American Prairie Reserve sends 39 bison to South Dakota

Program places bison back with Native nations looking to strengthen iconic animal

By: - February 16, 2021 6:59 pm

Working the bison at the American Prairie Reserve (Photo courtesy of the American Prairie Reserve).

The American Prairie Reserve transferred 39 of its bison in a partnership with representatives from different Native nations in South Dakota.

The Montana-based APR is a nonprofit that distributes bison to organizations starting new herds, and to enhance the genetic health of conservation and tribal herds around the country. This was the first transfer of bison that has fallen under the new conservation deal brokered between the state and Phillips County in Montana, which call for strict testing and quarantine protocols.

Thirty-five bison were transferred to the Rosebud Sioux’s Wolakota Buffalo Range near Mission, S.D. Four were shipped to One Spirit, a nonprofit organization that serves the Lakota of the Pine Ridge Reservation.

“We prioritize partnerships with Native tribes who are working to restore a deeper cultural, spiritual and economic connection to the animal,” said Alison Fox, the chief executive of APR. “Our bison set the gold standard for genetics, and it’s our goal to share with those who have a similar vision of moving bison conservation forward.”

Alison Fox, chief executive of the American Prairie Reserve (Photo courtesy of American Prairie Reserve)

Wolakota’s seeks to build a herd of 1,500 bison, which would make it the largest tribally managed herd in the United States. To date, APR has distributed 170 bison toward that goal.

“Wolakota is showing what is possible when public and private partners come together in support of Native-led efforts,” said Wizipan Little Elk, chief executive of Rosebud Economic Development Corporation, which oversees the project. “The partnership with American Prairie will allows us to accelerate our cultural, ecological and economic impact.”

Since 2009, APR has distributed more than 400 bison to conservation efforts in Montana, Colorado, Nebraska, Arizona, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

The Fort Belknap bison program has been one group that has partnered with the American Prairie Reserve.

“The return of the buffalo to our lands is a common goal and vision shared with tribal elders, the tribal council, wildlife managers and spiritual leaders,” said Bronc Speak Thunder, who helps manage the Fort Belknap herd. “The bison provided by American Prairie have diverse and pure genetics and help to improve the long-term health of our herd.”

American Prairie and partners make bison distribution usually twice per year.

The Wolakota Buffalo Range is a 28,000-acre cattle to bison conversion on the land of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate, which is also known as the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The project is in the first of a five-year building that will make it the largest Native-owned and managed bison herd in the world.

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming.