Grand Canyon Wildlife Managers Successfully Relocate Dozens of Bison to Iowa, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes

by Caitlin Berard

In the early 1900s, the bison herd at Grand Canyon National contained around 100 happy, healthy animals. Over the years, however, the bison herd continued to grow, and by 2018, the herd had multiplied to 600 bison.

Without intervention, biologists predicted the herd could grow to 1500 animals by 2028. That amount of bison would be unsustainable for many reasons, not the least of which is that it would pose a serious threat to the Grand Canyon’s resources. That includes vegetation, water, archaeological sites, and historically significant spaces.

To bring the bison population back down to a healthy level, the National Park Service put a Bison Herd Reduction plan into action. The goal of this plan was to reach a target number of 200 bison in the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. To do so, they employed lethal culling and non-lethal capture and transfer of the majestic animals.

“In national parks, while we have amazing, beautiful spaces, we have limited space,” Park Service veterinarian Danielle Buttke explained to AZ Central. As part of the park’s reduction efforts, Buttke ensured the bison were healthy enough for relocation.

“What we need to do as wildlife managers is make sure that those populations don’t get so large that there isn’t any food left for the remaining animals, whether it’s bison or elk or other species,” she added.

American Indian Tribes Welcome Grand Canyon Bison

It’s now been four years since the reduction plan’s initial launch, and more than 300 bison have been removed from the park. Lethal culling is sometimes a necessity and has been used sparingly. However, the National Park Service and other agencies have done their best to minimize the loss of bison.

To help with this, eight different American Indian tribes welcomed 182 bison to their reservations through the InterTribal Buffalo Council.

Fifty-eight of these bison were successfully relocated just this month. On September 11, wildlife managers transported the bison from the North Rim to the InterTribal Buffalo Council.

From there, the bison found new homes with two tribes: the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of South Dakota.

For Native American tribes, the bison are a welcome addition. “Buffalo were an Indigenous food source,” explained InterTribal director Troy Heinert. “And recreating that connection with buffalo takes us back to who we are as Indigenous people.”

A recent count of the Grand Canyon bison herd revealed that park managers reached their goal. Following the reduction efforts, the bison herd now contains approximately 216 animals. At this number, Grand Canyon park officials can ensure the herd enjoy a healthier life.

“There is no way that just one agency could manage this herd of bison,” said Regional Supervisor Larry Phoenix. “And so, because of the collaboration, the bison are a much healthier herd.”