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View John McManus's blog posts
17 May 2012, 4:08 PM
Bison are returned to their ancestral plains
Bison at Fort Peck, with one of the newest herd members. (Bill Campbell)

Home on the range, where the deer and antelope play? Forget about it. How about buffalo (yeah, I know they’re really bison).

After years of dreaming about getting one of the original Americans back out on the prairie where they belong, we’re a big step closer to seeing it happen.

After killing every last buffalo they could find, and starving the native folks who relied on them for food, 19th century market hunters missed a couple of handfuls of buffalo deep in the high country that would become America’s first national park, Yellowstone. The offspring of this small herd are among the last genetically pure buffalo (most other buffalo scattered across the country carry some cow genes).

Native tribes in northern Montana for years have sought to reestablish herds using Yellowstone stock. Until this year, they were blocked by cattle interests. But then the state agreed to move approximately 60 buffalo to the Fort Peck Indian reservation in far northeastern Montana. The Fort Belknap reservation, located in north central Montana, has asked for some buffalo and will hopefully get them soon.

Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso has worked for years on behalf of wild buffalo. Most of this work has been to ease rules unnaturally restricting buffalo to the confines of Yellowstone National Park. Outside the park, buffalo have for years been set upon by federal and state agents in helicopters, snowmobiles and on horseback—all intent on driving them back into the park.

Many cattle ranchers and their ally, the Montana Farm Bureau Federation, worry that buffalo will infect their cattle with a cow disease brought by cattle from Europe. The disease has largely been eradicated from cattle herds in the 20th century. Oddly, elk, which are big carriers of the same disease, somehow seem to escape the wrath of the cattle industry for reasons no one seems to be able to articulate but might have something to do with their value to hunters.

Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso (Bill Campbell).Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso has worked to ease rules unnaturally restricting buffalo to the confines of Yellowstone.

When Montana recently moved the buffalo from the Yellowstone area to Fort Peck, interests allied with the cattle industry filed a lawsuit to block the transfer. Earthjustice intervened in the court case to defend the right of the state to transfer these buffalo back to their original stewards, the native people. The judge in the case has issued a preliminary injunction telling the state and tribe to not move any more buffalo until the case can be decided. Earthjustice has appealed that order to Montana’s supreme court on behalf of its clients, the National Wildlife Federation and Defenders of Wildlife.

The case should be decided soon and hopefully the last barriers to putting buffalo back where they belong will fall. All Americans, including the very first ones, will be better off knowing these magnificent creatures, specially evolved to live on the wind swept, cold, blistering hot, and sometimes drought stricken prairie, will be back where they came from. Since the buffalo arrived at Fort Peck, at least five new members to the herd have been born. Not bad for an area that has been without this key native species for over one hundred years.

Two of the newborn calves of the Fort Peck herd. (Bill Campbell)

Two of the five calves who have been born at the Fort Peck Indian reservation. (Bill Campbell)

Ah...Special Interest......wouldn't it be more accurate to call it GREED. Gaia (mother earth) does very well on her own even with the meddling of the so called modern Homo Sapians.

This is fantastic! Now if we can just keep them safe. We as Americans, have a long way to go to make up for the many injustices that we placed on the native creatures, and the first native peoples of this land. We should allow the Native Americans the right to continue to rebuild these magnificent creature's herds. There is so much that we can and should do to help bring these Bison back. This is just the first step, and I hope that we continue to help not only the Bison, but the Native Americans who honored these and all creatures around them. There are so many other things in their world that we have destroyed, that were rightfully theirs in the first place. Yellowstone is a safe haven, but should not be the only haven allowed to honor and rebuild in safety these wonderful Bison. Thank you for all that you continue to fight for in all creatures and for the Bison's lives.

would love to see a good outcome for the buffalo, the tatanka are beautiful creatures, great injustice done to them along with the native americans......unfortunately, if you plant them somewhere where there is great opposition, just like the wolves, man will wind up killing them........

In the summer of 1970, I was a young teen visiting Wyoming with family. We were on a road driving through prarie under clear skies somewhere out of Jenny Lake toward Moran. While in a narrow gulley with embankments on either side of the road there suddenly came a sound like a swiftly approaching storm. We were stranded! For many long, scary minutes, a herd of bison thundered overhead; over the little VW bug we were in, darkening the sky. I hope they'll be back, just like the old days!

What can you say awesome!! They need to be spread into the great plains with the antelope,deer and elk. Would have loved to see them outside the park when we saw some of the Great Plains going to Yellowstone. Loved to watch the babies run and play with the other babies. And to you trying to speed through Yellowstone little red car passing me honking and running the buffalo and the babies off into the rocky ditch not good karma bud not a speedway. I'm a contributor to restoring buffalo to their native ranges and will be until we reach the goal of establishing big herds all over the great plains!! Thanks good work.

Awesome, thank you!

I hope Mr. Tim Preso will be successful in winning his case against the cattle ranchers. Correct me if I am wrong but if the current bison carry cow genes, but the ones they are trying to bring out of Yellowstone Park don't carry the cow genes how can they infect the cattle. Elks which carry these gene but the Big cattle ranchers aren't worried about them. I guess in their small minds they are still trying to keep the Native Americans down, why are they afraid they are going to have to give the land back that was taken from the Native Americans. That would be poetic justice if ever were it to happen.

This has nothing to do with disease and everything to do with maintaining grazing land. This is a big country. There is room for cattlemen and bison as long as nobody gets greedy. I've never heard of greedy bison. Bison are a part of our American heritage. Cattlemen are going to have to learn to share.

Ann-Louise: I totally agree with your assessment. My Wildlife Chair at Humboldt State, University in california managed the National Bison Range in Wyoming for 10 years and is very knowledgeable. I've lived and worked in wildlife management in Wyoming. Many people who have spent any time considering the situation realize this is about Cattlemen and their refusal to share. Thanks

"...As long as nobody gets greedy." That's wishfull thinking, Ann-Louise. Greed is part of human nature. In fact, most of the problems in the world are caused by human nature. But what are we going to do about it? Our nature will handle it soon enough.

And farm animals need defending too. The horrors of that shortened abused lives they all suffer. Please God get them a lawyer too.

It is so sad how cruel humanity is. A friend of mine said to me the other day; "they were always like this only we had no access to the information or dissemination of information to know about all this cruelty. Now due to the internet and advanced technology we find out all these secrets. Thank you for your tireless defense of animals who have no voice.

Love the Baby Bison! Thank you for all your efforts. Patrice

One more good thing for the planet.

fantastic, hope the lobbyist for cattle ranchers don't ruin a good thing

Keep up the good work. I hope that more buffalo can be given to the American natives in the future. Keep the pressure on Government!

let them run free and wild, so the earth and the sky can rejoice with the sounds of their hoofs hitting the ground, and their breaths blowing in the wind

great news!! Keep up the good fight.

A potentially awesome, and most welcome, victory for the bison thanks to Earthjustice!

I am allergic to beef, but love a bison burger. The meat is lean and delicious. We need a comeback by this species. Obviously they were killed off so completely as part of destroying the Indian tribes. But aren't the Indian Wars over? Or is Big Ag now after all of us? The West is dry and harsh. These animals are adapted and could be a food source with a smaller toll on the land than cattle. And with the economy and climate uncertain we should encourage them.

Please send these buffalo back to their original stewards, the native people. It is absolutely the very least we can do. Not only has a great injustice been done to our Native American brothers and sisters, but to their life source, the buffalo. Hopefully the last barriers to putting buffalo back where they belong will fall. All Americans, including the very first ones, will be better off knowing these magnificent creatures, specially evolved to live on the wind swept, cold, blistering hot, and sometimes drought stricken prairie, will be back where they came from. I understand the concern about disease, but the answer should be to cure the disease, not to eliminate such a powerful species. Please have compassion on these creatures and their rightful owners.

This is why I am a member in good standing. Like the earth, the Buffalo also need a good lawyer. Hang in there Tim!

These magnificent animals deserve to roam free the same way they did hundreds of years ago. They deserve the freedom to continue to reproduce and grow.

Way over time and so important for our history and our country. These animals belong on our plains in this country and NOW is the time to ensure their existence without threat of another excessive depletion of their herds which is a tragic part of this country's heritage.

Oh, give me a home.... where the buffalo roam....

The Creator has not forgotten Us or the buffalo!

As always," blocked by the cattle interests".These first new births are wonderful news for a species that was almost wiped out by other equally thoughtless people 140 years ago. Thank you earth justice for a job well done.

It is a joy to hear this about Buffalo. They are as much a part of the rich culture of North America as wolves. They deserve a place on this continent.

Getting bison from Yellowstone out on the plains is indeed good news, and that the state of Montana is facilitating it is encouraging. There is another genetically pure "wiild" herd at Badlands National Park, but I have never the same complaints from ranchers and Farm Bureau people as is contently brought up in MT. Oh, if you know there not buffalo why not use the right name?


We are all for "Home on the range where the deer and antelope" and buffalo "play"! Thank you for caring.

Thank you to Tim Preso and all those involved in the restoration & protection of these iconic animals !

I remember vividly watching a re-enactment of the "hunting" and all it was was some b*stard with a Gatling gun shooting so much that the fields were red with blood. Obviously this was just a wild-west movie, but it touched a nerve with me. I am going to be VERY happy when these wonderful animals are returned to where they belong.


I am very excited by this wonderful news and hope that it comes to pass that the Buffalo will indeed roam in its home territory! I am a committed vegetarian/vegan so have little interest in cattle for food-product purchases as I am deeply distressed by the cruelty I witness in factory-farmed 'product'!

Absolutely wonderful. How can we convince that we are not the only ones entitled to live here? Man has been trying to conquer and own Nature for centuries; and I pray he continues to lose.

Fantastic! Awesome! Hopefully this is the first step to returning these magnificent animals to their rightful place, the wide open prairie. Keep up the good work.

This is a major effort to restore balance to our natural environment. I am SICK TO DEATH of the constant rape of this planet by personally greedy execs of such entities as Big Oil and their careless destruction of the earth and its oceans. Congratulations to Earth Justice and Tim Preso.

If you know they are really Bison (Like I do) then why do you keep calling them buffalo?

Would it be possible for the Native Americans look after the wefare of the buffalo. Have a vet come and vacinate the animals when needed and tag them for count and health. This way the cattlemen would not be concerned that the buffalo infecting the cattle.

Good! Glad the bison are coming back. Hope this encourages others to support more breeding programs for endangered species and help save the environment!

I am so thankful to hear of the revival of the American Bison ("buffalo"). Ever since the importation of Spanish cattle, the environment of the Great Plans has suffered. When the bison ran free in great herds, their great weight kept the surface of the broken soil open to the scant rainfall of the region, enabling the natural grasses to grow to spendid heights, laying down a full 9 feet of topsoil. Spanish cattle, by contrast, lacked the weight necessary to break upon the surface of the soil, instead merely packing it down harder and harder, making it impervious to the scant rainfall, thus killing off the native grasses that are essential to the health of the ecosystem.Bison provide more more healthful nourishment to humans who eat their meat than cattle. They have better and more concentrated protein and far less saturated fat per ounce. The over dependence on beef of the diet of the typical American not only makes us far more susceptible to heart disease and stroke, but it also results in vast pollution from manure build up that greatly exceeds the capacity of nature to reduce it to fertilizer. It also results in a monoculture agriculture in which genetically uniform corn is predominant and the elimination of the legacy species that may be needed to save humanity when newly evolving molds and insects impact it on massive scales. The most urgent task of those who hope to restore the Great Plains to their historical health is the reduction of the death grip of the agribusiness industry that absorbs immense fortunes of taxpayer money.

Restoring the species to its former glory is awesome work. Thank God there are still some people, albeit a minority, that care and realize all creatures are important for mankind's survival.

This gives me hope that all is not lost from our heritage. We need to protect and restore if possible all that has been endangered or brought to the brink of extinction from fear, misinformation or greed so that future generations can marvel at the web of life in all its intricacies.

Yeah, let the Bison return to thier natural homelands along with the wild horses and elk and antelope. These animals belong on thier native lands - not domestic cattle or sheep. Someday I hope to see them in huge herds all over the western public and private lands.

Wonderful news. Best wishes to Montana and the Montana tribes!! I know they will prevail. I'd gladly donate money as well. We need to return buffalo to Texas too. We would have a return of the grassy prarie if we did!

A proud moment indeed. There's always so much news to be concerned or disappointed about and there are too many moments I find myself losing faith in the fight to ensure our better angels win. The better angels have one more point in their favor.

It is long over due that Bison are returned to their natural habit and to the Native Americans from which they were illegally taken by a corrupt U.S. government. Not much has changed in the last hundred years. except that maybe there are more individual Americans giving voice to the thought that right should prevail. If enough of us speak up for the environment, maybe there is yet time to save it from the enemy--which is us.

Go-o-o-o, buffalo!!! Thank you, Earthjustice!

This is wonderful. These buffalo were actually bought back from Canada, where they were taken and protected for years. Lucky for us that they did or we wouldn't have the genetically pure bison.

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