Dept. of Interior and partners commit to long-term initiative to conserve the American bison

U.S. Department of the Interior
Farm Forum

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On May 7, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt announced the Bison Conservation Initiative (BCI), a new cooperative initiative that will coordinate conservation strategies and approaches for the wild American Bison over the next 10 years. The Department of the Interior (DOI) and its partners have been successful in restoring the populations of the American Bison and supporting healthy herds. With unprecedented interest and cooperation among partners – including states, tribes, nations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – bison conservation is well equipped to move beyond the confluence of strong analytical assessments and toward coordinated conservation action.

“Interior is uniquely positioned to lead the way for shared stewardship of this iconic American species,” said Secretary Bernhardt. “This 10-year plan will guide our collaboration with states, tribes, private conservationists and managers across public lands to advance conservation efforts and honor iconic wild bison.”

Bison were hunted to near extinction in the late 19th century. Today, there are about 11,000 plains bison in 19 herds on 4.6 million acres of public land across 12 states because of successful public-private conservation partnerships. In 2016, Congress recognized the importance of the American Bison to the country’s history, celebrating it as our national mammal.

“We are doing something that has never been done. It shows what is possible when business, philanthropy, and government work together to create multiple bottom line initiatives supporting the environment, people, fiscal responsibility, and Native nation building,” said Rosebud Economic Development Corporation’s CEO, Wizipan Little Elk.

“The bison looms large in the culture and traditions of Native nations,” said Carter Roberts, President and CEO of World Wildlife Fund. “This announcement matters for several reasons: it represents a homecoming for this iconic species, and it’s also a reunion with the communities who lived with them for centuries in a symbiotic relationship. We are honored to be partners in this effort with the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation and the U.S. Department of the Interior, and we look forward to seeing the bison return to the Rosebud Reservation later this year.”

“We are living through unprecedented challenges; times that demand new ideas, new strategies, and deeper and more diverse partnership. Our collaboration with the Department of the Interior’s Bison Conservation Initiative embodies this and represents a pivotal approach to the conservation of a species that is vital to both our ecological and cultural heritage. Launching a collaborative strategy for the ecological and cultural recovery of our national mammal, a symbol of unity, resilience, and health, could not come at a better time for the American people and our unique natural heritage,” said Director of U.S. Conservation for Wildlife Conservation Society, Cristina Mormorunni.

The DOI Bison Working Group (BWG) — comprised of representatives from the National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Indian Affairs — has worked with its partners to strengthen resource coordination, institute a conservation genetics framework and publish investigations into metapopulation management and herd health.

The BWG will now:

• Develop and launch a DOI bison metapopulation strategy.

• Develop and implement a DOI bison stewardship plan.

• Improve and expand mechanisms to support ecocultural restoration of live bison.

• Adopt low stress capture and handling practices.

These actions will be organized around five central goals:

• Wild, healthy bison herds: A commitment to conserve bison as healthy wildlife.

• Genetic conservation: A commitment to an interagency, science-based approach to support genetic diversity across DOI bison conservation herds.

• Shared stewardship: A commitment to shared stewardship of wild bison in cooperation with states, tribes and other stakeholders.

• Ecological restoration: A commitment to establish and maintain large, wide-ranging bison herds on appropriate large landscapes where their role as ecosystem engineers shape healthy and diverse ecological communities.

• Cultural restoration: A commitment to restore cultural connections to honor and promote the unique status of bison as an American icon for all people.

As one of the BCI’s first actions, Secretary Bernhardt announced two bison transfers will take place later this year, demonstrating the focused direction toward enhanced intra-departmental cooperation and partnership. The transfer of bison among the Department’s herds and across bureaus maintains genetic diversity of wild bison populations, especially for smaller herds that are managed in isolation. These transfers will support ecological and cultural restoration of bison.

The NPS and FWS will collaborate on the transfer of wild bison from the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Translocated bison will be included in an on-going NPS genetics study to measure the extent of their integration into an existing herd.

For the second transfer, the DOI commits to donate wild bison to support the establishment of a new bison herd on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. The Wolakota Buffalo Range will support ecological restoration, cultural practices, economic development, food security and public education on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation. The new tribal herd is enabled by a cooperative project with the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation and the World Wildlife Fund.

For additional information about the science, benefits and goals of bison transfers, see the population viability analysis conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Society, NPS and FWS that was also released on May 7 at

In addition to these field-based efforts, the BCI directs cooperating bureaus to develop and implement a science-based Department Metapopulation Strategy and work with states, tribes and NGOs to develop a shared stewardship plan that furthers ecological and cultural restoration of bison.

The 2020 Bison Conservation Initiative page at provides additional information about how the DOI is working to improve the conservation and management of bison.