restoring American bison

When Europeans first set foot in America it was estimated that more than 60,000,000 bison roamed North America. By 1889 only a few hundred wild bison remained. This article is about restoring American bison to tribal lands.

The decimation of the buffalo population was caused in large part by implementation of the US policy of buffalo eradication. The government encouraged massive hunting of buffalo to negatively affect the livelihood of Native American Tribes. Without this source of food, clothing and tradeable goods, tribal members were forced off their land and onto reservations giving the government more control of their day to day life. The eradication of buffalo populations significantly contributed to the decline of healthy grasslands and the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. It also led to declines in the populations of other grassland wildlife such as migratory birds and pollinators.

Today it is estimated that there are only 31,000 free-range wild bison in North America. The County of Denver is making a concerted effort to conserve the species, prevent extinction, and restoring American bison. Denver established and is currently maintaining a herd of buffalo that are descended from seven bison brought there from the last wild herd in Yellowstone National Park in 1914. Look for the offspring of these bison on either side of the interstate if you are traveling west on I-70 from Denver into the Rocky Mountains.  They will come up to the fences to say hello if you are lucky.

Denver began annually auctioning off bison to keep the herd to a manageable size once the herd had reached a sufficient size to ensure its sustainability. Denver Parks and Recreation stopped the auctions and started donating bison to the Cheyenne and Arapaho American Indian Tribes and the Tall Bull Memorial Council in April 2021. In March 2023 Denver donated 35 bison to Native American Tribes and one memorial council in Colorado, Oklahoma and Wyoming. Since 2018 the city has donated 85 surplus bison to Native American tribes. Denver plans to continue restoring American bison to tribal lands until 2030, with a target of 300 bison being donated.

Suggested topics for research & discussion 

Northern Arapaho Tribe, Wyoming

Eastern Shoshone Tribe, Wyoming

Yuchi Tribe, Oklahoma

Yuchi Tribe – Yuchi Language Project

Tall Bull Memorial Council

National Wildlife Federation

Wind River Tribal Buffalo Initiative

Dust Bowl

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