First herd of bison released in Wolakota Buffalo Range conservation project

South Dakota celebrated a conservation milestone this past weekend as a herd of 100 bison was released onto the land of the Sicangu Oyate, also known as the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The herd’s release is the beginning of a 5-year initiative to establish North America’s largest Native American owned and managed bison herd.

Also called the American buffalo, the bison were transported from Badlands National Park and Theodore Roosevelt National Park. They are part of what will become a 1,500 animal bison herd in the new Wolakota Buffalo Range, located on 28,000 acres of native grassland. 

The release was coordinated by the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation (REDCO) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) with support from the Rosebud Tribal Land Enterprise and the Department of the Interior’s 2020 Bison Conservation Initiative. 

Bison are a central part of indigenous culture as a source of food and clothing, an economic resource, and a spiritual symbol. 30 to 60 million bison once roamed much of North America, but after 1800, their populations decreased dramatically with the arrival of settlers who drove them to near extinction. Today, 30,000 bison live in conservation herds across the US with 400,000 more on ranches. This new herd will be a pillar of conservation for wild bison and promote the long-term genetic health of the species.

Dennis Jorgensen, Bison Coordinator for the Northern Great Plains Program at WWF told TreeHugger, “The Wolakota Buffalo Range will also have the potential to serve as a model of a financially, culturally, and ecologically sustainable tribal bison program for other tribes to consider as they engage in their own restoration efforts.”

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