Historic bison range is estimated to have stretched from Alaska down to Mexico and from the Great Basin of Nevada to the eastern Appalachian Mountains. By the late 1800s, only an estimated 1,000 animals were left thanks to hunting and the effects of the transcontinental railroad. A handful of these majestic creatures are now finding their way to tribal lands to help increase conservation efforts.
The City of Denver has sent 13 bison to the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Oklahoma and one to the Tall Bull Memorial Council in Colorado. The animals are from the city’s herds in Genesee Park and Daniels Park. There’s typically an auction to sell surplus bison from these herds to avoid overgrazing, but there were still some left this year. City officials decided to send those animals to tribes as a reparation and conservation effort. Going forward, through 2030, the department will work with tribes to decide where to send their excess bison, which descended from historic Yellowstone herds.
Denver Parks and Recreation deputy executive director Scott Gilmore says, “We just decided we couldn’t have another auction. We could have, but that wasn’t something we really wanted to do… It just really made a lot of sense to possibly look and see how we could work with other tribes to maybe donate bison to the establishment of these herds that are starting all over the place.”
Gilmore says about half of the animals they sent this year were pregnant, which will help boost the population of the tribal herds they’re joining. He explained that there would probably be another six or seven calves within a few weeks of the bison’s arrival.
Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes Governor Reggie Wassana says, “The Tribes plan to use the donated bison as a cultural, conservation and educational resource, with the goal of locating the bison on our own tribal natural plains habitat.”
The tribe has about 530 bison at the moment, but they hope to increase that number to 800. They were chosen as a recipient after discussion between DPR, Denver’s American Indian Commission, the Tall Bull Memorial Council, and the InterTribal Buffalo Council, whose collective goal was to get the animals into the best hands to help increase the population.
Nathan Hart, executive director of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes’ business department, says, “Everybody’s really excited to grow the herd with this addition. The bison was very significant to our well-being in the past — we have still have a lot of respect for the animal.”
Article continues below
Our Featured Programs
See how we’re making a difference for People, Pets, and the Planet and how you can get involved!
The InterTribal Buffalo Council, to which the Tribes belong, has been working to restore bison to native lands for nearly 30 years. They explain that the systemic slaughter of bison as westward expansion occurred disrupted their way of life more than any other policies.
Their website says, “The destruction of the buffalo herds, and the associated devastation to the tribes, disrupted the self-sufficient lifestyle of Tribal people more than all other federal policies to date.
“To reestablish healthy buffalo populations on tribal lands is to reestablish hope for Indian people. Members of the InterTribal Buffalo Council (ITBC) understood that reintroduction of the buffalo to tribal lands will help heal the spirit of both the Indian people and the buffalo.”
So far, nearly 70 tribes have joined their movement, with herds of more than 20,000 bison total. Of the 32 million acres they manage collectively, bison have returned to nearly 1 million.Whizzco