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. Bridget Dunaj

    Tears to my eyes Thank you all for your tireless work on bringing about healthy change. Read I. The Washington times yesterday that Selesar was pleased. Now of only he would change his mind and heart regarding the wild mustangs. Maybe this is just the beginning. Thank you all governor, tribal leaders, fish and game and last but not least truck drivers

    Reply
  2. lisa gilling

    Wow I cried with tears of joy when I heard this wonderful news for the Bison. Thanks so much for all the hard work, I will continue to support the Defenders of Wildlife in every way I can and look forward to many many more success stories. I know the world is changing for the better to perserve wildlife and the environment for wildlife to live free.

    Lisa Gilling, Hillsborough, NJ

    Reply
  3. Susan

    AWESOME! I still can’t comprehend why the Bison aren’t allowed to live in their natural habitat in Yellowstone. Seems to me the cattle should move!

    Thanks all for your hard work and dedication.

    Reply
  4. Kay Pederson

    Thank you for getting them moved so they won’t be killed. We went thru Yellowstone and fell in love with the Bison last summer. They are awesome animals!!

    Reply
  5. Karen Robinson

    I have tears in my eyes. The evil that was done by us to this part of the animal kingdom. And, animals never condem. We only condem ourselves. Just saw a photo of a famous person standing in front of an elephant that he had killed. Why?

    Reply
  6. William B Serra

    Dear Mr Rappaport Clark,

    I am pleased, to see and hear of your hard work and contribution of the welfare of those who cannot defend for themselves.

    A member of my mother family is noted to be the first Humanitarian
    who fought for the rights of American Native and African Native that were being abused by others at one time. It is noted in the Historical Books.

    So your work is well received as a genuine supporter for those now and in the future.

    Regards

    Williams

    Reply
  7. Mikayla Latta

    Thank you for this uplifting and inspiring story. Some days its hard for me to keep hopeful for our wild animals, and stories like this give me so much hope and the encouragement I need to keep on donating money and signing petitions for what is right on behalf of our planets animals.
    Thank you!

    Reply
  8. Debbie Spicer

    I’m so happy about the Bison and their new home.Since I only live about 75 miles from Yellowstone, I went to see them over the weekend before their journey. Wish I could have been at Fort Peck to watch them released. Great news!!!

    Reply
  9. CHARLES

    Happenings like this are one of the few these days that bring a smile of satisfaction during these upsetting days in America!!! It is nice to feel a very small part af satisfaction for just signing my name to a historic cause!!

    Reply
  10. Susan Fanning

    I am so very happy to hear about these bison being saved and being brought home where they can be free. It’s truly a historic event. Wonderful news.

    Reply
  11. Christine

    This is truly an awesome success story! How wonderful to see the present come full circle to the past to restore these magnificent animals to their rightful heritage. With heartfelt thanks to all who were determined to make this happen. What an incredible feat and how inspiring to see these animals arrive upon their native land.

    Reply
  12. paul henry abram

    does this mean that there will be no bison left in yellowstaone? the last item on my “bucket list” is to visit yellowstaone and photograph bison in the snow. it has been part of my bucket list since the early 1970′s. last week i made reservations for my wife and i at the mammoth hot springs hotel with a tour that take us to bison in the snow. and then i read this e-mail from you. while i am happy for the bison, i am personall devasted! please, let me know, will any bison remain in yellowsyone after you move your “65″?
    ThANKS,

    Reply
    • John Motsinger

      Not to worry Paul. There are still 3,500 wild bison roaming inside Yellowstone National Park. These bison were being held in small quarantine facility outside the park, which is why we were working so hard to find them a new home.

  13. paul henry abram

    does this mean that there will be no bison left in yellowstaone? the last item on my “bucket list” is to visit yellowstaone and photograph bison in the snow. it has been part of my bucket list since the early 1970′s. last week i made reservations for my wife and i at the mammoth hot springs hotel with a tour that take us to bison in the snow. and then i read this e-mail from you. while i am happy for the bison, i am personall devasted! please, let me know, will any bison remain in yellowsyone after you move your “65″?
    Thanks,
    Paul Henry Abram

    [Reply

    Reply
  14. Douglas Radick

    Dear Jamie, A beautiful posting on a a marvelous story of effort, devotion, and setting right a longstanding injustice to both a magnificent animal, but the Native Indian tribes long denied their traditional companions on the plains.I thank you for your passion and care and applaud all concerned who aided in this achievement.

    Doug Radick

    Reply
  15. Dèverra Biandaešcü

    I am elated to have seen such news !!! A triumph to behold – watching these majestic animals take their rightful place after once again. My heart is gladdened by this historic event.

    Thank you for your efforts and perseverance.

    Reply
  16. Judith Miller

    This is really great news to read. Thank you to all for making a commitment to make this happen. the bison deserve better than how they have been treated but our federal government in the past. May all are great wild bison from now on b given the respect and protection and room they need, not just to survive but to thrive.

    Reply
  17. Linda Billey-Sevedge

    Congratulations to everyone who helped in this effort and to you Jaime for your dedication and hard work to protect and save our wildlife. Creator continues to Bless All who give LOVE!-Linda

    Reply
  18. laura

    I would like to ask you about some dog food (like Taste of the wild) in which bison meat is used ?

    Are they taken in wild nature ?

    That sounds chocking. What do yo know about this file ?

    Reply
  19. Tiffany

    Congratulations on a tremendous, hard earned success to everyone involved! Just moved from the NW to MT and even seeing the wildlife around here is amazing. I’m sure if they could thank you they would. Great job!

    Reply
  20. Theresa Pohl

    It is a great accomplishment. I would like to ask a question which I never even considered until reading these posting. I live in NJ and I find that the Fish, Game and Wildlife is nothing but a group supported by the hunters. They bring the animal back into NJ so the can hunt them down like our black bears they have been killing off for the past 2 years. Everthing I’ve read on you posts is US Fish and Wildlife. So my question is, all these animals we are
    moving and putting back into the wild does this mean the Indians will be hunting the buffalo and just like in Idaho the slaughter of the wolves? Please clear this up for me because I don’t really see the difference and I’m starting to worry.

    Reply
  21. White-Bear

    There are still approximately 3,000 left there…enjoy!

    May you walk in beauty
    White-Bear
    Apache Elder

    Reply
  22. White-Bear

    It is truly a blessing! Thank you for all that you do!

    May you walk in beauty
    White-Bear
    Apache Elder

    Reply
  23. Eusebia Milanes

    I am so very happy for this good news…Congratulations to all those who continue advocacy…and work hard to safe the animals of this great planed earth.

    Thanks!!!!
    Eusebia

    Reply
  24. Cari Sakell

    This is just so very heartwarming. GOD BLESS Everyone who has made this dream come true. Love and much more Hope for future endeavors. Even though I am in extreme financial trouble and do not have any money to send, I am a complete Advocate for this and ALL issues pertaining to Your most wonderful works. Blessed and Happy Smiles. Cari

    Reply
  25. Heather

    Awesome !!! Reading this gave me goose-bumps.Well done to you all and Thanks for bringing the bisons back to their rightful home .Good Luck with everything you do in the future.

    Reply
  26. jeanette donato

    I am crying too:) Fantastic news. Very heartwarming and exciting.
    But what about the other 15 animals? They were 75 total. Does anyone know?

    Reply
  27. Teri Standridge

    YEA! They made it. So GREAT to see them on tribal lands again. They have finally come HOME where they belong. May Grandfather Spirit truely bless the tribe, & watch over his beloved creatures. Tis truely a wonderful site to see. I want to take this time to say THANK YOU to ALL that helped make this move possible. You guys are awesome!!!! Hopefully this is just the beginning to help save the other creatures that need help to survive.

    Reply
  28. peet

    What about the bison that were killed in transport? Or the domestication since birth these bison have faced? Or the many, many, many buffalo deaths from being crushed, gored,having its neck broken in squeeze shout, impaled on fencing, starved to death, over feed and died during calving or let’s not forget flat out killed for latent infection of a disease that sure seems to scare the cattle industry but doesn’t even come close to doing the harm to bison that this quarantine process has done! Shameful!, Defenders why haven’t you reported the facts? I am happy to see these tribes beginning their reconnection with their ancestors as well , but my TEARS fall for the torment and torture the bison had to go through to get to tribal lands if they were the fortunate ones to make it. Shame on you Defenders for not being honest with your supporters! Quarantined is not inline with wild

    Reply
    • John Motsinger

      It is highly unfortunate that two bison were lost and one injured as part of the transfer from USDA facilities to the reservations. Unfortunately, some level of mortality is always a risk in wildlife relocations. While we bemoan the loss of these animals, we believe in the importance of moving the bison out of the quarantine facilities where they had been held for too many years to the reservations where they will individually and collectively have a much brighter future.

  29. Heather J.

    A long fought victory to preserve some of the most magnificent creatures on earth. I wish we could live capture and relocate wolves into a similar environment where they won’t be slaughtered.

    Reply
  30. Graeme Hunter

    Human beings when they become egotistical they cannot look past their own nose. When they look into their hearts and find love they realise that this is a living planet and our brothers and sisters are every thing around us. Yes the air we breath, the trees, the rocks, the animals, birds and fish etc. When we allow our ego, the selfish self rule us then we destroy, first each other then the very planet we are living on. It is good that we are realising that we can live in harmony with our environment and the animals that live around us. It is great that the Bison is back where it used to be.

    Reply
  31. Felisa

    This put a huge smile on my face. Thanks to everyones crucial efforts in making this a true success. A real victory!! THANK YOU!!!!

    Reply
  32. jennifer

    thank-you for this awesome contribution to the sustainability of such a magnificent
    creature…how beautiful it must have been to see them running almost free.which is all any of us are really..almost free…
    A feat to be proud of..

    Reply
  33. jennifermeyerson

    what an awesome achievement…to see those magnificent creatures running in their natural habitat..almost free..which is all any of us can claim …that we are almost free.

    Reply
  34. Mothernurture

    Thank you for all of your hard work. This is a wonderful story of how people can work together to bring about great change.

    Reply
  35. Rozalie Palan

    Native Bison back where they belong with Native Americans. Now – can we get them to stop murdering the Mustangs and the Wolves.

    Reply
  36. jean fankell

    What a glorious and humbling endeavor! ‘Freedom, oh freedom, how high the arches and wide the sky.’ new God smiles at us through, this, his creation.
    _

    Reply
  37. 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.

    Reply

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