While the Poppers' update on the Buffalo Commons was interesting, it failed to disclose a disturbing trend in private bison herd management (HCN, 2/2/98). That trend is the domestication of bison. The bison slaughterhouse in North Dakota mentioned in the Poppers' article requires that bison be grain-fed 120 days prior to slaughter, and criteria used to grade carcasses are based on fat content, size and age at the time of slaughter.
The highest prices are paid for animals producing a large fat carcass at a young age. Basically, it is the same people doing the same thing but with a different animal, because they can make more money. The ecological, cultural and spiritual values of bison have been lost in market-driven greed. In Montana, native prairie continues to be converted to cropland partly in response to land idled by the Conservation Reserve Program.
Ten years after the introduction of the Buffalo Commons concept, nothing has really changed. The only glimmer of hope comes from the InterTribal Bison Cooperative, but putting bison on Indian lands in a meaningful way has been a slow, difficult process. Ecological restoration of the Great Plains has hardly begun and it already needs a mid-course correction.
Craig J. Knowles
The writer is a wildlife consultant with FaunaWest.