100 bison find a new home with the Rosebud Sioux Tribe

The Tribe will create the largest native-owned and managed bison herd in North America

Bison walk out into a brown field

UPDATE: Wind Cave National Park donates 60 bison to Wolakota Buffalo Range

In the Lakota creation story, beings emerged from the Wind Cave in South Dakota’s Black Hills—some in human form and some in buffalo form. It’s fitting, then, that the latest group of bison donated to the Wolakota Buffalo Range were donated by Wind Cave National Park.

Sixty bison barreled onto the nearly 28,000 acres of land managed by the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation (REDCO), the economic arm of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. This addition pushes the herd ever closer to the milestone of 1,000 individuals—the number recommended by scientists to ensure the long-term genetic health of a herd and, in turn, the species.

“The progress being made at Wolakota Buffalo Range has exceeded all expectations,” said Dennis Jorgensen, bison program manager for WWF. “If someone had told me at the outset of the project that after only a year since the first bison set foot on the land, we would near 1,000 bison on 28,000 acres once all transfers are completed this winter I would not have believed them. It’s a testament to the remarkable work of REDCO and what can be achieved when you unify a community’s vision and the energy of diverse partners and the American public.”

More releases are planned this fall and winter. The herd will grow to over 900 by the end of November, making it one of the largest Native-managed herds in North America.

Bison looks at the camera as other bison mill around in the background © WWF / Clay Bolt

One hundred plains bison found a new home today, trampling onto the Wolakota Buffalo Range on the land of the Sicangu Oyate, commonly known as the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. They are the first of as many as 1,500 animals setting foot on the 28,000 acres of native grassland—the beginnings of what will become North America’s largest Native-owned and managed bison herd.

The project is being advanced by a partnership between the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation (REDCO) and WWF with support from Tribal Land Enterprise, the Rosebud Sioux Tribes’ land management corporation, and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Amid a global pandemic and social unrest, the Sicangu Oyate are revitalizing their relationship with bison to demonstrate the potential this creates for economic, ecological, and cultural resiliency.

“The sacred relationship between Native nation communities and the buffalo is part of a shared story of strength, resilience, and economic revitalization,” said Wizipan Little Elk, CEO, REDCO. “The arrival of the buffalo marks a new beginning for the Sicangu Oyate, where cultural, ecological, and economic priorities are equally celebrated and supported and are of great benefit to our community and serve as an example to the entire world.”

The arrival of the animals at the Wolakota Buffalo Range was supported by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s 2020 Bison Conservation Initiative, a 10-year plan announced in May to expand bison conservation efforts. Additional bison will be delivered over the next five years from herds managed by the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, helping further the department’s commitment to support the restoration of bison to Native American lands.

Over the past five years, WWF has invested more than $2.2 million in bison restoration efforts with indigenous communities in the Northern Great Plains. This new opportunity, which aligns strongly with Lakota foundational values and beliefs, will offer a model for cultural and ecological restoration efforts by Native nations across the US.

“Today marks a long-overdue homecoming for these iconic animals,” said Carter Roberts, WWF president and CEO. “And it represents a reunion with the communities who lived with them for millennia in a symbiotic relationship—and who can now do so again. WWF was honored to partner with the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation and the U.S. Department of the Interior to help make this day possible."

Visit rosebudbuffalo.org to learn more.