Where Should the Buffalo Roam? Tribes, Ranchers Battle Over Bison Relocation
The Great Plains of northern Montana once again have wild American buffalo roaming their vast expanse.
Nearly hunted to extinction in the 1880s, genetically pure bison now number in the few thousands — and for the first time, several dozen have been handed over to Native Americans who relied on American buffalo for thousands of years.
“This is the most significant development in many, many generations,” said Stoney Anketell, who sits on the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribal Board. “When I think of my ancestors, they would be so pleased this occurred, it’s finally a reversal of fortune for the Indian people.”
Yet the tribes are now in the middle of a culture clash over the animal.
After the 61 pure bison were relocated from Yellowstone National Park to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in northeastern Montana, the Native Americans who received them — along with conservationists — have found themselves pitted against ranchers and farmers.
One people’s treasured beast is another’s nuisance.
“They want everything,” fourth generation rancher Dustin Hofeldt said. “All the fences gone, all the cattle out of here — they just want this to be a giant game refuge.”
Hofeldt is one of many plaintiffs who successfully sued to block future bison relocations.
He is no stranger to bison problems. In 2005, he shot and killed five in a single day after they had escaped from a neighboring reservation and were harassing his cattle. Last year, he claims bison broke his fencing and ate his hay, costing him $20,000.
Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Hofeldt and the other opponents are being irrational.
“In a hundred years, this herd will still only grow to a few thousand, and we have 3 million cattle in Montana,” Schweitzer said. “I think there’s room for them to coexist.”