It’s Wednesday, March 8, and the Interior Department wants to work with tribes to bring back bison.

Bison in a field

The United States government is redoubling its efforts to restore bison populations to Native American lands.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland released an order last week establishing a six-member federal working group on American bison restoration. The group, which will be composed of representatives from five federal agencies and one tribal leader, is charged with creating a “shared stewardship plan” by the end of the year to increase bison populations on lands managed by the federal government and tribal nations.

“The American bison is inextricably intertwined with Indigenous culture, grassland ecology, and American history,” Haaland said in a statement. Her agency also announced some $25 million from President Joe Biden’s landmark climate spending bill for bison conservation.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Haaland’s order is part of a century-long effort to bring bison back from the brink of extinction. Before European colonizers arrived in North America, bison numbered in the tens of millions, but they were decimated in the 1800s by hunting and a U.S. policy of extermination designed to deprive tribes of a critical food source. Conservation efforts since the early 1900s have helped grow bison numbers from a low of less than 500, but their population in the wild is still only a tiny fraction of the roughly 60 million it once was.

To bring more bison back, the Interior Department’s order calls for conservation based on the best available science as well as Indigenous knowledge and management techniques. It’s one of several recent actions from the Biden administration to prioritize Indigenous culture and expertise, including new consultation requirements for federal agencies whose policies could impact tribes.

Tribal members have cheered the Interior Department’s efforts. “The buffalo has just as long a connection to Indigenous people as we have to it,” Troy Heinert, director of the InterTribal Buffalo Council and a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, told the Associated Press. “They are not just a number or a commodity; this is returning a relative to its rightful place.”

In the news

99 percent of global population exposed to unhealthy levels of tiny air pollutants: Study
Lauren Sforza, The Hill
Read more

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The way we eat could add nearly 1 degree of warming by 2100
Drew Costley, AP News
Read more

An Alabama clean water fund discriminated against Black communities, complaint alleges
Siri Chilukuri, Grist
Read more

The company offering free health care to East Palestine? It’s a right-wing, anti-vax project.
Kiera Butler, Mother Jones
Read more

State laws favor workers’ comp benefits for firefighters with cancer. Cities and counties keep denying them.
Barbara Feder Ostrov, Public Health Watch, Mother Jones, and Investigative Reporting Workshop
Read more

Mapping California’s ‘zombie’ forests
Elena Shao, The New York Times
Read more

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free. All donations DOUBLED!