The plains bison is an iconic symbol of the free and open spirit of the North American prairie, and plays a central role in the culture and spirituality of Native Americans. Once roaming the Great Plains in millions (between 25 to 60 million, by some estimates), only an estimated 360,000 bison remain in North America today. Of these, less than one percent (about 31,000 bison) roam freely on private and public lands, including national parks like Yellowstone and Banff.
The return of the bison remains controversial. The thought of “wild” herds across their ancestral lands, outside the man-made borders of parks and protected areas, inspires much concern among livestock ranchers that fear the bison. They fear the bison will compete with their domestic cattle for space and grass; and they fear the spread of brucellosis, a disease that can cause livestock, as well as deer, elk, and other wildlife, to miscarry their fetuses.
The Yellowstone Park bison herd is probably the oldest and largest public bison herd in the United States. It was home to the last free-ranging bison herd in the U.S. and the only place where bison were not extirpated in the country. They’re descended from a remnant population of 23 bison that survived mass slaughter during the 19th century by hiding out in Yellowstone’s Pelican Valley. They now consist of small sub-herds whose numbers range between 2,300 to 5,500 animals.
Outside of Yellowstone National Park, Native American tribes with treaty rights, including the Blackfeet Tribe in Montana and several other Northern Plains tribes, are allowed to hunt the animals as they leave the park. An easy and practical way of controlling herd size, especially since, until recently, all the remaining bison were sent to slaughter.
But Native American tribes have expanded their efforts to restore the bison to their rightful place as a keystone species with vital importance to natural ecosystems and indigenous foodways. The Intertribal Buffalo Council (a federally chartered organization that represents tribal nations that want to restore bison to their reservations) would like to see excess bison marked for slaughter to instead be placed on Native American reservations that want to start or supplement their own herds.
A facility built by the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes on the Fort Peck Reservation specifically for quarantining Yellowstone bison is already in play. Yellowstone bison are trucked from the holding facility outside the park directly to the Fort Peck Reservation, where they are quarantined until they go through rigorous testing for brucellosis (which can take up to two years).
Yellowstone Forever, the official nonprofit of Yellowstone National Park, supports these efforts via the Yellowstone Bison Conservation and Transfer Program, dedicated to the conservation and restoration of the species to portions of its native range on tribal lands. The program aims to avoid slaughtering hundreds of Yellowstone bison, while supporting the culture and economy of Native Americans, and preserving the unique Yellowstone bison genome.
Jacques Marie Mage is proud to support these efforts, and has released a second series of glasses in collaboration with Yellowstone Forever, in the hopes of raising awareness of the many conservation issues affecting the wilderness and wildlife of the American West. We hope you’ll join us in championing programs that are not only critical to Yellowstone, but also to wildlife recovery efforts around the world, which view Yellowstone Park as a leader in ecological research and restoration.
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