Lisa L. Griggs
Warner Pacific College
June 16, 2011
“We (Blackfeet) have always sought these powers, believing the life of the land and our own lives were irrevocably bound and intertwined.” (blackfeetnation.com) One of North American’s largest ecosystems is the grasslands that once stretched from the Rocky Mountains and as far East to the Mississippi River with over 250 different types of grass, small game animals like the black footed ferret, foxes, and prairie dogs could be found. Large game animal roam in larger number from mule tailed deer, elk and buffalo. Buffalo before the 1800’s ranged in the millions were an indicator of prairie health the sheer size and weight helped cultivate the prairie grounds.
The fate of the grasslands would be reshaped considerably in the 1860’s with the passage of Homestead Act. This Act brought settlers in droves from the East at a chance to own acres of land. Soon the native grasses and plants were replaced for acres of corn, wheat fields: water ways were divertive and irrigation systems were installed. Once, where the buffalo roamed freely settlers were placed by miles of fences keep large herds of cattle and other non-native livestock enclosed.
Soon buffalo were being replaced by cattle; the cattle would overgraze the native grasses, break legs when the feel into prairie dogs holes, and ranchers would loss thousands more to the harsh winters. Cattle were not bread to live on the open grasslands as the buffalo that face the winter storms head on.
Not only where the American Indians competing with the settlers but the trappers, traders and commercial hunters who’s only interest was the hide of the buffalo and left the meat to rot. The movement west included the expansion of the railroads who offered “killing” contest shooting as many buffalo possible from the windows of the train. This was a slaughter of thousands of buffalo where the buffalo where left to rot.
The Great Plains is the homelands of hundreds of American Indian tribes, and buffalo were also the staple of life for many of the Plains Indian, was a main source of food, culture and tradition. The Indians felt the encroachment of the settlers, the wastefulness of commercial hunters, soon the tension and conflict between the settlers and Indians grew.
Congressional members saw the American Indians as nuisances one Congressman James Throckmorton of Texas has been quoted as saying “it would be a great step forward in the civilization of the Indians and the preservation of peace on the border if there was not a buffalo in existence.” (www.pbs.org) Soon the military was asked to step in to help “easy” the tension between the resisting American Indians. The military personnel were ordered to kill the buffalo; the buffalo were slaughter by the millions not as food but as a way to eliminate American Indians.
Buffalo herds that once ranged in the millions soon were on the brink of extinct with a few thousand remaining after the slaughter. The few thousand buffalo that did survive the slaughter found refuge in the valleys of what is now known as Yellowstone National Park.
Today, Yellowstone is a model of health of what the grasslands of the Plains once were. Federal, State and Tribal governments are working together to restore the grasslands and buffalo to a natural state. Several Tribes belong to cooperative and are working at breeding and restoring buffalo to the Plains. Buffalo need large amounts of land to roam and graze, using lands on reservations, wildlife refuges, and national parks. “In his book Ecology and Economics of the Great Plains, Daniel Licht proposes creating "ecoreserves" by buying out struggling farmers, noting that reserves make better economic and environmental sense than costly farm subsidies. All told, Licht's proposed refuges would cover more than 27,000 square miles; an area he says could support 25,000 buffalo, 300 wolves, 10,000 elk, 15,000 mule deer, and over a million prairie dogs.” (LaDuke, Winonna)
“In Montana, Club volunteers are working with tribes and federal land managers to dedicate a quarter-million-acre tract of public land, adjacent to the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, to bison and other prairie species. Special protection, such as national monument status, could provide what national board member Jennifer Ferenstein calls "a connector between ecologically intact areas" that would give buffalo room to run--and Americans a living link to their country's natural history.” (LaDuke, Winonna) Restoring the grasslands helps create a healthy prairie a place that people will want to visit like Yellowstone and build, teach and learn about cultural heritage.
Licht, Daniel S., Ecology and Economics of the Great Plains (Our Sustainable Future), 1997,
University of Nebraska Press
LaDuke Winona "Buffalo nation - environmental benefits of American bison and efforts to
restore them to the Great Plains". Sierra. FindArticles.com. 14 Jun, 2011. Retrieved from
Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). American Buffalo: Spirit of a Nation, 2009, Retrieved, June
13, 2011 from http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/american-buffalo-spirit-of-a
http://www.blackfeetnation.com/about-the-blackfeet.html, Blackfeet Nation, A Proud Past, A
Bright Future website, Retrieved June 16, 2011