Restoring Bison to the American West

Bison on the Range

At least 30 million bison used to roam throughout Montana's Great Plains and America's Western prairie habitat. However, decades of overexploitation, habitat loss, decline in genetic diversity, and human conflict has stripped nearly all free-ranging bison from their natural grassland habitat. 

Today there are only three truly free-ranging bison herds in the United States: Yellowstone Park (approximately 3,500 bison) and the Henry's Mountains and Book Cliffs herds in Southern Utah (about 500 bison).

Where We Are Working

National Wildlife Federation is working to return wild, free-ranging bison to their native homes in and around the Charles M. Russell (CMR) National Wildlife Refuge and to Tribal Lands including Fort Peck and Fort Belknap.

Montana's Northern Great Plains Bison Restoration Area

Our campaign work includes:

  • Convening meetings with local ranchers and opinion leaders to make bison restoration work for local communities and to examine what economic incentives make restoration more acceptable.

  • Conducting an outreach effort around both the state and the country to raise the visibility of the campaign.

  • Conducting an outreach effort to engage tribal members in Montana’s bison planning process by reaching them where they live, socialize, and celebrate their culture.  There has been huge impact this summer all across Montana's Indian Country, clearly demonstrated in this editorial from our outreach contractor agent Marsha Small.

  • Protecting habitat so wildlife have a place to roam safely without running into livestock conflict through our Adopt a Wildlife Acre program, our wildlife-livestock conflict resolution programs, and our ongoing tribal lands work.

Specific Campaigns

The Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge 


At 1.1 million acres, there's a
unique opportunity to restore
a free-roaming wild population
to America's public lands.

Learn More>>

Tribal Lands bison map

Tribal Lands

NWF and Tribes share a common
vision of returning wild bison to
historical habitat and restoring
Native Americans' cultural
connections to bison.

Learn More>>

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Restoration Locations
Bison Return to the CMR
Restoring Bison to Tribal Lands