One hundred and thirty-six wild bison of Yellowstone origin reclaimed their historic home on the Great Plains this November when they were transferred to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation from Yellowstone – a journey that took over 10 years to complete.
These bison will augment Fort Peck’s existing herd of pure and wild Yellowstone bison, started with a previous relocation in 2012. With this second transfer, the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of Fort Peck are now the proud caretakers of a combined herd of almost 200 bison, the largest conservation herd of pure, wild Yellowstone bison in the state of Montana, outside of the Yellowstone National Park.
Watch Defenders’ mini-documentary on this bison transfer from Emmy Award-winning producer High Plains Films.
Defenders has been a long-time proponent of restoring Yellowstone bison to their historic home on the Great Plains. The Assiniboine and Sioux tribes at Fort Peck were among the first to offer their land for the return of bison.
“Yellowstone bison are essential to the restoration of the species,” said Jonathan Proctor, director of Defenders of Wildlife’s Rockies and Plains Program. “The Fort Peck Tribes gave Yellowstone bison a home before any others would. It is their commitment that resulted in today’s bison return, and it is their vision that will open the door for wild bison restoration elsewhere.”
With the tribes’ support, Defenders will continue to advocate in the state legislature and before the state wildlife commission that Yellowstone bison should be moved to tribal and public lands to establish or augment conservation herds.
Yellowstone bison are the true descendants of the massive wild herds, totaling up to 30 million, which roamed the West over a century ago. By the late 1890s, only 1,000 bison remained in North America, and most of these animals were held on private ranches and carried traces of breeding experiments with cattle. Fewer than 25 wild bison remained in Yellowstone by 1902 – reduced by illegal hunting from fewer than 200 in the 1890s. Today, Yellowstone’s bison population is the largest wild herd in the nation, as well as one of the few herds free of cattle genes. This unique combination of genetics and lack of domestication sets the Yellowstone bison apart from other contemporary herds.
In 2005, Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MFWP) launched an experimental quarantine study using some Yellowstone bison to assess the feasibility of securing and subsequently providing brucellosis-free bison to seed new conservation herds across the West. Media executive and philanthropist Ted Turner volunteered to care for the bison on his private ranch through a legally required additional five-year surveillance period. The animals transferred from Ted Turner’s Green Ranch to Fort Peck in November are the first “graduates” of the 2005 program, and underwent over a decade of multigenerational brucellosis testing.