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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)

I'm glad to see the buffalo (bison) being reintroduced in the wild. There is nothing more thrilling than seeing these magnificent beasts roaming free. Yes, I've seen them many times and it's always a thrill to me!!

I cried when I read this. the bison and the passenger pigeon used to own these lands. I miss the passenger pigeon and respect the pigeons of the city in an effort to pay homage to their loss .I think of the thunderous clouds of passenger pigeon that would darken the sky for twenty minutes as a cloud of them passed overhead, and the bison that would shake the ground with their passing. I am a white with native blood like so many others, and for me it has meant a great deal. I taught myself to loom beadwork, and stay respectful of all thanks when I eat meat or even anything...trying to think ahead of future generations and be fair when I judge others. I have never tried to get in touch with native peoples because I did not grow up on native land and I think it would be disrespectful, though my great-aunt tells me they lived on native land, and my great uncle fought for indian land rights incourt in Texas in the 70's Unfortunately, due to a flood, all records relating me to the Cherokee were lost. It has been enough just to keep it in my heart and stay respectful, but one of the more painful sensitive areas for me were the treatment of the bison. I simply can't understand their continued persecution and slaughter, and I have followed it fairly closely. Why are the cattle ranchers so venomous when it was bison land they took and made their own? Why can't they share, when they are the ones with all the diseases and antibiotics from mistreating the cows? How come they can't see they are the diseases spreading onto the bison, not the other way around? I am glad you are making progress, but five is a little hard to celebrate. I hope you smash their guts in court.

This is good news for the bison. I am very glad we are getting somewhere with all of this. The Bison are great animals and need to keep on living in a good way.

this is amazing - blessed be the Great Mystery's works! j/L "Granny" Matrika/Rolling Buffalo Woman

Yes...This is how it should be.. :)

The Great Spirit must be very happy that this, one of His most noble creatures, has returned to the place of its origins. This was way passed due.

So what will happen to the buffalo at Fort Peck? Will they join an existing herd? Or will they be hunted?

Great Spirit is happy about the return of one of His most noble creatures to their original habitat. This was way past due.

This is great news. Perhaps this is a first step to a much needed transition from environmentally destructive cattle ranching.

Great news! May the multiply five times 25,000 in our generation. Thank you. Steve

Please do this!

Leave the buffalo alone. They have a right to live decently as we human beings do.

Sounds like a great idea.

Wonderful news to hear.. I plan to visit Yellowstone this coming Fall and am looking forward to seeing the bison. It's about time they got the judgement they deserve.

How fantastic! This is the kind of thing we should be doing for wildlife all over the world. I would love to see them, someday, in their native habitat, where they rightfully belong. Congrats to Earthjustice and role they played in making this possible.

it is more important to preserve buffalo than to help cattle rancers. i will no longer eat beef. i support Fort Peck Indian reservation and their efforts. i hope for a white buffalo to be born as i understand they are pretty special and rare. i know what this means to native people. they have suffered enough at the hands of my people.

Keep the Bison!

Ah, sweet revenge!

I'm all for this!

The way we treat non human animals is beginning to bite us in the ass! EVERY animal is scared to die & should be treated with the utmost respect!


It warms my heart and brings on a great big smile. Thank you EarthJustice for seeing to it that another of our innocent and beautiful creatures has a chance to graze AND grace America's lands the way it was always intended. I pray that you will be met with countless more successes as so many species of precious wildlife are in dire need of your help.

Save the great American Bison Buffalo...

Thank you for all efforts & info. When compared to cattle (if viewed in that respect), is it true that bison produce significantly less methane, require no hay production, have no need to be housed, have meat (if you must eat meat) which is far less fatty, have hoofs wich decease soil erosion, AND are indigenous!? Wonder why ranchers don't enlist an "advertising army" to campaign for the switch so all is easier. Or is burning down rain forest in S. America to run cattle "easier"($)? Best to (us) all, David Deming

I pray that these bison will be protected and will be able to live back on their ancestral plains.

While filming a documentary in the Black Hills, I passed one quiet solitary fog-strewn Sunday morning in Custer National Park. When I first pulled my car to the side of the road to watch the herd of buffalo, they started moving away, but then turned around and slowly gathered closer, heads raised. I had left my car radio playing (KILI-fm) a pretty piano ballad by Garth Brooks, and apparently the bison were fans. As soon as the song ended they turned away to grazing again.You will never convince me that these wonderful animals have no intelligence or conciousness.

Let the true kings of the plains thrive again! The purebred bison have waited long enough to come back and reign again!

I hope & pray that you win your case and that these magnificent creatures will be allowed to roam free once more!

It is very sad to know that people can get so cruel and don't care about life. Buffalo did not do anything wrong. The land used to be Buffalo's. The greedy people took way Buffalo's land and kill buffalos. It is a shame on them. Earthjustice attorney, please. Do not let this monsterous and cold-hearted organizations destroy wildlife just because it affects on their profits.

awesome=excellent=major victory!!!

Thank you for your efforts on behalf of the bison and the native peoples. Trudy Tobiason

Kudos!!!!!!!!! Earthjustice, National Wildlife Federation and Defenders of Wildlife.

Great work! Interesting to know that elk, etc. have been "exempted" from the cattlemen's attitude. Could it be that that they like to have elk for one of their food sources????

Great work! Interesting to know that elk, etc. have been "exempted" from the cattlemen's attitude. Could it be that that they like to have elk for one of their food sources????

The bison deserve to be free to roam. There's been too much slaughter and we needed to save these poor creatures. And now they're finally safe! Excellent work!

Thank you

Let the Bufflao have their home back!!! It is rightfully theirs. We as Americans need them!!!

Let the Bufflao have their home back!!! It is rightfully theirs. We as Americans need them!!!

Hurray for the buffalo! It is amazing that a small group of cattle ranchers have the power to stop the reintegration of the buffalo back into their native territory.I guess that they like the Native Americans have no rights. I also find it strange that they do not object to the fact that the elk that may carry the same potential disease from England run free in the same area. I guess that they are afraid of ending up fighting against the bullies at the NRA.

And a big round of applause to Buffalo Field Campaign!

Hooray! Thank you Earthjustice for taking on this so important task of getting these wonderful originals back to where they belong. The cattle industry and their buddies the farm bureaus have done and are doing such harm to native lands and the environment, activity that they really don't have any right to be doing. Go through cattle lands across the country and see how horribly cattle are being treated penned up for miles, waiting for slaughter, their meat destroyed by drugs, their carbon footprint so destructive of earth. Restoring genuine bison is a very positive step in bringing about badly needed range change.

Why did this article make me weep? Soul. This story is all about soul. The soul of creation. The soul of a people. The loss of soul when greed and fear are allowed to take over inside a person. One hundred years isn't so long. Is there still Bunch Grass and Buffalo Grass for these creatures?

Perhaps Earthjustice and other wildlife organizations should start challenging the dirt cheap or and/or free access to federal lands of cattle farmers. Not only do they have cheap access, they are demanding the destruction of the wildlife that truly HAS the right to be there.

I'm sure many of you have read about the slaughter and skinning of a white buffalo calf born on a native-American-owned ranch in Texas. The Buffalo Field Campaign has info. This is a sign of either the lack of awareness of what we are losing or the vehement prejudice against the buffalo. In either case, It is obviously only through judicial action backed up by strict enforcement that we will continue to see the buffalo graze peacefully on their ancestral lands.

It is indeed a great day for the people of the United States to protect these magnificent animals and seek to correct a great wrong.

It is indeed a great day for the people of the United States to protect these magnificent animals and seek to correct a great wrong.

Very hopeful news!

Keep up the great work! Let's continue our heritage.

Congratulations! Your perseverance and determination is to be commended. I have always had a personal attraction to the Native American culture and their way of life. When I traveled through South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado several years ago, I was enamored with the spirit, beauty and fidelity of the native peoples to the preservation of nature in all its multiple facets. I am grateful to all at Earthjustice who are also committed to this noble cause. I will support you by signing any requests to support the undertakings of the organization. I cannot contribute $$$ as I am now retired and my budget is very limited. The banks took a good portion of what I thought I would have for retirement. But I do know an admirable cause when I see it, read about it and know the outcome of their commitment. Peace be with you! May God bless you for keeping his/her creation alive and well! Marcine Klemm


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