NWF View - Restoring an Important Part of America's Heritage

The NWF-ITBC agreement

04-01-1997 // Mark Van Putten

On January 22, I was privileged to attend a very special ceremony in Denver, Colorado, in which I represented the Federation in an historic commitment. By signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the 40 Native American tribes of the InterTribal Bison Cooperative (ITBC), the Federation pledged nothing less than the real restoration of buffalo to the American West.

If, like most Americans, you don't live in a rural western community, you may not know some important facts. You may not know, for instance, that the bison saved from the brink of extinction--the species that went from 60 million to fewer than 1,000 a century ago--lives on in most places of this country as penned, dehorned and genetically manipulated domestic cattle. Only in Yellowstone National Park do buffalo roam free. But even there, buffalo that roam across park borders into Montana are slaughtered by state and federal officials at the behest of the livestock industry. The slaughter is justified as necessary to protect domestic cattle from an animal disease, brucellosis, although there has never been a documented case of brucellosis transmission from wild bison to range cattle.

The NWF-ITBC agreement would end the modern-day buffalo massacre by providing for Native American "adoption" of the animals. Our allies in this effort, the ITBC, began taking bison to Native American reservations in small numbers a few years ago, and managing their herds with the hope of eventual restoration of wild buffalo to larger and larger acreage of tribal--and eventually, public--lands. Now, the National Wildlife Federation will work at the federal, state and local level to ensure that the special relationship between buffalo and Native Americans is reestablished, and that bison are managed as wildlife, rather than as a different form of cattle.

As ITBC President Fred DuBray said in Denver, "To the tribes represented here today, buffalo represent the very essence of our culture and who we are. While the world around us has changed, our spiritual and cultural link to bison is eternal. By working together with NWF's millions of members, we will reestablish healthy bison populations on Indian lands, and reestablish hope for the Indian peoples."

There is no animal more symbolic of our American heritage and conservation history than the buffalo, and there is no animal more deserving of restoration to the freedom and dignity of a free-ranging species. When the bison return to the western landscape, we will have taken a giant step toward restoring the legendary ecosystem that holds such a special place in the history of our nation. I am proud of NWF's leadership, in concert with the ITBC, in beginning this historic effort.

Mark Van Putten
President & Chief Executive Officer
National Wildlife Federation

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