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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)

It's about time.

Let's help restore some of thenatural balance that was ruined by the overpopulation of a non native species, the ubiqutious cow that over grazes so much of the west.

It id a great day to return the Bison to the Parrie, When I was young I lead horse back trips in the Rocky mountina national Park, Once I wanted to take a short cut home after work and cay=ty acroos a feance grazing land, I goit chaese by a bull Bison and man he could run, as I ziggand zaged to keep out of his path I cluld not help but admire the grace of the magnificent giant. Reahing th fence on the other side It di not take me long to scale the fence. As I wached him retun to his ladies, He lokked back as if to say so long had a good run at ya but donlt come back. I didn't. I love them to this day and will sopedn hours watching them from a distance.

It's still the same old game. Special interests fight everything to maximize their gain at the expense of the public, environment, and the native peoples and animals. The strange thing is they feel that they are justifiably right! Thank goodness, because of the internet and interested individuals, we are beginning to realize that we can have a voice in fighting back instead of being blind sided. Thanks for being a primary advocate and keeping us informed.

Get the cattle off our public lands, and there will be no conflict between the cattle and native species. If these cattlemen want to abuse our public trust resources for their private profit, losing some catle to diseases they brought, but are now carried by native wildlife, should be considered just part of the price they pay - as is losing a few to wolves. The direction we should be headed in is no private profit from our public trust resources. If public lands were all dedicated to environmental protection, most of our environmental problems would disappear.

We need to protect all wildlife for the sake of the planet.

As long as there are people who (in their ignorance and greed), pit themselves against Nature, wildlife and the environment will suffer. Unchecked population growth only makes things worse. Since we can't dictate national policy worldwide, we need to set an example for others to follow and sensibly plan families, educate people on the real issues confronting mankind, including global warming, habitat destruction, desertification, "growth' of an economy entirely dependent on population growth, and many other things we see all around us but tend to ignore.

Bravo Earthjustice! Keep up the good work.

this is a tremendous opportunity to reestablish the ecological balance between the wild buffalo herds, the plains, and the people of America. Primarily the Bison represent a restoration of the North American Plains, and a return to natural heritage. Also todays CAFO produced beef is unhealthy and unsustainable. 100's of millions of Bison roaming across the unused plains and badlands of the Dakotas, eastern Colorado, and similar BLM lands, represents an opportunity to provide healthy and sustainable meat for this country and potentially export. If the herds are allowed the proper space and managed correctly and respectfully giving thanks to the Creator as the natives did, we as a people could begin reversing our diet-related diseased nation.

Bison are competition, both for grazing and as a for-meat species. The cattle industry is trying to prevent them from ever being a viable competitor to their tightly controlled market. Bison are leaner, and I hear they are tasty. They sound hardier, too. So the court should look at this as an attempt to restrict a competitor, whether members of this particular herd are ever sold or not.

Wonderful! The historical and species existence is significant is important and far outweighs that of special interests like that of the cattle industry and other for profit groups. Thank you!

Wonderful! The historical and species existence is significant is important and far outweighs that of special interests like that of the cattle industry and other for profit groups. Thank you!

Keep up the fight! These wonderful, majestic creatures deserve to go home with our respect and protection!

You know, it's not just the myth about brucellosis; bison are a perfect alternative to cattle when it comes to species that can be eaten for their meat. They are leaner, as tasty (or so I hear) and wild and have a commercial potential that scares the cattle industry. It wasn't that long ago that they constituted the predominant for-meat animal in the West.

Awesome news and great work. Keep up the good fight :)


Animals seem to be the only beautiful, environmentally safe, harmless things left on this earth. People no longer fit in these catagories. Please save the animals because if we don't, what will we have left?? Just humans?? They for the most part are becoming more useless with time. Thank you.

Thank you, EarthJustice, for all the things you do

Wooohooo! :D

This brings tears to my eyes. These magestic animals have suffered so much discrimination at the hands of the white man. It is long over due.

Yes!!! Humans must stop putting themselves above the other creatures that inhabit this planet. They have the right to be here. If we kill everything that we think should be killed, we are signing our own death warrant on this earth.

My name is Bruce and the disease these powerful cattle interest contains part of my name. The shame that both Canada and the U.S. can never go away and allowing a pathetic number of buffalo back to a culture nearly destroyed is not enough. Native people should be allowed to bring the number of buffalo to whatever they can. We may never see another buffalo jump but tossing some cattle interests over would be fine by me. The fact that treasured elk have been allowed to increase just to satisfy the same people that shoot buffalo from their train seats is sickening. Bust the cattle interests let the plains have a chance to return to as close to the naturalness they once had.

This is great news for those of us in Montana who have been following this issue closely. It's been so sickening to watch the bison being "hunted" when they roam out of Yellowstone, and at least they aren't being hazed with helicopters anymore, since it disturbed the Grizzly, which is a protected species. Unfortunately, they are still being hazed back into the Park during calving season, when the snow pack allows for their return. This can be very hard on the moms and especially the newborn calves, who are trying to nurse. I understand the fear of brucellosis being spread to cattle, but I don't believe this has ever happened. It will be great to see these magnificent animals somewhere besides Yellowstone and the Bison Range in Moeise.

I 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.

Majestic, American animal that has more claim to this continent than we.

This should have happened long ago. If we keep allowing cattle ranchers to dictate environmental policy, the west will turn into one big cattle ranch. These people are the movers and shakers who determine what they will allow the Gov't to do. We need to shine a large very bright light on these people.

Save the buffalo. Save the planet.

Geez, why let the bison wander freely. The U.S. government, very good at destroying damn near everything it gets involved with, can't let these animals be. Crap, the native americans become independent again and throw all the white men off this continent. Hey, wait a minute, what am I saying, I'm one of those white men! Oh, well. they seemed to have a better system than we do. Hey, red men, let me stay I'll learn your traditions and customs, ours haven't been doing so well.

Heartwarming and very encouraging.

Move over, beef cattle! & no more free ranging for the (Beef Industry) ranchers.....LOVE the buffalo!

Please protect these animals. They have been here for a very long time longer than the white man. Indians used them for food, clothing and believed in them. White man came along and took and killed these animals just for the fur, what a shame on white people. I can say this because I am a white person. But, I can truly say I think the white man should be punished for the way it ran over the true American Indians. Mayble that is why the US is in the shape it is now, we have ran over to many people. We stoled their land out from them, took their homes and made them adjust to the white man way, we did wrong and I have always been ashamed of that. So save the anamils we owe they that.

I can't keep from silently adding a G to the word BISON to make this SONG, because surely this is good news, and I have to think back on Buffy St Marie's Song, that goes: Now that the Buffalo's Gone... well then, today, maybe not, and maybe the knot we all tie here, is that something beautiful can and will happen as we continue to work for conservation efforts here and around the world. It's surely about EARTH JUSTICE and not Just Ice. So let your voices be heard, and let's hear it for the buffalo. They were once plentiful on the plains, and it's plain nonsense to condemn them. As you have written, elk are not a problem. So it's some kind of prejudice operating here. They are as much part of belonging, be longing, as any of our animals and it's time to put the kind back into, mankind, and make this place, work, for all that inhabit the earth, not just some. The sum total of loving is just this. And Nature does create her own balance and doesn't need us, to make decisions that fly in the face of the beauty of wilderness and what we're granted by way of wildlife. Thoreau was so "thoreau gly correct", "In wilderness IS the preservation of the world." Let's act accordingly, a chordingly, because this is about the music, and we must follow the lieder in singing this, One Song.

Welcome back home to the range, Buffalo!

Really great to hear this

That is wonderful! Thank you for the hard work in reintroducing the bison to their native home! Keep up the great work you are doing!!!

Helping bison survive now will help humans survive later. Bison don't bunch up around water holes, like cattle do, trampling the shoreline and depriving other animals of habitat and cover. Bison hooves are sharp and cut up soil, aerating it, enabling rain to soak in. Bison feed around the fertile grounds of prairie dog towns, where they exist, further fertilizing tall-grass prairies, benefiting the entire ecosystem of plants and animals. One buffalo can feed and house and/or clothe several humans, when that's all you have to enable you to survive. Their horns and bones and sinew and bladder can equip you with tools to accomplish various survival-enabling tasks. Their benefit as a factor in an ecosystem is substantial and varied. There are Earth Changes coming that will threaten survival of humans, and this resource is one guarantee of survival of the human species. Their hardiness in harsh environmental conditions, especially during extreme weather, will prove beneficial to man. Increasing their numbers and habitat will enable larger numbers of humans to survive, when the time comes. As planet Earth returns to the norm of 600,000 years preceding the recent 11,000 year 'norm' where a global economy has evolved, man will be grateful to cohabit the planet with the North American forest bison.

Why would anyone want to destroy the bison that are such a huge part of American history? The U.S. government has catered to ranchers for far too long, trying to eradicate all the wildlife that is a threat to cattle. It is time to care about other animals, the planet belongs to all of us, not just ranchers.

Sadly, we have sold our souls as the appointed stewards for ALL agricultural/natural interests. From trade agreements, corporate farm monopolies and the unnatural biological manipulation of living things that have decimated our small farmers, to the eradication and slaughter of native species under the auspices of "helping" animal producers who raise herd animals. Everything requires moderation and balance in order to be and remain successful. Re-introducing native species is critical if we are going to attempt to bring some semblence of the natural order of things back into being. Creating and maintaining an environment that's controlled by monetary interests only will eventually become a victim of it's own circumstance. Without natural biological diversity, we ourselves and all we do, will eventually fade into obscurity. Re-introducing the native Bison is a start.

Why not go to CHANGE.ORG and CREATE a petition and get them to send it around!! You could gather thousands of signatures for your case!! Just a thought!!

Fantastic! I hope that you will keep us informed about the herds status and welfare. Thanks for your efforts.

There are bison herds on the Cheyenne River and Pine Ridge reservations in South Dakota. They seem to be doing well. Aside from a few getting loose and blocking the roads, I haven't heard of any problems. The tribes recognize their role in restoring the local ecosystem.

The same capitalists that keep Puerto Rico as a colony are the ones that want to eradicate every wild living being for a profit. Hector Lopez

Save the Buffalo program!!

What happened to the American Buffalo was unconscionable, cruel and egregious. It is time for justice for this American Icon and also for their allies, Native Americans.

Positive news!!

This is great news. I'm all for bringing them back and if a petition needs to be signed I will gladly put my name on that.

Let the buffalo return to all Native American lands!

Love these beautiful creatures! Hoping for their continued survival!

Fantastic ! If only we could eradicate the humans ! Let there be only one method of killing a bison: bow & arrow. And only for food ! --- Re-use, Re-purpose, Repeat . . . Recycle.

We are lucky to have any wild strains of buffalo/bison left at all - - - It’s a national disgrace that the Montana Department of Livestock - and the federal branch - the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service - are abusing - killing - and constantly hazing buffalo when they move out of their “restricted range”. Putting one hoof outside of Yellowstone’s boundary is literally a death sentence by the bastards (there is nothing else appropriate to call them) riding on horseback - ATVs - and even using helicopters - who actually do the killing and hazing - and the governmental people behind their desks who give the orders. There is no excuse for this treatment of an national icon that is being treated in a similar fashion as the native Americans have been treated in our country’s history - and even that continues - - - These short-sighted agencies need to either be curtailed completely with respect to dealing with buffalo populations or even done away with if they are unable to stop their literal slaughter and intimidation of this animal that deserves so much more consideration and freedom in it’s native home range. Many Americans feel ashamed that this is allowed to happen in our country - that financial interests are allowed to dictate the life and death of “our” buffalo that have seen nothing but brutality and suffering ever since white man set foot upon the North American continent. It needs to be stopped - now - and unfortunately because of little if any co-operation by state or federal agencies - by whatever means necessary - - -

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