored, and it highlighted Wind River as a top option.

“I’m extremely proud that the Shoshone and Arapaho Tribes have united to request the return of buffalo to their native homeland on the Wind River Indian Reservation,” remarked Jason Baldes, an Eastern Shoshone tribal member and Montana State University graduate student concentrating on bison restoration. “Over the past few decades, the tribes have restored six of the seven ungulate species that were historically present on our tribal lands. With today’s resolution, we are taking a huge step to restoring the last of those seven species, the bison.”

Since the mid-1980s, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) has worked with the Wind River Tribes on a variety of natural resource and wildlife conservation efforts.

“The Wind River Tribes have a vast land base well-suited for bison, and they have deep historical, cultural, and ecological connections to bison,” said Garrit Voggesser, National Director of Tribal Partnerships for NWF. “They are now expressing to those that have authority over Yellowstone bison that they are ready to employ their wildlife management expertise to welcome the bison home.”

Since the early 1990s, NWF has partnered with tribes to protect Yellowstone bison and worked toward the restoration of wild bison to tribal lands. Last March, that became a reality for the first time when 61 Yellowstone bison were relocated to the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana. The Yellowstone bison are among the few in North America with no cattle genes. The Yellowstone area is the only place where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times. Two centuries ago, there were more than 30 million buffalo roaming North American, but by the turn of the 19th-century, fewer than 100 remained.

Tribal peoples rounded up some of those bison to save them, and some of those bison became seed animals for the Yellowstone herd. The resolution by the Shoshone and Arapaho Tribes provides an opportunity for the historical relationship between buffalo and American Indians to come full circle, and is a huge stride toward achieving the return of bison to their Wind River homeland.

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