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NWF, Eastern Shoshone Celebrate Bison’s Homecoming to Tribal Land

Festivities Mark ‘Boy-Zhan Bi-Den’ – Buffalo’s Return to the Wind River

FORT WASHAKIE, Wyo. – A major milestone in restoring a critical species to the landscape and restoring a people’s culture and heritage was achieved today when 10 wild bison were released on the Wind River Reservation. It’s the first time in 131 years that wild bison have rumbled across the tribal lands.

The genetically pure bison, transferred from the Neal Smith National Wildlife in Iowa, were released on Eastern Shoshone land in northwest Wyoming. The return of bison to the reservation is the culmination of years of work by the tribe and the National Wildlife Federation’s Tribal Partnership Program in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Members of the tribe were joined by other community members and representatives of the National Wildlife Federation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a ceremony and song to celebrate the return of bison.

“We are proud to partner with The Eastern Shoshone Tribe to return wild bison to their rightful place on tribal lands. Today's announcement demonstrates our common values of conserving wildlife populations and sustainably managing natural resources,” said Collin O’Mara, the National Wildlife Federation’s CEO and president. “Through collaborative partnerships, we can restore bison to their previous grandeur across the west.”

Jason Baldes, Bison Representative for the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, noted that six of the seven ungulates found in the area before the arrival of Lewis and Clark had been restored: moose, whitetail and mule deer, elk, pronghorn and bighorn sheep. The only one that was missing was the bison, he added. But no more.

“Today, Boy-Zhan Bi-Den – Buffalo Return in the Shoshone language – has become a reality,” Baldes said. ”This restoration effort, 40 years in the making, returns buffalo to our lands, our culture, our community, and generations to come.”

“Working hand in hand, the Eastern Shoshone Tribe and National Wildlife Federation have brought bison home to the Wind Rivers after 131 years of absence,” explained Garrit Voggesser, Tribal Partnerships Director for the National Wildlife Federation. “The circle has been completed with the return of this keystone species.”

“It is a proud day for our tribe,” said Leslie Shakespeare, Tribal Council Member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe. “Bringing back buffalo will also bring our people together.”

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is honored to be a part of this incredible conservation story: restoring the last missing ungulate species, bison, to the Wind River Reservation,” said Matt Hogan, Deputy Regional Director, Mountain-Prairie Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Our success here is based in mutual respect and trust forged over decades of successful collaborative wildlife conservation.  We look forward to more opportunities to work together for the benefit of the people and wildlife of Wind River.”

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.

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