An auspicious birth is generating excitement and a promise for the future on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. Earlier this month, the first bison was born there in more than 130 years.
It was birthed by just one of two cows included in a herd of ten buffalo that the reservation received last fall from the Neil Smith Wildlife Refuge in Iowa (which got its start with animals from the National Wildlife Refuge in Montana). More than 300 tribal members turned out in November 2016 to watch the bison burst from their enclosure and bolt across the plains. Schoolchildren were also brought out to see the little herd, and they will soon return again to see the newborn calf.
“It was a forty-plus-year effort to get those ten buffalo here, and to see the first one born from that effort is special,” said Jason Baldes, who heads up the tribal buffalo program. “We may look to add some more cows, probably four or five, within a year or so.”
The younger of the two cows is still likely two years away from breeding—which makes this newborn calf even more special, Baldes added.
“We had known the cow was pregnant but didn’t know when she would calf,” Jason said. “We anticipated it for a couple of weeks and were keeping an eye on her every day but were pleasantly surprised to see it born a little earlier than we thought it would be. They generally calve near the end of May.”
The present shortage of cows will greatly restrict rapid expansion of the herd, but it’s hoped that additional cows will soon be added. There’s also a good possibility that additional animals can be obtained via the Fish and Wildlife Service and their herds, as well as other sources, such as Fort Peck, which have disease-free populations.
The reservation was traditional buffalo range and holds great hope for the future.
“We have the best potential anywhere for what buffalo management could look like if we do it right,” Baldes said. “There’s no other place that has such a large intact ecosystem. We have 700,000 acres with no fences and both winter and summer range. I’ve argued that we have more potential habitat than Yellowstone. The ultimate vision for Wind River is one thousand plus buffalo on hundreds of thousands of acres!”
Boy-Zhan Bi-Den is the Shoshone term for “buffalo return.” And so it is on the Wind River Reservation. Buffalo have indeed returned!