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Hoof-To-Ground: Bringing Wild Bison Back To The West

Sandy White Shield
Inter Tribal Buffalo Council

Northwest Montana’s Blackfeet Indian Reservation stretches across 1.5 million acres. But it turns out that isn’t enough room for the free-roaming bison herd that tribes are attempting to establish. Northwest Native Americans are hoping restored buffalo herds may reopen ancient trade and cultural traditions.

Most American bison were exterminated more than 100 years ago. Now, tribes across the country are trying to coordinate with Canada, the federal government, states and even private ranchers to once again bring herds back to the Western landscape.

Many Northwest tribes like the Nez Perce, Kalispell and Umatilla have a strong history of traveling east to the vast grasslands to hunt bison. Sometimes they traded hunting rights for salmon.

LeRoy Little Bear, of the Blood Reserve in Canada, says the big animal is key to his people’s creation stories, but they mean a lot to the land too. “We’re talking ecological relationships, when we’re talking buffalo. [Because the buffalo is part of a chain so to speak, with the birds and plants and so forth.]”

Some Western ranchers worry that bringing back bison could spread disease to their cattle, and that the massive animals will tear down fences and rip up crops.


Anna King was in Montana for this story as part of an education program by the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.