- by theguardian
- 24 Mar 2023
Perched atop a fence at Badlands national park, Troy Heinert peered from beneath his wide-brimmed hat into a corral where 100 wild bison awaited transfer to the Rosebud Indian Reservation.
Heinert nodded in satisfaction to a park service employee as the animals stomped their hooves and kicked up dust in the cold wind. He took a brief call from Iowa about another herd being transferred to tribes in Minnesota and Oklahoma, then spoke with a fellow trucker about yet more bison destined for Wisconsin.
By nightfall, the last of the American buffalo shipped from Badlands were being unloaded at the Rosebud reservation, where Heinert lives. The next day, he was on the road back to Badlands to load 200 bison for another tribe, the Cheyenne River Sioux.
Most bison in North America are in commercial herds, treated no differently than cattle.
European settlers destroyed that balance when they slaughtered the great herds. Bison almost went extinct until conservationists including Teddy Roosevelt intervened to re-establish a small number of herds largely on federal lands.
Native Americans were sometimes excluded from those early efforts carried out by conservation groups. Such groups more recently partnered with tribes, and some are now stepping aside. The long-term dream for some Native Americans: return bison on a scale rivaling herds that roamed the continent in numbers that shaped the landscape itself.
With so many people, houses and fences now, Haaland said there was no going back completely. But her agency has emerged as a primary bison source, transferring more than 20,000 to tribes and tribal organizations over 20 years, typically to thin government-controlled herds so they do not outgrow their land.
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