Bison, © Aaron Huey / National Geographic Stock

Historic Homecoming for Bison at Fort Peck

The last light was fading fast from the sky when the first three trailers arrived. Gale force winds were ripping through the high plains, and the thermometer had dropped well below  freezing. Still, I was incredibly excited and gratified to be part of the small gathering with Fort Peck tribal members  to witness a historic homecoming and tremendous win for wildlife.

It was so worth it to spend  almost the entire day yesterday traveling from Washington, D.C. to eastern Montana, for the return of wild bison to the Great Plains. I watched in awe last night as the tribal wildlife manager flipped the latch of the first trailer, opened the door, and out roared the first two wild bison from Yellowstone National Park, storming back onto the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.

One of the Yellowstone bison emerging from a trailer into a corral at Fort Peck Indian Reservation in eastern Montana.

The bison had spent all day as well, traveling  about 500 miles from a quarantine facility just outside Yellowstone, where some of them had been  for more than five years. But last night, they were finally set free where they truly belong in their new home.

In total, about 60 genetically pure, wild bison completed the journey. These are some of the only descendants of the historic herds that once roamed the Great Plains by the millions, and they are the first Yellowstone bison ever to be relocated to the Great Plains—the heart of their historic range– to start new herds.

Half of them will soon be moved to the nearby Fort Belknap Reservation once fencing is completed there. Both reservations will manage their new herds sustainably as a valuable cultural resource for the tribes.

Defenders has been able to work closely with the tribes to help bring Yellowstone bison to Fort Peck and Fort Belknap Reservations. Over the last few years, we’ve helped the tribes secure grazing permits to convert tribal land from cattle grazing to bison, paid for wildlife-friendly fencing, and lobbied with them against bad bills in the state legislature. We even chipped in for trailers to help transport the bison from Yellowstone.

But our work here isn’t finished yet. We’ve already committed resources to help the tribes at Fort Belknap, hopefully the next release site, put up fencing around their bison pastures this spring and summer. And in coming years, we’ll be helping the tribes set aside more of their lands  to expand the areas where bison can roam free.

Mike Leahy, Jonathan Proctor, Fort Peck Fish & Game Director Robbie Magnan and Jamie Rappaport Clark at the bison corral (left to right).

Incredible wildlife moments like these leave an indelible mark that will stay with me forever. As I listened to those bison hooves cantering around  on the prairie last evening,  I was reminded how fortunate I am to lead an organization like Defenders. I am also gratified and thankful for the many Defenders donors who have been with us on this long journey to restore bison to their native lands in northeast Montana and have so generously supported us along the trail.

I feel truly honored to have been able to share this incredible conservation achievement with the Assiniboine, Gros Ventre, and Sioux tribes of Fort Peck and Fort Belknap. I also want to thank Gov. Schweitzer and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks for their leadership with bison restoration. Their persistence and perseverance has ensured that future generations of Americans will be able to witness magnificent wild bison out on the range once again.

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56 Responses to “Historic Homecoming for Bison at Fort Peck”

  1. Carol Todd

    On my meager retirement, I continue to contribute to Defenders every month, and this victory for the Bison is one more reason I do without a movie or dinner, for the sake of our fellow creatures. Thanks to Defenders, the wolves were brought back to Yellowstone and now the Bison to the Indian Reservation. My great-great grandparents helped feed starving Indians on the outskirts of early Denver when the white man killed off all the buffalo. I am glad to see it is finally pay-back time. Our next priority needs to be the wild mustangs that the BLM is eradicating throughout the West for the sake of cattle and human greed.

  2. Ella DePriest

    With so many animal being killed “shot on site” I cryed when I read about the buffalo being brought back to their home lands and thank God there will be someone there to care for them, and they won’t have things go so horriably wrong like the wolf’s. Somehow I knew without reading about it and told my husband I wanted to go hear the buffalo run. which also makes me cry. I can’t quite figure out why humans have to destroy everything they touch? I pray to God I can make it to hear the buffalo hoofs as they run across the prarie. And know that the humans FINALLY got something right. Praise to the hard battling people who made this blessid event happen. ~~Ella DePriest

  3. dig that crow strut

    WOW!! Wish i could have been there to witness such a beautiful sight!! “LONG LIVE THE BISON!!”

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