Boy-Zhan Bi-Den: Buffalo Return

Buffalo’s return will help heal the past, forge an optimistic future

A trip to East Africa changed my life. Visiting this area with my father, we witnessed one of the most unbelievable things I have ever seen – the wildebeest migration.

What was most incredible was that the wildebeests represented only a small fraction of the buffalo population that once existed in North America. The largest ungulate migration in the world today is the 1.5 million wildebeests. This is less than five percent of what the buffalo migration was on this continent less than 200 years ago.

The demise of the buffalo in North America in the 19th century represented the annihilation of the largest migratory herd in world history, and the reason for eradicating them was largely based on the desire to wipe out Native peoples. What happened to the buffalo similarly happened to us. As their numbers declined, buffalo were forced into former pockets of their territory, just as the tribes were pushed onto reservations.

Photo by Stephen C. Torbit
Photo by Stephen C. Torbit

The Eastern Shoshone Tribe has a history of conservation success. We designated the nation’s first wilderness area in 1938, more than two decades before passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act. In the 1980s, we passed comprehensive game codes and reintroduced pronghorn antelope and bighorn sheep which had been extirpated because of unregulated hunting. We currently manage six of the seven ungulate species (elk, moose, mule and whitetail deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorn) on our reservation that were here prior to Lewis and Clark. Buffalo are the only one we are missing. But they are coming back.

To be able to restore a connection to buffalo is a way to help heal the past, it’s a way to help heal us as Native peoples. Later this week, Boy-Zhan Bi-Den – Buffalo Return in the Shoshone language – will become a reality on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. This restoration effort in partnership with the National Wildlife Federation’s Tribal Program, forty years in the making, will return buffalo to our lands, our culture, our community, and generations to come.

Make sure to like the National Wildlife Federation’s Facebook page to see a video of the bison release later this week!


jasonbaldes-dog_jasonbaldes_facebookAbout the Author: Jason Baldes, is a member of and the Bison Representative for the Eastern Shoshone Tribe of the Wind River Reservation.


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Published: October 31, 2016