Restoring Bison to Tribal Lands

Tribal people have a deep historical, cultural, traditional, and spiritual connection to bison that stretches back thousands of years. The National Wildlife Federation and the tribes share a common vision of establishing herds of genetically pure wild bison across the West and restoring Native Americans' cultural connection to bison.

Bison Adult and Calf, Woodruff
Our Vision (Full)

Bison photo by Jane Zalewski
Vision Brochure

Protecting Wild Bison and Tribal Culture

In 1997 the National Wildlife Federation signed a memorandum of understanding with the Intertribal Bison Cooperative, the first-ever conservation agreement between an environmental organization and an inter-tribal group, to advocate for the return of wild bison to tribal lands.

The political opposition to the return of the bison seemed insurmountable, as bison were seen as a threat to domestic livestock. Overcoming these challenges is a significant conservation milestone and opens the door to moving wild bison onto other large landscapes.

During the last six years, the National Wildlife Federation has partnered with tribal governments and other partners to return more than 250 bison to tribal lands, ensuring tribal connections to bison for generations to come. By bringing bison back to reservations, we are revitalizing a landscape, habitat, and a diversity of wildlife, while also re-establishing Native Americans’ cultural and historic connections to wildlife and the land.

The National Wildlife Federation and tribes share a common vision of returning wild bison to historical habitat and restoring Native Americans' cultural connections to bison. For more than two decades, the National Wildlife Federation’s Tribal Program has worked with tribes to bring wild bison back to their lands and cultures and restore this iconic American species to its rightful home on the prairies.

Bison's Return to the Wind River Reservation

In November 2016 the Eastern Shoshone Tribe and the National Wildlife Federation welcomed buffalo back to the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming after an absence of over 130 years.

In 2017, the Eastern Shoshone Tribe and the National Wildlife Federation welcomed another group of bison to Wind River.

Our Vision—More than a thousand buffalo on hundreds of thousands of acres on the Wind River Reservation
Our Plan—and how you can help make it happen

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Bison's Return to Montana Tribal Lands

In 2012 the Fort Peck Tribes, the National Wildlife Federation, and conservation partners succeeded in convincing the state of Montana to transfer more than 60 bison back to tribal lands. On March 19, 2012, after more than a century away, wild bison were returned to roam the Great Plains in Montana.

In November 2014 we took another significant stride by restoring an additional 134 Yellowstone bison to the Fort Peck Reservation.

Collective Tribal Vision for Bison Conservation

Tribal leaders, cultural and wildlife representatives, bison advocates, government leaders, and philanthropists gathered in 2018 at the Tribal Buffalo Conservation Summit to share successes, lessons learned, tribal management strategies, and priorities to guide the future of bison restoration and conservation.

The National Wildlife Federation envisions tens of thousands of buffalo repatriated to millions of acres of tribal lands across the country. To accomplish that vision, the Tribal Buffalo Conservation Summit brought together leaders from dozens of tribes to advance our collaborative effort to restore bison. Attendees heard from tribal and conservation experts who highlighted the ecological, cultural, and economic benefits of bison restoration as well as the contribution of the species to maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem sustainability. The National Wildlife Federation is fostering a network of tribes and conservation partners to realize the vision of bison herds return to tribal lands, communities, and cultures.

tribal group

To learn more about our work, please contact the National Wildlife Federation's Tribal Program or visit

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Where We Work

More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. We're on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 52 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.

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