Some precious cargo has arrived safely at the Wolakota Buffalo Range in South Dakota this week. Run by the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation (REDCO), the economic arm of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, the site has secured almost 11,300 hectares (28,000 acres) of native grassland that will be home to 100 bison released onsite today.
The formation of this plains bison herd was made possible thanks to Rosebud's Tribal Land Enterprise, and the reserve now has the capacity to support 1,500 animals, making it North America's largest Native American owned and managed bison herd. In association with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and extra support from the US Department of the Interior (DOI), the record-breaking site aims to bring safe passage to an animal who is considered, in scientific circles at least, to have one of the coolest species names: Bison bison bison.
The 10-year project was formulated with five goals in mind: to support wild, healthy bison herds, conserve genetic diversity, restore the ecosystem and culture at the site, and share stewardship to make these goals a reality. Over the next five years, the DOI will send hundreds of bison from public conservation herds managed by the National Park Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to the Wolakota Buffalo Range, with aims to increase the overall number of Native American owned bison by 7 percent.
Working with indigenous communities in the Northern Great Plains, the WWF has contributed over $2.2 million to bison restoration efforts, and this novel reserve in South Dakota, forged with Lakota foundational values and beliefs at its core, will serve as an example of how cultural and ecological conservation can benefit from collaborations between public authorities and Native American peoples across the US.
“The greatest threat to the future of plains bison is the challenge of finding places for large herds to roam, ensuring the long-term genetic health of the species,” Dennis Jorgensen, World Wildlife Fund’s Bison Initiative Coordinator, Northern Great Plains, told IFLScience. “Large conservation herds exceeding 1,000 animals are still quite rare. There are currently less than 10 conservation herds of this size in North America." A conservation herd is one that is primarily managed as wildlife rather than production for meat and revenue.
“Currently there is fencing on 8,500 acres that are fenced on the range," he added. "Next year, there are plans to fence an additional 19,000 and we expect 100-200 more bison will be delivered by the US Dept of the Interior next year. We are also hopeful that we'll have new calves being born in the spring.”