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Bison Restoration

Bison used to number in the millions on the Great Plains, but animals in conservation herds now stand at around 31,000 and are considered “near threatened.”

Because most conservation herds are less than 500 on small landscapes, the species is listed as "ecologically extinct," meaning bison no longer play their critical roles in shaping prairie biodiversity.

An Icon of the West

The plains bison, also commonly known as the buffalo, is an iconic symbol of the free and open spirit of the North American prairie. While tens of millions of bison once roamed the Great Plains — described as “innumerable” by early 18th century European explorers — only an estimated 360,000 bison remain in North America today. Of these, less than one percent (about 31,000 bison) live in conservation herds. Most of the bison on the landscape today are raised for commercial purposes.

 

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Photo by Erik Goldstein

Senior Bison Restoration Manager Scott Heidebrink conducts aerial surveys of the bison herds twice a year to assess population sizes and birth rates. As of fall 2019, the total bison population of all three herds is:

849

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The Herd on American Prairie Reserve

We restore bison to their original habitat on American Prairie Reserve lands, providing visitors a chance to witness the majestic species that astounded the earliest explorers and played a central role in the culture and spirituality of Native Americans. Thanks to donors and collaborators, we reintroduced bison on our lands in 2005, returning a species that had been gone from the landscape for more than 120 years. Learn more about the herd:

Contributing to Bison Conservation Nationwide

As part of American Prairie Reserve's desire to make a positive contribution to bison restoration efforts across the country, we have donated bison to many conservation and tribal herds across the country.

Year Number of Bison Location
2009 1 Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, NE
2010 1 Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, CO
2010 1 Fort Peck Interpretive Center, USACE, MT
2011 56 Fort Peck Indian Reservation, MT
2011 20 USDA-APHIS National Wildlife Research Center, CSU, CO
2011 20 Wildlife Conservation Society (Bronx Zoo), NY
2012 12 USDA-APHIS National Wildlife Research Center, CSU, CO
2014 2 Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Washington D.C.
2017 12 Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, MT
2017 15 Arizona Game & Fish Department, AZ
2018 30 Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, MT
2018 30 Blackfeet Nation, MT
2018 25 Pe'Sla, SD
2018 30 Fort Peck Indian Reservation, MT
2019 23 Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, MT
2020 25 Quapaw Nation, OK
2020 9 Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, MT
2020 51 Blackfeet Nation, MT
2020 2 Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Washington D.C.