Growing the herd

Wolakota fundraiser offers promise of more bison on Lakota lands

This past fall and winter, 135 plains bison were released onto a portion of the Wolakota Buffalo Range on the land of the Sicangu Oyate, commonly known as the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. They were the first of what will be a herd of 1,500 bison—the beginnings of what will become North America's largest Native-owned and managed bison herd.

This month, WWF had the opportunity to raise $324,000, which will allow us to expand the range and make more than 20,000 acres of native grassland habitat accessible to bison. On March 31, we reached this goal, thanks to thousands of generous donors. We will work with our partners at Rosebud to build 23 miles of wildlife-friendly fencing that will more than double the amount of habitat currently accessible to these iconic animals.

Thanks to an overwhelming response from our supporters, we have met a $100,000 match from Toyota Motor North America and increased our original goal to provide more support for the Wolakota Buffalo Range.

For Wizipan Little Elk, this is a return to history and tradition—not only in terms of buffalo but in terms of Lakota values. "I'm a citizen of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate and the CEO of the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation (REDCO), the economic arm of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe," said Little Elk. "In the 19th century, Tatanka (bison) were nearly driven to extinction. This campaign will help to bring back bison to our tribal lands."

"Supporting WWF to bring bison back to tribal lands strongly aligns with the Toyota Environmental Challenge 2050 to have a net positive impact on society by 2050," said Becky Martin, Manager of Environmental Sustainability for TMNA. "Through this partnership, we are supporting biodiversity by protecting species and promoting environmental justice by helping the Rosebud Sioux Tribe regain the environmental benefits associated with having bison on their land." 

Massive herds of bison once roamed the entire Great Plains and much of North America. Western colonization decimated those populations in a matter of decades, but now projects like this are helping to bring large herds back. WWF's goal is to restore five herds of at least 1,000 bison each in the Northern Great Plains by 2025. 

To date, the organization has invested more than $2.7 million in bison restoration efforts with Indigenous communities in the Northern Great Plains. The Wolakota Buffalo Range will provide ecological, economic, and cultural benefits to the Sicangu Oyate and exemplifies the visionary work that Indigenous communities are spearheading, which WWF wholeheartedly supports.

This exciting project is being advanced by a partnership between the REDCO and WWF with support from Tribal Land Enterprise, the Rosebud Sioux Tribes' land management corporation, and the U.S. Department of the Interior.