Robbie Magnan, Manager of the Fort Peck Tribes Game and Fish
Department, picks us up from our hotel in Wolf Point, Montana right
at noon. His smile and good mood are infectious. To him, any day
he gets to take people out to see the Yellowstone Bison is a good
He is taking us to see the Yellowstone
Bison that the Tribes, the National Wildlife Federation and other
partners successfully transferred to tribal lands last March.
Robbies basic message? The bison and the native wildlife and
plants that rely on the bison are thriving. New songbirds are coming
through that theyve never seen before. Native grasses and
wildflowers are thriving in the bison pasture. The bison have restored
balance to the land.
today and help National Wildlife Federation protect wildlife
We hop into his big Ford pickup and head north on the highway
up to the thousands of acres of prairie that the Yellowstone Bison
now roam. It was just over a year and three months ago that I witnessed
the first transfer of Yellowstone Bison ever, back to tribal lands
on Montanas northeastern prairie landscape.
However, this Saturday couldnt have been any different
from mid-March 2012 when the first
bison stepped foot onto the land of the Assiniboine and Sioux.
In March of last year, we were out in freezing temperatures waiting
for the trucks and trailers to roll in with the bison.
Snow and sleet were coming down and people huddled close for
warmth as bison came off the trailer. The bison were nervous, unsure.
They had never been anywhere besides the quarantine facility in
Gardiner, MT. This was the first day of their new lives, living
wild on the prairie.
For me, it was my first time seeing them since I saw them come
off the trailers. Today, it is 88 degrees, sunny and absolutely
gorgeous as we drive along the highway. I am excited to see how
the bison have acclimated to their new surroundings.
One of the major things that Robbie has noticed is that bison
make it possible for other wildlife species to thrive in the winter
months. Bison use their massive heads to push the snow out of the
way, exposing grass and other vegetation to eat. Pronghorn antelope
are unable to dig through the snow to find food so during the long
hard prairie winters, pronghorn can suffer. However, with the bison
back, Robbie noticed that the pronghorn follow behind the bison
and are able to eat in the places that the bison have uncovered.
Then come the ground birds and all of the other critters. The bison
are bringing other species back to the prairie.
Robbie telling us how that system works reminded me of lyrics
written by Canadian songwriter and singer, Corb Lund. In
a song called, The Truth Comes Out, he sings, the antelope
mourn the buffalo in the night. It makes me think how
interconnected the two animals are and how when the bison were killed
off, the antelope lost a lot of their ability to forage for food
in the long winter months.
Finding the bison
Robbie warns us it might take awhile to find them. They have thousands
of acres after all and could be anywhere. We are lucky though. We
drive up over a hill after five minutes and there they are, bedded
down near a wetland, babies hopping and jumping and playing as their
moms chew their cud and watch closely. Two big bull bison are off
by themselves, contently resting after a morning of browsing the
lush prairie grass.
We stay a good distance from the herd, not wanting to disturb
them. Bison calve once every two years so this year there are about
a dozen new babies in the pasture. Watching them roll on the grass
and get milk from their mammas makes us all ridiculously happy.
Robbie watches over them like a proud parent, pointing out various
behaviors that he has noticed and telling us the various ways they
have changed since they arrived.
Robbie tells us that since the bison came home, good things
have been happening in his community and he is looking toward a
future of more land for them to roam, more Yellowstone bison arriving
from the park and a day where tourists from all over the world can
come and see how the bison take care of the land and how the Assiniboine
and Sioux are taking care of the bison.
How you can help
We arent done. Many other Tribes are seeking to restore Yellowstone
Bison back to Tribal Lands but we need your help to make it happen.
Your donation can help our work to restore bison back to tribal
here. To read more about our efforts and long term vision, go
to our website here.
You can like National Wildlife Federations Tribal Lands
Partnerships Facebook page here
to stay updated on all bison related news and events.
Bison to Tribal Lands
National Wildlife Federation, in partnership with the Fort Peck
and Fort Belknap tribes, succeeded in convincing the state of Montana
to transfer more than 60 bison back to tribal lands. On March 19,
2012, after more than a century away, wild bison were returned to
roam the Great Plains in Montana.