The Buffalo Field Campaign, a group that has consistently scrutinized the manner in which the National Park Service oversees the bison population in Yellowstone National Park, is pushing for a drastic change in this process. They have proposed for tribal entities to be assigned as co-stewards of the bison herds and for the bison numbers to be escalated by a factor of ten, taking them to 50,000 within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
The group’s proposed strategy, which is expected to be elaborated upon during a tentative Tribal Summit in November, aims to replace the current bison management plan, considered a failure by many. This new agreement is designed to correctly uphold the United States fiduciary responsibility to its Tribes.
James Holt, a Nez Perce environmental scientist and the executive director of the Buffalo Field Campaign, says, “Tribal cultures and lifeways are reliant on restoring our sacred bond with buffalo.” He believes that the current limitations on the Yellowstone Bison population, coupled with the stringent hunting restrictions set by Montana’s Department of Livestock, are serious obstacles to the restoration of an honorable harvest of wild bison.
J. Dallas Gudgell, another environmental scientist who hails from the Fort Peck Reservation, criticizes the existing plan for encouraging tribal competition for a significantly restricted resource. He suggests that tribes cooperate based on their mutual spiritual and cultural interests, and work in conjunction with the buffalo to extend the Yellowstone population from its current count of 5,000 to 50,000.
Yellowstone’s free-roaming bison, descendants of herds that managed to survive the great slaughter of the late 19th century, have been the subject of calls for protection under the Endangered Species Act. These calls are in response to a variety of threats, ranging from disease, habitat loss, and climate change, to accidental cattle gene introgression.
In an effort to augment the bison numbers, the Biden administration has pledged a $25 million commitment to an array of projects. These include establishing new bison herds, supporting bison transfers to tribes, enhancing grassland ecosystems, restoring native plant communities, and backing prescribed fire initiatives.
The Buffalo Field Campaign is asserting that now is the time for Yellowstone’s treaty tribes to uphold their inherent rights concerning America’s free-roaming wild buffalo. According to Holt, tribes are more than willing to aid in the care and preservation of the buffalo population, much like his tribe has been doing for salmon, by applying the best scientific methods and traditional ecological knowledge.