Words by Tess Becker
Bison are one of the most iconic animals in the United States, but during colonial expansion, they were nearly wiped out.
Between 30-50 million buffalos roamed the Great Plains at the beginning of the 19th century. By 1902, fewer than 100 wild buffalos roamed there.
Soon after, the American Bison Society was founded with a focus on bison restoration. Since then, the population has grown steadily to around 30,000 – with many more in captivity.
Now, the US is looking into other ways to restore large bison herds to Native American lands. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced $25 million in federal spending for bison conservation. The goal is to tap into Indigenous knowledge in its efforts to conserve the massive animal.
While the bison has bounced back from near extinction, it still hasn’t returned to a lot of grasslands with deep native connections. Secretary Haaland, of Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, is the first Native American to serve as a U.S. Cabinet secretary and has been focusing on native concerns, one of those concerns being the reintroduction of the American bison, also known as a buffalo.
“This holistic effort will ensure that this powerful sacred animal is reconnected to its natural habitat and the original stewards who know best how to care for it,” Haaland said.
“When we think about Indigenous communities, we must acknowledge that they have spent generations over many centuries observing the seasons, tracking wildlife migration patterns and fully comprehending our role in the delicate balance of this earth.”
Across the U.S., 82 tribes now have more than 20,000 bison in 65 herds. Obviously vastly smaller than they used to have but still growing after the bison’s near extinction.
About half of the $25 million announced Friday will go to the National Park Service. The remainder will be split among the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Fish and Wildlife Service.