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  • Writer's pictureBecky Faulks

WWF Partners with Wolakota Buffalo Range to Bring Bison Back to Tribal Lands

The team has reached a milestone of over 1,000 bison to create North America’s largest native-owned and managed bison herd

The WWF is growing closer to its goal of restoring 1,500 bison to the Wolakota Buffalo Range, home to the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. Thousands of dollars have already been raised towards the project, which sees the organisation teaming up with the tribe to create space for the bison and build miles of wildlife-friendly fencing. Work with the Rosebud tribe began in 2020, as part of an ambitious mission to create the largest bison herd yet. For the tribe, this is not only welcome news for the environment, but also a return to history, tradition and Lakota values. Wizipan Little Elk, citizen of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate and CEO of the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation (REDCO), said at the start of the campaign:

‘In the 19th century, Tatanka (bison) were nearly driven to extinction. This campaign will help to bring bison back to our tribal lands. We’re Lakota people and that means we’re buffalo people. They’ve always taken care of us and we need to take care of them. I think when we look out and see those buffalo and their hooves touch the ground, it’s going to be relatable for everyone.’

So far, the range is home to over 1,000 bison.

The efforts to combat the loss of bison populations on the Great Plains began in 2014, with the WWF pledging to restore them to much of North America, where massive herds once roamed. The populations were decimated as a result of western population and cattle grazing, but thanks to these efforts, huge progress is being made in bringing them back. WWF’s goal is to restore five herds of at least 1,000 bison each in the Northern Great Plains by 2025.


Timeline of events

  • 2014: WWF Partners with Native Nations. WWF joins Native Nations to support their efforts to conserve and restore grassland ecosystems within their communities. It stands behind local visions and strategies, and provides information to the public on why the North American Grasslands Conservation Act is so important.

  • May 7, 2020: The Rosebud Sioux tribe commits 28,000 acres of native grassland for the creation of a new plains bison herd. With a capacity to support 1,500 animals, the Wolakota Buffalo Range will become North America’s largest Native American owned and managed bison herd. The WWF tells us why bison are so important in restoring grasslands and ecosystems.

  • October 30, 2020: The first 100 plains bison (buffalo) are released on the Wolakota Buffalo Range, transferred from Badlands National Park and Theodore Roosevelt National Park by the National Park Service. 

  • March 18, 2021: Toyota Motor North America donates $100,000 to the project as part of its Toyota Environmental Challenge 2050 campaign. ‘Supporting WWF to bring bison back to tribal lands strongly aligns with the Toyota Environmental Challenge 2050 to have a net positive impact on society by 2050,’ says Becky Martin, Manager of Environmental Sustainability for TMNA. ‘Through this partnership, we are supporting biodiversity by protecting species and promoting environmental justice by helping the Rosebud Sioux Tribe regain the environmental benefits associated with having bison on their land.’

  • April 27, 2021: The first two bison calves in 140 years are born on the Wolakota grounds.

  • October 22, 2021: 60 additional bison are released onto the nearly 28,000-acre Wolakota Range. This addition pushes the herd ever closer to the milestone of 1,000 individuals, which is the number recommended by scientists to ensure the long-term genetic health of a herd and therefore the species.

  • January 2022 – December 2023: Continual improvements and additions to the scheme see the range become home to over 1,000 buffalo as of 2023.


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