Montana’s bison have come home.
After over a century in Canada, far from their native rangelands, 88 descendants of a displaced American bison herd have returned to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation near Browning, Montana.
The transfer, which fulfills a 2012 treaty between the U.S. and Canada, is a victory for the Blackfeet tribe, for whom bison, also called buffalo, hold cultural significance.
“The Blackfeet People were a buffalo people for thousands of years,“ Harry Barnes, chair of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, said in a release Tuesday. “The elders have long believed that until the buffalo returned, the Blackfeet would drift. We have started the return.”
The move is also a victory for conservationists. The grazing and migration habits of bison influence everything from the types of grasses that grow to the path fires take as they snake through the prairies.
And the Western plains rely on so-called “keystone species” like bison to maintain the ecosystem’s delicate balance.
While returning a small bison herd to the Blackfeet Reservation is unlikely to dramatically change the region’s landscape, the bison will serve as an anchor population for larger restoration efforts in the area.