Bringing wild bison and an endangered ecosystem back

A cross-border effort aims to return herds to the Great Plains and restore biodiversity and the land.

  • Along the Great Plains, the activities of bison increase the resiliency of the grassland ecosystem. “They were moving and creating a landscape that had great heterogeneity,” said conservation biologist Kyran Kunkel. “And so they were impacting grass, and vice versa, and that’s what led to the diverse ecosystems there — birds, small mammals, large mammals, and insects.”

    Louise Johns
  • This bison calf, standing in the doorway of a barn on the Blackfeet Reservation, is a symbol of hope for the Blackfoot people.

    Louise Johns
  • A yearling bison calf jumps out of the chutes on the Blackfeet Nation Buffalo Program’s ranch. Due to fears throughout the west about disease spread, bison have to be vaccinated and tightly managed.

    Louise Johns
  • The Blackfeet Nation Buffalo Program moves their herd of bison to spring pasture near East Glacier in June 2019. They use horses and four-wheelers to move the herd, and recently began offering the ride to tribal members who want to participate and experience buffalo up close.

    Louise Johns
  • Research suggests there were 30 million to 60 million bison in North America in the 1500s. Four hundred years later, roughly 1,000 bison remained, a result of government policies that encouraged killing off the animals, largely to help defeat Indigenous inhabitants and force them onto reservations.

    Louise Johns
  • Dan Fox closes a gate after a mother bison runs through to separate the cow and calf bison. Weaning day is the one day of the year that Fox’s bison are handled on the Wolfcrow Bison Ranch.

    Louise Johns
  • Man Blackplume, a member of the Kainai Nation, is a ranch hand on the Wolfcrow Bison Ranch. “I can’t really explain it, but I get wicked butterflies. It’s a lot fun,” Blackplume says about working with bison.

    Louise Johns
  • On the Blood Reserve in Alberta, Canada, Dan Fox moves hay bales outside his home to bring to his bison. Fox runs the only bison ranch on the Blood Reserve. He believes that his family and his community will benefit, as he did, by having the buffalo back on the land and in their lives.

    Louise Johns