Restoring Bison to Tribal Lands

For more than two decades, the National Wildlife Federation’s Tribal Program has worked with tribes to bring wild bison back to their lands and cultures and restore this iconic American species back to its rightful home on the prairies.

National Wildlife Federation, in partnership with the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap tribes, succeeded in convincing the state of Montana to transfer more than 60 bison back to tribal lands. On March 19, 2012, after more than a century away, wild bison were returned to roam the Great Plains in Montana.

In November 2014, we took another significant stride by restoring an additional 134 Yellowstone bison to the Fort Peck Reservation.

 Goldrunner bison

National Wildlife Federation's Work Protecting Wild Bison and Tribal Culture

Bison leaving trailer at Fort Peck, MT

In 1997, NWF signed a memorandum of understanding with the Intertribal Bison Cooperative, the first ever conservation agreement between an environmental organization and an inter-tribal group, to advocate for the return of wild bison to Tribal lands. 

The political opposition to the return of the bison seemed insurmountable, as bison were seen as a threat to domestic livestock. Overcoming these challenges is a significant conservation milestone and opens the door to moving wild bison onto other large landscapes.

By bringing bison back to these reservations, we are revitalizing a landscape, habitat, and a diversity of wildlife, while also re-establishing Native Americans’ cultural and historic connections to wildlife and the land.

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"The buffalo has always held great meaning for American Indian people...buffalo represent their spirit and remind them of how their lives were once lived, free and in harmony with nature."
    -InterTribal Buffalo Council


Voices for Tribal Bison

NWF's Garrit Voggesser talks about the disappearance of bison from tribal lands

Assiniboine Cultural Leader Larry Wetsit talks about the importance of bison to tribes

Steve Torbit talks about how the return of bison could impact the ecosystem