Department of Interior plan encompasses increased use of tribal lands for cultural and economic buffalo use. Photo courtesy of DOI.

Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt today announced the Bison Conservation Initiative (BCI), a new cooperative program that will coordinate conservation strategies and approaches for the wild American Bison over the next 10 years.

The Department of the Interior (DOI) and its partners have been successful in restoring the populations of the American Bison and supporting healthy herds, such as assisting with establishing tribal herds on Indian Reservations.

With unprecedented interest and cooperation among partners—including states, tribes, nations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs)—bison conservation is well equipped to move beyond analytical assessments and toward coordinated conservation action.

Two projects to take place this year are introducing new genetics of wild bison from the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, and establishing a new tribal herd on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. The first includes an on-going genetics study by the National Parks Service to measure the extent of their integration into a long-existing herd.

The new tribal buffalo herd on the Wolakota Buffalo Range of Rosebud will support ecological restoration, cultural practices, economic development, food security and public education in an extensive cooperative project with the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation and the World Wildlife Fund. 

“We are doing something that has never been done,” said Rosebud Economic Development Corporation’s Director, Wizipan Little Elk. “It shows what is possible when business, philanthropy, and government work together to create multiple bottom line initiatives supporting the environment, people, fiscal responsibility and Native nation building,”

“The bison looms large in the culture and traditions of Native nations,” added Carter Roberts, President of World Wildlife Fund. “This announcement matters for several reasons: it represents a homecoming for this iconic species, and it’s also a reunion with the communities who lived with them for centuries in a symbiotic relationship.

“We are honored to be partners in this effort with the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation and the U.S. Department of the Interior, and we look forward to seeing the bison return to the Rosebud Reservation later this year.”

The DOI Bison Working Group (BWG) brings together representatives from the National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The group plans to:

  • Develop and launch a DOI bison metapopulation strategy
  • Develop and implement a DOI bison stewardship plan
  • Improve and expand mechanisms to support ecocultural restoration of live bison
  • Adopt low stress capture and handling practices

These actions will be organized around five central goals:

  • Wild, Healthy Bison Herds: A commitment to conserve bison as healthy wildlife.
  • Genetic Conservation: A commitment to an interagency, science-based approach to support genetic diversity across DOI bison conservation herds.
  • Shared Stewardship: A commitment to shared stewardship of wild bison in cooperation with states, tribes and other stakeholders.
  • Ecological Restoration: A commitment to establish and maintain large, wide-ranging bison herds on appropriate large landscapes where their role as ecosystem engineers shape healthy and diverse ecological communities.
  • Cultural Restoration: A commitment to restore cultural connections to honor and promote the unique status of bison as an American icon for all people.

For additional information about the science, benefits and goals of bison transfers, see the population viability analysis conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Society, NPS and FWS that was also released today. The 2020 Bison Conservation Initiative page provides additional information about how the DOI is working to improve the conservation and management of bison.
(Interior Press Release 5/7/2020. Contact


Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

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