Native American Liaison
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Photo Credits: USFWS
Buffalo Transfer from Neal Smith NWR to Prairie Island Indian Community
On November 4th 2010, 13 buffalo from the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in central Iowa made their way north to a new home at the Prairie Island Indian Community (PIIC) in southeast Minnesota. Buffalo, or bison, graze on native prairie grasses and are an important component to native prairie management at the Refuge.
“Bison were historically an integral part of prairie ecosystems and Neal Smith NWR is committed to restoring the role of the bison on the landscape as well as preserving its genetic heritage,” said Christy Smith, Neal Smith NWR Refuge Manager. “The number of bison the Refuge can contain is limited so we work very closely with Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) wildlife biologist Lee Jones and FWS Chief of Wildlife Health Tom Roffe to make certain that we do not lose genetic variability each time we remove animals from the herd.”
The Refuge rounds up their animals annually and this year, in cooperation with the Intertribal Bison Cooperative, 13 animals were donated to the PIIC.
The Edwin Buck Jr. Memorial Buffalo Project at the PIIC was started in 1990 with one animal. Since then, the herd has grown to over 90 animals and has been an important resource for community members. Buffalo have traditionally been a very important animal for the Dakota people, who would not only eat buffalo meat, but would also use virtually every part of the animal to make things for their daily lives from clothing, to tools, to medicine.
“Just like people can get everything they need at Walmart today, historically, the buffalo provided us with everything that we needed,” said Alan Childs, PIIC Maintenance Director and manager of the Buffalo Project. “We used every part of the animal, even the tail for a flyswatter.”
Consistent with traditional uses, the PIIC harvests about one animal per month and makes the meat available to community members in need. Other parts of the animal are used in traditional ways as well. Tribal youth and school groups visit the Buffalo Project regularly to learn more about buffalo and their cultural importance to the Tribe.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service is excited to partner with the Prairie Island Indian Community on this mutually beneficial project,” said Tim Patronski, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Midwest Region Native American Liaison. “We’ve learned more about how important buffalo are to the Tribe and we look forward to future partnership opportunities.”
The herd has grown to a point now that the PIIC is working to convert a 350+ acre parcel of land with native grasses into a new buffalo grazing pasture.