Wind River Tribes Unite to Return Yellowstone Bison to Their Native Homeland

This is a guest post by Jason Baldes, a member of NWF’s Tribal Lands Advisory Council. 

Bison in the quarantine pasture in Gardiner, Montana
Yellowstone Bison in the quarantine pasture in Gardiner, Montana – Photo by Ted Wood
This week, a huge step was taken in the decades-long effort to restore Yellowstone bison to tribal lands. On the heels of the recent success of the restoration of 61 Yellowstone bison to the Fort Peck Reservation in north central Montana earlier this year, the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes passed a joint tribal council resolution calling for restoration of wild, genetically pure bison to the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. As an Eastern Shoshone tribal member, I am extremely proud that the Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes have united in requesting the return of Yellowstone bison back to our reservation.

Over the past few decades, the tribes have restored six of the seven ungulate species that were historically present on our tribal lands. With today’s resolution, we are taking a huge step to restoring the last of those seven species, the bison. The resolution and an accompanying letter have been delivered to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar requesting that Yellowstone bison, currently being held on Ted Turner’s Green Ranch in Montana, be relocated to Wind River and formally asking for government-to-government consultation to make their request a reality.

Priority landscapes for bison

Yellowstone bison return to Fort Peck Reservation in Montana
Yellowstone bison return to Fort Peck Reservation in Montana – Photo by Ted Wood
In May, Salazar issued a directive to Interior Department agencies instructing them to identify the priority landscapes where the bison could be restored, and it highlighted Wind River as a top option. Since the mid-1980s, we have had the opportunity to work with the National Wildlife Federation’s Tribal Lands Partnerships Program (NWF) on a variety of natural resource and wildlife conservation efforts.“The Wind River Tribes have a vast land base well-suited for bison, and they have deep historical, cultural, and ecological connections to bison,” said Garrit Voggesser, National Director of Tribal Partnerships for NWF. “They are now expressing to those that have authority over Yellowstone bison that they are ready to employ their wildlife management expertise to welcome the bison home.”

The Yellowstone bison are among the few in North America with no cattle genes. The Yellowstone area is the only place where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times. Two centuries ago, there were more than thirty million buffalo roaming North American, but by the turn of the 19th-century, less than one hundred remained. Tribal peoples rounded up some of those bison to save them, and some of those bison became seed animals for the Yellowstone herd. Today’s decision by the Shoshone and Arapaho Tribes provides an opportunity for the historical relationship between buffalo and American Indians to come full circle, and is a huge stride toward achieving the return of bison to their Wind River homeland.

Help us get the Yellowstone Bison to Wind River

Donate NowPlease donate to the National Wildlife Federation Tribal Lands Partnerships Program to help get these 140 bison back to tribal lands.

For more information on NWF’s efforts to restore Yellowstone bison to tribal lands, please check out NWF’s Tribal Lands Partnerships webpage.

Shoshone Tribal Bison Representative, Jason Baldes
Shoshone Tribal Bison Representative – Jason Baldes – Photo courtesy Kelly Gorham, Montana State University
Jason Baldes is an Eastern Shoshone member, Bison Spokesperson for the Shoshone Tribe and Montana State University-Bozeman graduate student in Land Resource Sciences. Jason is a member of NWF’s Tribal Lands Advisory Council. His efforts focus on restoring genetically reputable, disease-free buffalo, managed as wildlife by tribes to tribal lands. Baldes earned a bachelor of science degree in Land Resource Analysis and Management from MSU, 2010. In addition, he is recipient of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation scholarship; STAR Fellowship, 2011 to 2013; and Native Science Fellowship, Hopa Mountain, 2011, and has been recognized by the American Indian Research Opportunities Consortium. In 2010, he was researcher for the U.S. Geological Survey, Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, Bozeman.

Baldes, a sought after speaker, is currently an officer of the Society of American Indian Graduate Students.