Buffalo Unites Us

Conference will explore next steps for bison restoration on Montana's Great Plains

The American bison or buffalo is essential to the traditions, culture, beliefs and religious practices of Native American tribes across the western United States and Canada. Many Americans are familiar with the tragic story of how the vast herds of this species were hunted to the brink of extinction in a matter of decades in the 19th century–a dark passage in our nation’s history and a cautionary tale of waste and environmental and cultural arrogance.

A new, hopeful narrative–one of restoration and reconciliation–is now unfolding in the Northern Great Plains. In 2014, leaders from U.S. Tribes and Canadian First Nations signed a treaty to establish an international alliance to restore wild bison, and bison have returned to tribal lands across the region.

The next major opportunity for restoration focuses on the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, a vast 1.1-million-acre expanse of public lands established with a mandate to restore and conserve native wildlife. In 2017 the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council joined conservation advocates and scientists in calling for the State of Montana to commit to restoring bison on the refuge.

What’s next for bison restoration on Montana’s Great Plains? On May 23, the National Wildlife Federation is joining with the Confederated Tribes of the Flathead Reservation to co-host a daylong conference in Polson, MT exploring tribal, state and federal management objectives and options for restoring America’s national mammal for the benefit of all. Co-sponsors for this event include the Wildlife Conservation Society, American Prairie Reserve, Turner Endangered Species Fund and the University of Montana Indian Law Program.

This conference is open to all, but space is limited and advance registration is required

Confirmed speakers and agenda:


Welcome & opening prayer

Johnny Arlee

9:15am – 10:30am

The Vision: Restoring Bison to the Great Plains of Montana

Kelly Stoner, Wildlife Conservation Society: Bison restoration initiatives for North America
Leroy Little Bear, University of Lethbridge (ret.): Envisioning bison restoration across Indian Country
Kyran Kunkel, American Prairie Reserve: The ongoing initiatives of the American Prairie Reserve

10:45am – 12:00pm

The Case for Restoring Bison to the Great Plains

Prof. Monte Mills, University of Montana Indian Law Program: Bison restoration and federal trust responsibilities
Chris Smith, Wildlife Management Institute: State public trust duties

Lunch provided on site

1:00 – 2:45pm

Moderated Panel (with Keith Aune): Managing Bison on the Great Plains

Bill Bates, Dax Mangus, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources: Lessons learned from Utah’s bison restoration initiatives
Jason Baldes, Boyzhan Bi-den (Buffalo Return), Eastern Shoshone Tribal Buffalo Program-Consultant: Bison restoration initiatives on tribal lands
Paul Santavy, Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge: How bison reintroduction could work at CMR

3:00 – 4:00pm

Looking Ahead—Benefits of Bison Restoration and Next Steps

Martha Williams, Director, Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks: The way forward in Montana
Chris Johns, National Geographic Society Beyond Yellowstone Project: Global significance of bison restoration

Conference concludes

Written by Sarah Bates

Click Image to attend the conference

Conference and Lunch Registration:

bison at Yellowstone National Park
Bison at Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Neal Herbert.