Environment

Native American Lawmakers Seek Federal Help on Montana Bison

Move comes as Gov. Greg Gianforte and legislative Republicans seek to make it harder to reintroduce bison to some areas of the state

By MATTHEW BROWN, Associated Press
Bison from the Blackfeet herd established in the 1970s graze near Mission Lake on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation on April 4, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

BILLINGS — Native American lawmakers in Montana on Tuesday asked the Biden administration to help craft a plan to reintroduce wild bison to areas in and around Glacier National Park and the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.

The request was made by eight members of the Legislature’s American Indian Caucus in a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. It comes after Gov. Greg Gianforte and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature have sought to make it harder to reintroduce bison to areas of the state the burly animals once roamed.

Bison have strong cultural significance for Plains Indians and were depended on by many Native American tribes for food, clothing and other necessities until the huge herds that once populated the U.S. West were wiped out in the late 1800s.

Rep. Tyson Running Wolf, a Democrat from Browning and member of the Blackfeet Nation, said the American Indian Caucus members decided the administration of President Joe Biden would be more open to bison reintroduction than Gianforte.

Ranchers in Montana have long opposed efforts to restore the large animals, fearing they could compete with livestock for public grazing space and spread the disease brucellosis. That’s an infectious disease carried by Yellowstone National Park bison that can cause animals to prematurely abort their young.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.