The Buffalo and the Field Mouse

The Buffalo and the Field Mouse

The little Field Mouse thought he could be Master of the Meadow.

Once upon a time, when the Field Mouse was out gathering wild beans for the winter, his neighbor, the Buffalo, came down to graze in the meadow.

The little Mouse did not like this. He knew that the buffalo would mow down all the long grass with his prickly tongue, and there would be no place in which to hide.

He decided to offer battle like a man.

“Ho, Friend Buffalo, I challenge you to a fight!” he yelled in a small, squeaky voice.

The Buffalo paid no attention, thinking it a joke.

The Mouse angrily repeated his challenge.

The buffalo went on quietly grazing while the little Mouse laughed with contemp.

The Buffalo at last looked at him and said, “You had better keep still, little one, or I shall come over there and step on you, and there will be nothing left!”

“Ha! You can’t do that! “replied the Mouse.

“If you speak to me again, I will come and put an end to you!” said the Buffalo, getting angry.

“I dare you! “said the Mouse.

The buffalo ran at him, trampling the grass and tearing up the earth with his front hoofs.

He looked for the Mouse, but he could not see him anywhere.

Just then he felt a scratching inside his right ear.

He shook his head as hard as he could and twitched his ears back and forth.

Bellowing madly, he ran as fast as he could in circles, then stood trembling.

The Mouse jumped out of his ear, and said, “Do you agree now that I am master?”

“No! “bellowed the Buffalo, and again he ran toward the Mouse, to trample him under his feet.

The little fellow was nowhere to be seen, but in a minute the Buffalo felt him in the other ear. Once more he raged in pain, and ran over the prairie, leaping high in the air.

At last he fell on a rock and lay dead.

The Mouse came out of his ear, and stood proudly upon his dead body.

“Ho, Ho!” he boasted. “I have killed the greatest of all beasts. This will show everyone that I am master of the of the meadow!”

He jumped on the carcass and called loudly for a knife to cut up the buffalo.

In another part of the meadow, Red Fox was hunting mice for his breakfast.

He was very hungry and suddenly saw the little mouse. He jumped upon him with all four feet, but the little Mouse got away.

All at once the Fox thought he heard a distant call: “Bring a knife! Bring a knife!”

Red Fox started in the direction of the sound. At the first knoll he stopped and listened.

Just then he heard the call plainly, but in a very tiny, thin voice, “Bring a knife!”

Red Fox ran toward the voice as fast as he could.

He came upon the huge body of the Buffalo lying on the grass. The little Mouse still stood upon the body.

“I want you to cut up this Buffalo for me and I will give you some of the meat,” ordered the Mouse.

“Thank you, my friend, I shall be glad to help you,” replied the Fox, politely.

So the Fox butchered the Buffalo, while the Mouse sat upon a mound nearby, giving orders.

“You must cut the meat into small pieces,” he said to the Fox.

When the Fox had finished his work, the Mouse gave him with a tiny piece of liver. He swallowed it quickly and smacked his lips.

“Please, may I have another piece?” he asked quite humbly.

“No, I gave you a very large piece! How greedy you are!” exclaimed the Mouse.

“You may have some of the blood clots,” he sneered.

So the poor Fox took the blood clots and even licked off the grass. He was really very hungry.

“Please may I take home a piece of the meat?” he begged. “I have six little children at home, and there is nothing for them to eat.”

“You can take the four feet of the Buffalo. That ought to be enough for all of you!”

“Oh, thank you, thank you!” said the Fox.

“But, Mouse, I have a wife also and we are having bad luck hunting. We are almost starved. Can’t you spare me a little more?”

“Not a bite,” scolded the Mouse, “I have already overpaid you for the little work you have done.” However, you can take the horns, though!”

Suddenly the Fox jumped on the Mouse, who gave one faint squeak and disappeared.

Remember, if you are proud and selfish you may lose everything in the end.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

More Bison Join Island Herd

More Bison Join Island Herd

Bison have roamed Catalina Island off the coast of California since 1924. They have valuable Yellowstone Park genetics, but now with two new pregnant females have added more diversity. Courtesy Catalina Island Conservancy.

Bison have played a significant role in the cultural heritage of Catalina Island for nearly 100 years and will be roaming there freely far into the future.

Catalina Island Conservancy worked with the Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation herd to bring two pregnant female bison to Catalina Island.

The new additions arrived in early December and will supplement the genetic diversity of the current bison herd on Catalina Island with the valuable genetics of heritage bison.

The herd—managed by Colorado State University, the city of Fort Collins, Colorado, and Larimer County—was established with nine adult females and one male calf in November 2015.

It has now grown to over 100 bison, which has made it possible to share bison with tribal and conservation herds across the country.

The bison have valuable genetics from the Yellowstone National Park herd and, thanks to science implemented at CSU by Assistant Professor Jennifer Barfield and her team, the animals are also disease-free.

“We are proud to continue our mission of collaborating with conservationists through this new partnership with Catalina Island Conservancy,” said Barfield, a reproductive physiologist.

“We look forward to watching our animals find a new home with the herd on Catalina Island, where they can contribute to the growth of a truly unique and iconic herd.”

Bison have freely roamed Catalina Island since 1924.

Fourteen bison were brought to the island for the filming of an adaptation of a Zane Grey novel, believed to be “The Vanishing American.”

There are currently approximately 100 bison on Catalina Island, off the coast of California.

The new animals will integrate into Catalina Island’s free-ranging bison herd and are expected to give birth in the spring.

“With goals of maintaining the health of the land and providing public benefit, Catalina Island Conservancy maintains its three-part mission of conservation, education and recreation.

“The bison population is a key example of this delicate balance,” said Tony Budrovich, Conservancy president and CEO .

“The unique opportunity to see American bison on Catalina Island brings wildlife lovers from around the world to learn about a species they might otherwise not have a chance to see roam.

“While here, they also learn about Catalina’s endemic species, special Mediterranean climate and importance of conservation.”

With its location close to urban areas, Catalina provides a gateway to nature for a diverse population to experience and learn about wildlife and nature just steps away from home.

The best way to view bison is through a Conservancy Eco Tour.

Bison are wild animals. People should stay at least 125 feet away from bison at all times. Info Courtesy of Catalina Island Company

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Part 2—30 years with the ITBC – Dilemma of the Yellowstone Park Bison

Part 2—30 years with the ITBC – Dilemma of the Yellowstone Park Bison

Bison grazing in Yellowstone Park as a storm rolls in. Jacob W Frank, NPS.

From the time he learned of it, Robert “Robbie” Magnan director of the Fort Peck Fish and Wildlife Department in northeastern Montana was troubled by the annual buffalo slaughter of excess buffalo in Yellowstone Park.

It was not enough that the bison meat was distributed to Indian tribes in neat frozen packages.

Magnan and other founding members of the InterTribal Buffalo Council (ITBC) cherished the Yellowstone Park genetics that had flowed from free-roaming bison for more than a hundred years. They wanted those genetics in their own tribal herds.

Not quite the same as “always having lived wild” in Yellowstone Park. They knew that only a reported 23 buffalo survived poaching in the Park—back in the 1890s—and the wild Yellowstone pastures had been replenished by relatively tame buffalo from half a dozen sources, both US and Canadian. So not many were actually “pure.”

Still, the Yellowstone buffalo are special and many Native people deeply desire those genetics in their tribal buffalo herds.

The target population in Yellowstone Park is 3,000 buffalo, no more. But with new calves growing up in the herd it can quickly balloon up to 5,000 or more.

Because of the risks of spreading brucellosis to cattle herds, Montana law says that no bison can leave Yellowstone Park alive.

According to Montana Game and Fish, half the bison and elk in the Park test positive for brucellosis.

Bison in deep snow in Yellowstone Park. As snow gets deeper in winter, more buffalo leave the mountains for lower elevations. Overpopulation speeds migration out of the Park. Neal Herbert, NPS.

Hence, the surplus gets butchered, except for a few tribes allowed to come hunt at the borders in honor of ancient treaties that promised hunting rights.

South Dakota Lakota gather near the butchering facility in Yellowstone Park to honor the buffalo. NPS.

One of the original founders of ITBC, Magnan has advocated to halt the slaughter of Yellowstone buffalo since 1992.

Two years later, in 1994, ITBC presented their first quarantine proposal to Yellowstone National Park, offering land and resources to support the development of quarantine facilities.

Over the years, Magnan often received bison meat for his tribe from this surplus.

Native children enjoy bison burgers for school lunch. Unlike their parents, they have always been familiar with buffalo living nearby in Tribal herds. Courtesy ITBC.

 

 

 

 

 

Still, it rankled—even though the Park was 400 miles away, on a diagonal across Montana from his Sioux and Assiniboine Indian Reservation at Fort Peck.

Traveling the Big Pasture

But this was a gorgeous July morning in northeastern Montana. Problems created by winter overpopulation of Yellowstone Park buffalo seem far away.


Sweet breezes waft across the flat between the higher bluffs and the badlands below as Robbie Magnan heads his pickup farther north into the large quarantine pasture.

I was privileged to ride along over the green hills that summer morning in 2014.

Below us to the south we could see bits of the silver ribbon that was the mighty Missouri River—flowing east as it does through most of Montana.

We were looking for the 39 buffalo from Yellowstone Park that recently came to live in this generous pasture—about 20 square miles (equal to a rugged chunk of land four miles by five)—13,000 acres.

They have lots of space to roam and might be anywhere—up on the grassy plateau or down one of many gravel and juniper draws.

Magnan says this herd of buffalo often walk 8 or 10 miles a day while grazing.

They keep moving, so he never knows where to find them.

“I promised I’d look at them every day and that’s what I do.”

He chuckles and you know there’s nothing he enjoys more than bouncing over the grassy flats, up and over the dam and out on a high point of land each morning to scan the badland draws below for the little Yellowstone Park herd.

It was one step in an ambitious experimental program, and Robbie Magnan is an important link in the quarantine process.

He checks levels in a new water tank and the new, higher and stronger quarantine fence being built within the quarantine pasture for later Yellowstone Park arrivals.

It’s a well-fortified 320-acre pasture within a pasture—for extra security.

As we bounced over the terrain—sometimes on a dirt road or trail, sometimes straight across the prairie, up and down—Robbie tells me the amazing story of this small priceless buffalo herd and the quarantine research that brought it here.

The scientific research, still ongoing, studies whether Yellowstone Park buffalo that test negative for brucellosis as calves can continue to live disease-free.

The goal is to grow this very special herd and then, if still disease free, establish them in a wider area, where they can live and multiply on tribal lands outside the Park.

Magnan is pleased with his new six-wire buffalo-tight wildlife exterior fences—a smooth wire on top and bottom for deer to jump over and antelope to crawl under, with four taut barbed wires in between.

“As long as they have grass like this, water and the minerals they need—and we test the soils for that— they’ll stay in,” he says.

If not, they’ll go looking for what’s missing.

“We call them wide-ranging, not free-ranging like in Yellowstone. It’s not realistic to think buffalo will ever be free-ranging without fencing. They will always be in a fence.”

This lovely summer morning Magnan drives over two hours searching for the Yellowstone herd.

“Just one more place to look!”

We bounce over the next hill, down a grassy draw—and sure enough, there they are.

Magnificent, extra-large, extra-dark beauties, 39 young adults.

All these animals are the same age, since they were placed in quarantine as calves in Yellowstone Park, lived there several years before coming to Ft. Peck. Annually they have tested negative for brucellosis.

Although these buffalo are not family, because they were selected for diverse genetics, they have formed a tight family group.

They now have 12 calves and bunch together as they graze.

Curious and friendly, several walk over to surround the pickup, to sniff at us and grunt their greetings for a few minutes. A magical interchange.

Looking for treats, I thought. But they didn’t get any and moved on.

Best of all, there’s a new baby calf, born this morning.

The older calves are turning dark, the crests of their heads nearly black between little nubs of black horns, as it’s already mid-summer.

But this newborn baby is pure red-gold. He shines bright as a shiny new penny in the morning sun.

Magnan has hopes of increasing this cultural herd enough to achieve a natural diversity with a self-sustaining genetic base.

He has worked with the Fort Peck Fish and Wildlife for 20 years, 17 of them with their tribal buffalo herds.

“From the beginning of time, the buffalo have taken care of Native Americans. Now they need our help,” he explains.

In the distance, in another pasture, we glimpse a hundred or so of the Ft. Peck tribes’ other buffalo herd filing down a long hill to water.

Magnan calls the Yellowstone Park buffalo our cultural herd and the others—over there—our business herd.

“From the beginning of time, the buffalo have taken care of Native Americans. Now they need our help,” says Robert Magnan. Photo ITBC.

 

He waves toward the buffalo surrounding us. These buffalo know him well. They also know his pickup.

“To us these are extremely valuable, like registered cattle. They’ll never be sold. We’ll use them only for cultural purposes.”

As we watched the Yellowstone herd, they spread out a bit, grazing, while several calves take the opportunity to nurse.

The Yellowstone Park herd at Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Reservation in northeastern Montana. All adults are the same age because they were captured as calves the same year. Curious and friendly, several walk over to sniff the pickup. They grunt their greetings—a magical interchange. Then they move on up the green draw and out of sight. Photo by FM Berg.

Then, still grazing, the herd comes together in a small, compact band and moves on up the green draw around a rocky point out of sight.

“The money we generate from our business herd is to take care of our cultural herd. This is a way we could feed our people if the social programs were stopped.”

One problem that concerns Robbie Magnan: none of these buffalo grew up in a multi-generational herd—since they were separated from their mothers and quarantined together as calves.

He wonders: How will they learn the wisdom of the herd? How will they understand the complexities of normal buffalo relationships?

However, so far the quarantine is working. No brucellosis outbreaks with these maturing young buffalo.

And Magnan and his staff have shown themselves capable. None have escaped.

Then it came time to relocate an additional 145 buffalo.

These were held five years in quarantine on Ted Turner’s Green Ranch near Bozeman—and before that in Yellowstone Park quarantine at Stephens Creek in the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park—where they’d been captured and held in quarantine.

Montana authorities declared it too soon to divide them among the various entities, as planned. So instead they trucked them to Fort Peck’s quarantine pastures.

First Yellowstone bison out of the trailer at Ft. Peck Indian Reservation. Jacob W. Frank, NPS

Robbie Mangan’s buffalo crew took over managing both Yellowstone herds.

“I enjoy them,” he says. “After 16 years they are still teaching me.”

The local press was on hand when the new herd arrived from Yellowstone Park at the Ft. Peck pasture. It was already dark.

Bringing in Yellowstone bulls at the Fort Peck Buffalo Ranch for their final brucellosis tests before they move on to new homes. Photo Davenport, ITBC.

As trucks rolled across the bridge leading to the release site near Poplar, a group of Assiniboine people stood waiting, singing a welcome.

An unforgettable moment for those on the bridge.

“We sang for them—a buffalo song,” said Larry Wetsit, vice president of community services at Fort Peck Community College.

“It’s a special day. Our people have been waiting and praying about this.”

During early reservation days hundreds of tribal members had starved, including his own ancestors, Wetsit said.

“It was all about having no buffalo. That was the low part in our history, the lowest we could go. This is a road to recovery.”

Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation, one of the agencies involved in the Interagency Bison Management Plan for dealing with Yellowstone Park brucellosis problems, was there for the release.

“We believe it’s the right thing to do for wildlife. It’s the right thing to do for the tribes. And ultimately the right thing to do for the landscape,” he said.

“What this means to me is the return of prosperity to our people,” said Wetsit.

An Assiniboine, Wetsit has been the medicine lodge keeper for over 20 years, a ceremony he learned as a young man.

“It’s a celebration of our life with the buffalo.

“What we’ve always been told, always prayed about, is that the buffalo represents prosperity. When times were good it was because our Creator gave us more buffalo.”

Iris Grey Bull, a Sioux member—the Fort Peck reservation is home to both Assiniboine and Sioux tribes—spoke about their close ties to the buffalo.

“The waters of our reservation form the shapes of buffalo,” she said. “One male is to the east and four females to the west.

‘Now they’re bringing back the buffalo. This is a historic moment for us. We’re rebuilding our lives. We’re healing from historical trauma.”

“I watched the bison come out of the trailers,” Schweiger recalled. “I was watching the faces of tribal elders and the women and children watching these big animals charge out of the trailers.

Homecoming on Tribal Lands

“I was so moved to see the reaction—a powerful thing to witness. After the animals were released the drummers sang a blessing. The snow was blowing,” said Schweiger.

“It was cold. It was dark. But there was a lot of warmth.”

On August 22, 2013, the remaining 34 buffalo of the same pure Yellowstone Park strain as those at Fort Peck were released on nearby Fort Belknap Reservation.

Tribal members cheer and snap photos as 34 Yellowstone Park buffalo come off the trailer and race off into a 1,000 acre pasture on the plains of the Ft Belknap Reservation in northern Montana in 2013. Photo by Rion Sanders, Great Falls Tribune.

Montana’s governor Brian Schweitzer called the event a historic opportunity to bring genetically pure buffalo to this special place on the planet.

“These are the bison that will be breeding stock to re-populate the entire western United States, in every place that people desire to have them,” he said.

Gathered to welcome them with a pipe ceremony were 150 people.

“It’s a great day for Indians and Indian country,” announced Mark Azure, who heads the Fort Belknap tribe’s buffalo program.

The last two big bulls flipped up their tails and ran from the trailer to join the herd.

Mike Fox, Belknap’s tribal councilman, said the tribe’s goal is to manage the special buffalo herd and use it as seed stock for other places wanting to reintroduce the Yellowstone strain.

“It’s a homecoming for them,” Fox said. “They took care of us and now it’s time for us to take care of them.”

Robbie Magnan waited, his most prized herd was not allowed to travel to other tribes, as was planned.

Film: Return of the Native: 25 Year ITBC History

A wonderful film was made on the history of ITBC. I know our readers will enjoy it when you have time to check it out. Narrated by Mark Azure of the Fort Belknap tribe in Montana.

In this documentary you’ll learn more about the groundbreaking work that Tribal leaders have done to restore buffalo to Indian Country. It’s split into 3 parts—close to an hour long.

Also you may want to watch the related short video: ITBC’s “Returning the Buffalo.”

The spiritual eagle staff seen here represents all the Intertribal Buffalo Council’s member tribes. This photo was taken in January 2003 near Miami, Oklahoma. Credit InterTribal Buffalo Council.

 

Just click on this website:

https://itbcbuffalonation.org/return-of-the-native-the-25-year-history-of-the-intertribal-buffalo-council/
Or you can watch the various parts of the film on YouTube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=AeZ4lrb4-hs

But on a rather sad note, the film ends with Robbie Magnan standing a lonely vigil by his empty quarantine pasture—320 acres. Enclosed by walls of 8-foot high woven-wire fences and inside that is a 2-wire electric fence strung within the perimeter.

Well barricaded against escape, but empty and silent.

After 2014 no buffalo came from Yellowstone to his quarantine pasture for years.

Progress was stalled while cattlemen protested the quarantine system in Montana courts. They remained concerned about losing their brucellosis-free status again—which would prevent them from selling their cattle.

Introducing the Indian Buffalo Management Act

Meanwhile new legislation called The Indian Buffalo Management Act was introduced in 2019 by Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska) to assure regular funding for the buffalo restorations programs in Indian country.

It was unanimously approved and passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee but did not make it to a vote in the 116th Congress.

According to his office, Congressman Young would likely need to reintroduce the bill in the 117th Congress. He pledged to continue working with tribal leaders, state and local partners, and other advocates to ensure that herds of these majestic creatures can be restored to their historical sizes.

“For hundreds of years, the American buffalo was central to the culture, spiritual wellbeing, and livelihoods of our nation’s Indigenous peoples,” said Congressman Young.

“The tragic decimation of these iconic animals remains one of the darkest chapters in America’s history, and we must be doing all that we can to reverse the damage done not only to the American buffalo, but to the way of life of Native peoples across our country.

“I am proud to be joined by Congresswoman Deb Haaland and Congressman Tom Cole, in addition to Alaska Native and American Indian organizations and countless tribes, as we introduce this critical legislation to protect a resource vital to Native cultural, spiritual, and subsistence traditions.

“I would like to thank the InterTribal Buffalo Council, in particular, for their advocacy and hard work on the development of this legislation. This bill is an important step to restoring once-vibrant buffalo herds, and I will keep working with friends on both sides of the aisle to see this legislation across the finish line.”

New genetics in the animals arriving from the ITBC to Pueblo tribes of New Mexico enable them to improve existing buffalo herds, start new herds, reintroduce buffalo into Native population diets and generate critical tribal revenue.

“The Pueblo of Taos greatly appreciates Congresswoman Deb Haaland’s support of reintroduction of Buffalo to Indian lands through her co-sponsorship of the Indian Buffalo Management Act,” said Pueblo of Taos leadership.

“This Act will allow the Pueblos of New Mexico to enhance existing herds, start new herds, reintroduce buffalo into Native population diets and generate critical tribal revenue through marketing.”

“When it becomes law, the Indian Buffalo Management Act will strengthen the federal-tribal partnership in growing buffalo herds across the country and in the process restore this majestic animal to a central place in the lives of Indian people,” said John L. Berrey, the Chairman of the Quapaw Nation of Oklahoma. 

40 Bulls shipped to 16 Tribal herds

Forty Ft Peck buffalo originating in Yellowstone Park were loaded for relocation in 16 tribal herds across 9 states in August 2020. Courtesy Rich Peterson.

 

Then in August 2020 transfers were announced for 40 young Fort Peck buffalo bulls declared brucellosis-free by the state of Montana and the US Department of Agriculture.

At last, they were cleared for travel and slated for donation to 16 buffalo tribal herds in nine states.

Fifteen bulls were sent out to the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, Prairie Band Potawatomi, Modoc, Quapaw, Cherokee and Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes.

A few days later more bison were hauled to the Blackfeet, Kalispell Tribe, Shoshone Bannock Tribes, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe, Forest County Potawatomi and Oneida.

Logistics for two more tribes were still being worked out.

Arnell Abold, an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe, is the InterTribal Buffalo Council’s Executive Director. She says this moment is a celebration for tribes, the National Park Service and the state of Montana.

“This is huge for us, and we’re eternally grateful and humbled by this moment, and we look forward to putting more animals back on the landscape and returning them to their homeland,” Abold said.

Megan Davenport is a wildlife biologist with InterTribal Buffalo Council.

“Tribes have been advocating for the last 30 years, particularly with this Yellowstone issue, that there’s a better alternative to slaughter,” Davenport said.

These animals marked the second transfer of bison from the Fort Peck Indian Reservation’s quarantine facility to other tribes, she said. The first was five bison sent to the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.

“It’s been 27 years since ITBC submitted the first proposals to quarantine—as an alternative to slaughter,” said Ervin Carlson, president of ITBC. Now the first Yellowstone Park buffalo have been trucked to permanent homes on tribal lands.

On Dec 12, 2020, Ervin Carlson, of the Blackfeet tribe in western Montana, writing for ITBC as board president, reported on how it all this came about.

“It’s been 27 years since ITBC submitted the first proposals to quarantine and transfer Yellowstone buffalo as an alternative to their slaughter,” he said.

“It’s been only four months since this has been actualized, with the first tribe-to-tribe transfer of 40 brucellosis-free Yellowstone bulls sent from Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes’ quarantine facility to 15 native nations through ITBC.

“While this is a massive victory and testament to 30 years of inter-tribal efforts to protect the Yellowstone buffalo, it has not been achieved without significant challenge.

He explains that in 1992 tribes were denied a seat at the table in the process of drafting the environmental impact statement for considering management alternatives for Yellowstone buffalo.

“Despite denied participation, ITBC persisted, introducing proposals and resources to develop a quarantine program.”

In 1997 ITBC submitted their first proposals to build quarantine facilities on tribal lands.

“This achieved overwhelming support from public citizens, nonprofits and federal agencies, though roadblocks persisted.

“ITBC finally won a seat at the Interagency Bison Management Plan in 2009 to protect and preserve the Yellowstone buffalo.”

“Due to the dedication of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux tribes, and the 30 years of arduous activism by ITBC, the tribes completed construction of their quarantine facility in 2014.

“This facility was built to accommodate all phases of quarantine and can handle approximately 600 buffalo on 280 acres surrounded by double fences.

“With the assistance of ITBC, the tribes continue to improve this facility by expanding the number of pastures through cross fencing, increasing the capacity for additional groups of buffalo.

“The construction of this facility was initiated upon the request of the National Park Service.

“The Fort Peck quarantine facility is still not used to its full potential because a Montana law and federal regulations are misapplied to the tribes.

“The capacity of the facilities in and near the Park are not adequate to allow new groups to enter the quarantine program each year resulting in a larger number of buffalo being slaughtered. These facilities cannot accommodate as many buffalo as Fort Peck.

“No animals will enter the quarantine program this winter.

“Each winter, buffalo migrate outside the boundaries of Yellowstone, and either face capture and shipment-to-slaughter (442 animals last winter) or hunting by tribes utilizing treaty-secured rights (284 animals last winter).

“Because there is limited capacity in the facilities in and near the Park and a refusal to use the Fort Peck facilities to their full potential, more buffalo will be slaughtered this winter.

“ITBC’s solution of quarantine and translocation, the alternative nearly 30 years in-the-making, helps offset the number of buffalo killed for migrating outside of the Park’s invisible fences.

“The buffalo that consecutively test negative for brucellosis for years within the program are transferred to tribal lands to preserve their unique genetics and restore Tribal spiritual and cultural relationships.

“They are the descendants of the buffalo our Native ancestors lived with for centuries, and are honored and revered by the many nations with whom they find a home.”

Ervin Carlson, ITBC’s President for the past 17 years stated, “ITBC appreciates the efforts of the state of Montana in supporting quarantine operations and is deeply grateful to the US Department of Agriculture, Yellowstone National Park and to the Fort Peck Tribes for their dedicated partnership in accomplishing this mission.

“Finally, this moment would not be possible without our Member Tribes’ years of participation, support, and tireless work to ensure that buffalo and Native people are reunited to restore their land, culture, and ancient relationship across North America.”

Testing and Quarantine Continue

Before shipping the Yellowstone Park buffalo out to other tribes the Fort Peck tribes did a final quarantine testing.

It was an unforgettable bright August morning in the northeast corner of Montana.

Robbie Magnan, Game and Fish director for the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, rose before dawn to round up and ease the 40 buffalo bulls into closer corrals near the loading chute.

“There’s always been a lot of hoops that we’ve had to jump through, and it’s something that we’ve just worked diligently for a lot of years to get this far for this happening today,” said Carlson.

“So today is real gratifying, just to be able to get some animals out of [the park] and to tribes alive.”

“We have a drum group out here. They’ll sing the prayer songs to send the buffalo safely to their new homes, that they travel safe and receive blessings and say goodbye for us, and we’ll send them on their way,” Jonny BearCub Stiffarm says.

Jonny BearCub Stiffarm is one of a dozen or so tribal members who came to see the buffalo off. Loring Schaible, Sept 4, 2020.

You’ll notice here at this gathering that there’s some real little children. Buffalo will always have been a part of their lives,” BearCub Stiffarm says.

“And so for a lot of us older generation, to be able to see that circle become complete has really been meaningful.”

If you’re experiencing quarantine fatigue, these bulls can relate, their handlers say.

“These guys have been in there for years,” Magnan says. “Most of their life they’ve been in some type of quarantine.”

They endured two years of quarantine at Yellowstone National Park, where they started their lives, before being transferred to Fort Peck for final years of isolation and disease testing.

Buffalo captured in Yellowstone Park as calves and testing negative for brucellosis spend most of their lives confined in fairly small quarantine pastures, until they can be cleared for distribution to waiting Indian tribes.

“But today is a good day, because they’ll go to a home where they’ll never have to be tested again,” Magnan says. “And they have the rest of their life to enjoy being a buffalo.”

Their new homes are as far from here as Kansas, Wisconsin and Alaska. It was to be the largest ever inter-tribal transfer of buffalo.

A semitrailer backs up to the chute to start the first ones on their journey.

It takes two hours and lots of commotion for a group of tribal Game and Fish employees, plus a handful of community volunteers, to coax the 2,000-pound bulls through the chute and onto the trailers.

Several of the Fort Peck Tribes’ buffalo are rounded up through a series of pens before being loaded onto a semi-trailer on Sept 4, 2020. Robbie Magnan in rear coaxes them along to the next pen with a tarp. Loring Schaible.

The Cherokee continue to work with the Council, which awards surplus bison from national parks each year to its member tribes, and hopes to obtain another 25 or 30 cows.

Loading in trucks can be hard work and stressful for buffalo and handlers alike. ITBC.

The two young bulls, each between 1,000 and 1,500 pounds, were trucked over 1,000 miles to Delaware County, Oklahoma this week.

Both animals managed the stress of the trip well, said Cherokee Deputy Chief Bryan Warner. They were at first held separately from the others in the herd to be slowly introduced into the population.

The two bulls will put on hundreds more pounds each to reach their massive 2,000-pound adult size, and in the meantime they will find their place in the hierarchy among other bulls and eventually reproduce naturally among the herd, he said.

Two bison bulls from Yellowstone Park tussle after their arrival at the Cherokee Buffalo Herd Ranch near Bull Hollow in Delaware County. Courtesy Cherokee Tribe.

As descendants of the buffalo that once roamed free more than 100 years ago, the new genetics bring a lineage to the herd welcomed in more ways than one, he said.

“Yellowstone buffalo are significant to tribes because they descend from the buffalo that our ancient ancestors actually lived among, and this is just one more way we can keep our culture and heritage and history alive.”

“This partnership with the InterTribal Buffalo Council continues to benefit the Cherokee Nation by allowing the tribe to grow a healthy bison population over the last five years,” Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr said in a press statement.

“Historically, bison provided an essential food source for tribes. Every part of the bison was used for food, clothing, shelter, tools and ceremonial purposes. These newly acquired bison will help revive some ancient cultural traditions, as well as provide expanded economic opportunities for future generations of Cherokees.”

Although bison are associated more with the Great Plains tribes, wood bison once roamed the Cherokee lands and all along the Atlantic Coast. Prior to European colonization, the animals played a critical role for the Cherokee people as a vital food source.

Until 2014, the Cherokee had not raised bison for 40 years. After spending two or three years working with the InterTribal Buffalo Council, the tribe’s herd now has about 180 bison.

Robbie Magnan scopes the grassy draws of his large quarantine pasture to check on their Yellowstone Park herds. Credit Fort Peck Tribes.

Robbie Magnan says all this hard work is worth it to restore an animal that was once the center of life for many tribes across the Great Plains and Mountain West.

Along with other long-time workers in ITBC he believes contemplating a herd of buffalo can bring Native tribal members a sense of peace, love and strength in dealing with life’s problems.

The ITBC and the Fort Peck Tribes say this is the first of many large inter-tribal buffalo transfers out of the quarantine program.

This winter, they plan to transfer 30 to 40 animals, an entire family group, to one lucky tribe that can prove it has the resources to care for them.

Come spring, the ITBC is expecting a new shipment of buffalo from Yellowstone National Park to the Fort Peck Reservation.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

InterTribal Buffalo Council Restores Herds—and More, Part 1

InterTribal Buffalo Council Restores Herds—and More, Part 1

Whether it is unique training opportunities, large scale restoration goals, more effective marketing or Native cultural issues, ITBC has worked with tribes to restore buffalo on tribal lands. Photo ITBC.

Over and over delegates testify: As we bring the buffalo back to health, we also bring our own people back to health. And that’s what it’s all about.

In February 1991, a meeting in the Black Hills of South Dakota, hosted by the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society, brought Native people from all four directions, as is traditional, to talk about a topic that concerned them all.

How can Indian tribes with experience raising buffalo help other tribes restore buffalo to their lands? Why is this important to us?

Representatives of each of 19 tribes—most of them from the Plains states—spoke of their desire to obtain or expand buffalo herds and grow them into successful, self-sufficient programs.

Many difficult and complex problems were involved that tribes and herd managers had faced alone—with mixed results.

Each tribe that desired buffalo needed to purchase or set aside enough suitable lands for year-around grazing or hay lands, fence that land with high, sturdy fences, and obtain buffalo—all expensive options.

Not all tribal members agreed with the value of such land use.

Next, they needed to manage the herd wisely, so if possible, the buffalo herd would be financially self-sufficient.

Growing the herd, with a healthy calf crop each year—so they produced enough meat for tribal and ceremonial uses and young stock for sale or expansion—was essential.

Furthermore, far beyond the economics of it, most buffalo enthusiasts expressed concerns that they inspire others—not merely to restore live buffalo to tribally-owned pastures across the United States—but that they restore them in ways compatible with their traditional spiritual and cultural beliefs.

Although some tribes and tribal members had engaged in production of buffalo for sale and/or for subsistence and cultural use, these activities were conducted by each individual tribe, with little or no collaboration between tribes.

Frequent droughts on the Plains brought unexpected set-backs.

Some managers were able to fill some needs, and not others. Some herds dwindled and ended. Many managers became discouraged at the high costs and seemingly slight benefits.

Yet, others succeeded well.

As the meeting ended, all representatives knew they wanted to continue the discussion and find ways to work together to help each other.

It was plain to all that an organization to assist tribes with their buffalo programs was sorely needed.

With hard work and dedication of the group, the US Congress was approached with the need to appropriate funding for tribal buffalo programs. That June, in 1991, Congress voted to provide funding and donate surplus buffalo from national parks and public refuges to interested tribes.

This action offered renewed hope that the sacred relationship between Indian people and the buffalo might not only be saved but would in time flourish.

The intertribal group agreed to supervise federal grants and distribution of the animals.
Buffalo began coming home to reservations in earnest.

The Tribes again met in December 1991 to discuss how the Federal appropriations would be spent.

At this meeting, each tribe spoke of their plans and desires for buffalo herds and how to help existing tribal herds expand and develop into successful, self-sufficient programs.

In April of 1992 tribal representatives gathered in Albuquerque, NM.

It was at that meeting that the InterTribal Buffalo Council (initially called the InterTribal Bison Cooperative—ITBC)—officially became a recognized tribal organization. Officers were elected and began developing criteria for membership, articles of incorporation and by-laws.

In September of 1992, ITBC was incorporated in the state of Colorado and that summer established a permanent office in Rapid City, South Dakota.

“Having the buffalo back helps rejuvenate the culture,” says Jim Stone, Rapid City, Executive Secretary of the Intertribal Buffalo Council and a Yankton Lakota.

“In my tribe, like others, the buffalo was honored through ceremony and songs. There were buffalo hunts and prayers to give thanks to the buffalo.”

The council has adopted the mission of “Restoring buffalo to Indian Country, to preserve our historical, cultural and traditional and spiritual relationship for future generations.”

Thirty years of Tribal Buffalo Progress

Today, 30 years later, 69 federally recognized Tribes from 19 states have joined the Intertribal Buffalo Council. Most of these tribes own a buffalo herd, for a total of more than 20,000 buffalo living in tribal herds across the United States today.

Sixty-nine Tribes with ITBC herds in 19 states are divided into 4 regions with over 20,000 buffalo—most are west of the Mississippi River. ITBC.

InterTribal Buffalo Council Member Tribes

  • Alutiiq Tribe of Old Harbor
  • Blackfeet Nation
  • Cheyenne Arapaho of OK
  • Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe
  • Chippewa Cree Tribe
  • Cochiti Pueblo
  • Comanche Tribe of OK
  • Confederated Salish & Kootenai
  • Confederated –Tribes of the Umatilla
  • Crow Tribe
  • Crow Creek Sioux Tribe
  • Eastern Shoshone
  • Flandreau Santee Sioux
  • Fort Belknap Indian Community
  • Fort Peck Tribes
  • Ho-Chunk Nation
  • Iowa Tribe
  • Jicarilla Apache
  • Kalispel Tribe
  • Lower Brule Sioux Tribe
  • Mesa Grande Band of Mission Indians
  • Miami Tribe of OK
  • Modoc Tribe of OK
  • Nambe Pueblo
  • Nez Perce Tribe
  • Northern Arapaho
  • Northern Cheyenne
  • Omaha Tribe of NE
  • Oneida Nation of WI
  • Osage Nation
  • Picuris Pueblo
  • Pit River
  • Pojoaque Pueblo
  • Ponca Tribe of NE
  • Prairie Band Potawatomi
  • Prairie Island Dakota Community
  • Quapaw Tribe of OK
  • Rosebud Sioux Tribe
  • Round Valley Tribe
  • Ruby Tribe
  • Salt River Pima
  • Sac & Fox of Mississippi
  • San Juan Pueblo
  • Sandia Pueblo
  • Santee Sioux Tribe
  • Seneca-Cayuga of OK
  • Shawnee Tribe
  • Shoshone-Bannock Tribes
  • Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate
  • Southern Ute Tribe
  • Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe
  • Spokane Tribe
  • Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
  • Stevens Village
  • Taos Pueblo
  • Tesuque Pueblo
  • Three Affiliated Tribes
  • Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa
  • Ute Indian Tribe
  • Winnebago Tribe
  • Yakama Nation
  • Yankton Sioux Tribe

 

ITBC is committed to helping each tribe bring buffalo herds on Indian lands in a manner that promotes cultural enhancement, spiritual revitalization, ecological restoration and economic development.

Many are Plains tribes with a long history of dependence on buffalo for food, shelter and clothing.

Others have no known history of hunting buffalo, but desire the cultural experience.

“Today’s resurgence of buffalo on Tribal lands, largely through the efforts of the InterTribal Buffalo Council, signifies the survival of the revered buffalo culture as well as survival of American Indians and their culture,” says Ervin Carlson, Blackfeet, President of ITBC.

Ervin Carlson, president of ITBC, member of the Blackfeet tribe in northwestern Montana, recently stated their goal this way:

“For Indian Tribes, the restoration of buffalo to Tribal lands signifies much more than simply conservation of the national mammal.

“Tribes enter buffalo restoration efforts to counteract the near extinction of buffalo that was analogous to the tragic history of American Indians in this country.” In other words, they see the two tragic events as similar and parallel to each other.

“Today’s resurgence of buffalo on Tribal lands, largely through the efforts of the InterTribal Buffalo Council, signifies the survival of the revered buffalo culture as well as survival of American Indians and their culture.”

“We have many cultural connections to the buffalo,” says Alvah Quinn, a Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate from South Dakota, former manager of the tribal buffalo program.

“I grew up hearing about the buffalo, but we didn’t have any around on the reservation.’

His tribe’s last recorded buffalo hunt was in 1879.

Quinn says he will always remember the night in September 1992 when he helped bring the first 40 buffalo to his home reservation.

“I was really surprised that night. There were 60 tribal members waiting in the cold and rain to welcome the buffalo back home. After a 112-year absence!”

They now own 350 buffalo—one of many success stories.

After three decades, Intertribal Council leaders are even more convinced of the value of these buffalo herds.

Daily they are reminded that buffalo represent the spirit of native people and how their lives were once lived, free and in harmony with nature.

They’ve seen how bringing buffalo back to tribal lands helps to heal the spirit of Indian people.

Today some tribes own very large buffalo herds, for commercial as well as cultural purposes.

The Crow Tribe has 2,000 buffalo running free-range on their large, mountainous reservation spanning the state line between Billings, Montana, and Sheridan, Wyoming.

Pauline Small on horseback, carries the flag of the Crow Tribe of Montana. As a tribal official, she is entitled to carry the flag during the Crow Fair parade at Crow Agency, south of Billings, Montana. The Crow have one of the largest tribal herds, at 2,000 head.

 

At Pine Ridge, the Oglala Sioux raise 1,100 including both tribal and college buffalo herds, and Rosebud also raises 300 under a tribal umbrella, reports Stone.

Other tribes set goals for a small herd mostly for cultural and educational purposes, explains Mike Faith, long-time tribal buffalo manager and now tribal chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, who also serves as Vice President of the Executive Council of the Intertribal Buffalo Council.

Mike Faith, Vice President of ITBC, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman and long-term manager of the tribal buffalo herd, advises “Quality over quantity is what counts.” ITBC.

 

Faith has worked with the InterTribal group since its beginnings. He says a new tribe might slaughter only one or two buffalo a year for special celebrations and ceremonial use.

It depends on land available, land uses on the reservation, tribal population and historic dependence on buffalo.

“Quality over quantity is what counts,” says Faith. “Whether they want a small herd—20 or 30—or a larger commercial herd, we can give help and technical assistance.”

No matter the numbers, Faith suggests it is important that new tribes take their buffalo venture seriously. Hiring a knowledgeable buffalo manager is critical.

The Intertribal Council offers training and educational programs and coordinates transfer of buffalo and grant funds.

Troy Heinert, ITBC Range Technician, visits Rosebud, SD, helping Wayne Frederick and his crew work 2014 surplus bison “on hold” so they can be released out into the pasture. ITBC, Facebook, October 31, 2014.

 

Experts are available to help tribal leaders work out management and marketing plans that fit their particular concerns and goals, if desired.

Details like building high, strong fences before the buffalo arrive are essential—and costly.

Big bulls can jump six feet or more.

Round or angled corrals work better than square, as buffalo tend to jump when they hit a corner.
They may get hung up and die of a heart attack.

Corrals work best when built with sorting tubs and alleyways with enclosed sides so animals move ahead without seeing out. Curved alleyways are helpful so buffalo think moving ahead is a way to escape.

There may be grants available to help defray costs, the experts tell the tribes.

A buffalo herd needs plenty of space, grass and water. On request, experienced leaders will visit to help determine goals and advise on land base.

Sometimes they recommend reducing animal numbers to better accommodate the land available.

They also work with federal agencies to help bring fractured lands together.

A manager with training in low-stress buffalo handling is preferred.

Handlers familiar with raising cattle will find surprising differences, Faith explains.

For instance, many cowboys shout at their cattle when chasing them.

But buffalo are essentially wild animals, he says. They feel stressed with noise and pressure, so it’s better to move them quietly and slowly.

Arnell D. Abold, of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) Tribe, was recently appointed to the position of the Executive Director for the InterTribal Buffalo Council. Ms Abold is the first Native woman to serve as Director of ITBC since its inception in 1992.

Arnell D. Abold, of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) Tribe, serves as Executive Director for the InterTribal Buffalo Council. The first Native woman Director of ITBC since its inception in 1992, she has served as its Fiscal Director since Nov. 2001. ITBC.

 

Ms. Abold previously served as the Fiscal Director.  She continues to devote her career to the vision and the mission of the organization.

Her passion, belief, and devotion to the buffalo and the membership tribes that hold the buffalo sacred is what drives her dedication and loyalty to the organization.

Tribal Buffalo Success Stories

One of the first tribes to raise buffalo, the Taos Pueblo, in northern New Mexico in the valley of a small tributary of the Rio Grande, obtained them in 1902 or 1903 from the Goodnight herd, according to Jim Stone, of the ITBC.

The Salish-Kootenae had buffalo too, perhaps descended from the original calves brought by Samuel Walking Coyote to the Montana Flathead reservation.

On South Dakota Indian reservations, the Pete Dupree and Scotty Philip families continuously raised buffalo from the wild in the 1880s.

Some early private buffalo herds did not survive long or were removed during the brucellosis eradication program, says Stone.

Most replacement buffalo now come from the federal park system and have been disease-free for decades.

The Yakama herd grew from 12 buffalo in 1991 to more than 200, producing 40 to 50 calves every year. The tribe, located in south central Washington on the Columbia Plateau, hopes to expand its buffalo herd to 400 over the next few years, and furnish more meat for tribal elders and low-income families.

Eventually the Stillaguamish Tribe near Arlington, Washington plans to share buffalo meat with neighboring tribes and make it available to the general public.

ITBC Buffalo herd arrives at new home in Montana. Photo fwp.mt.gov.

In 1997, the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin started their buffalo herd with 13 heifers and a bull from Wind Cave National Park.

When she saw the delighted response of Native People on western reservations to the return of buffalo, Pat Cornelius, now Oneida herd manager and former board member of the Intertribal Bison Cooperative, felt sure her people would be heartened as well by a herd of their own.

She describes the arrival of the first 14 buffalo as an awesome spiritual moment.

“The earth shook!” she said, when the animals jumped from trucks.

By 2007, the Oneidas owned 120 cows and bulls, with 43 calves.

The presence of buffalo has made a big difference to them, Cornelius says, describing the many local people visiting daily in summer and winter from a specially-built viewing mound and shelter.

The Eight Northern Pueblo tribes of New Mexico, like many other Native Americans, live on the land of their ancestors. Five maintain buffalo herds and cooperate to diversify bloodlines.

The Picurís herd began over a decade ago with one female and one bull. It has grown to 80 head, not including spring calves.

Their buffalo are pastured in a field close to the road, so visitors often stop.

Tribal herd manager Danny Sam cautions them that it is not safe to walk among the buffalo.

Sam serves as secretary for the Intertribal Buffalo Council and has been involved with the program since the beginning.

He has seen many changes. One he does not care for is that federal inspections, taken over from the state, require more paperwork, charge a fee and classify buffalo as an exotic species, rather than livestock. 

“They’re not an exotic species,” Sam says. “They’re native to this country.” 

New Bison Herds in Alaska

 Alaska may not seem like a natural home for buffalo. But bones and petroglyphs prove the larger wood buffalo lived and were hunted there in ancient times.

The first Alaskan group to join the restoration program, after Athabascan tribes began introducing plains buffalo, was at Stevens Village near Delta Junction.

The new herd there includes 38 buffalo, 14 of them calves, obtained with help from the Intertribal Buffalo Council.

Rocky Afraid of Hawk, a Lakota Oyate elder and the Council’s spiritual advisor, flew to Alaska from South Dakota for a welcoming ceremony.

He told the Athabascan people that buffalo were placed on earth to teach people how to live.

“You can learn from them.” he said.

Afraid of Hawk presented the village with a buffalo skull to use in ceremonials and prayers. To bless the event, he burned sagebrush in a metal can with coals from the fire. 

Randy Mayo, first chief of the Stevens Village tribal council, carried the smoldering sage to guests and let them wave smoke over their faces.

The village presented Afraid of Hawk with tobacco and salmon strips.

Traditional chief David Salmon, a Chalkyitsik elder, sat on a folding chair beside a wood fire, relating buffalo stories told by his grandfather.

Beside him, Herb George, a Stevens Village tribal council member, stirred a bubbling soup made with buffalo meat.

He said he was making soup the way his father taught him—like a traditional potlatch soup, but with buffalo bones instead of moose.

Mayo believes being around the buffalo can help people work through their problems.

He acknowledged that when the village voted to move forward with raising buffalo, he didn’t know much about the animal that had provided food, clothing and shelter to his ancestors.

He has learned a lot.

“Every time I come here it lifts me up,” said Mayo. “Just observing them, you never get tired of it.”

 Stevens Village leaders encouraged other Athabascan villages to start their own buffalo herds.

A Holistic Approach at InterTribal Buffalo Council

Lisa Colome, Technical Service Provider for the Intertribal Buffalo Council in Rapid City, served as rangeland specialist, but like others who work there, she takes a holistic approach.

A Cherokee elder who came from Oklahoma for training told her of their first herd.

“I can’t tell you what it meant to us,” he said. “I really believe with the return of the buffalo there’ll be an awakening of our people.” 

Teaching young people about traditional relationships and spiritual connections to the buffalo is important to Colome. “This is what tribes are seeking.”

Teaching buffalo values to children are important to Indian tribes. Young people have a natural awe of buffalo, reports Lisa Colome, Technical Service Provider at ITBC headquarters in Rapid City, SD.

“Native kids have a natural connection to the buffalo,” she says, her dark eyes warming.

 “They’re just naturally born with this awe. They are never disrespectful and show genuine caring.”

 She enjoys bringing children to see the buffalo.

 “Once I brought a group of sixth graders. They watched silently as the buffalo ran over the hill out of sight. I said, ‘Just wait, I think they’ll come back if we’re quiet.’

“We peeked over the hill. The buffalo circled back and came within 25 feet. The kids had never been that close before.” 

It’s easy to see that Colome is excited about her work, whether her day focuses on herd and forage health, or cultural and spiritual ties. Not always do tribal herds bring financial benefits, she knows—often quite the opposite. But always she sees cultural value. 

‘I love being a part of developing tactics, plans and solutions that ensure buffalo are here for generations to come,” she says. 

“Return of the buffalo awakens the native spirit—it gives us hope of better lives.”

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Wood Bison Reintroduced In Southwest Alaska See Another Year Of Loss, But With A Silver Lining

Wood Bison Reintroduced In Southwest Alaska See Another Year Of Loss, But With A Silver Lining

Wood buffalo in Alaska, ADF&Game

(From Alaska Public Radio)

An experimental wood bison herd introduced to the western Interior region five years ago experienced a decline this year due to harsh winter weather, but scientists say there’s still some good news.

According to a population survey conducted in June, there are 94 bison, including nine calves, in the population, which lives largely along the lower Yukon River. The population has declined by 19 animals since last year’s survey.

Biologist Tom Seaton attributes the decline to deep snow and cold temperatures late last winter in March and April. Bison need to eat grass to replenish the nutritional reserves they’ve depleted over the long winter, when layers of snow and ice prevented the animals from eating plants. Some could not survive.

The bison, which are native to the area, were reintroduced with enthusiastic local support in 2015. Since they were introduced, the population grew for three years and declined for two years. The declines align with harsh late winter conditions like those seen recently.

The good news is that the 2020 decline was less dramatic than the one in 2018, when there was a winter with similarly harsh conditions. That shows that the bison may be adapting to these conditions and learning to survive despite the challenging weather, said Seaton.

He said the bison have developed numerous skills since they were released from captivity: They’ve learned to navigate their range, avoid predators and find the best food.

Seaton says he sees the population as well-established at this point. And he expects that barring unusually harsh weather conditions, the population will continue to grow in the future.

Alaska News Nightly: Tues, Oct 20, 2020

Oct 21, KUAC

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

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