The bison herd in Theodore Roosevelt National Park is large, and staff members are working on decreasing its size.
There are close to 600 bison in the park right now. But park staff stay to avoid overgrazing, they want between 300 and 500. They're taking this week to round up the animals, and then give up to 175 to tribes around the area.
Hundreds of bison being rounded up, and taking their turn through the pens. Starting on Sunday, a helicopter began herding animals toward this handling facility on the east side of the park.
The bison are put through what's called a low stress system of pens, gates, and a shoot for some, to tag or chip them, and collect blood and DNA samples. Then, a majority of the one and two year olds are separated to be taken out of the park.
“It’s a strategy that's based on removing young animals because we're banking genetic diversity on our older animals in the herd,” Chief of Resource Management Blake McCann said.
Park staff move the bison through gates and holding areas individually, which moves them more efficiently and puts less stress on everyone involved. Those young animals are loaded up by tribes including the Blackfeet, Standing Rock and Three Affiliated Tribes to take back to their reservations.
“It helps relieve grazing pressure but it also helps and supports tribes that want to bring more animals to their lands,” Megan Davenport with the InterTribal Buffalo Council said.
Tribal members say once they build up a herd on their lands, they'll start processing the meat, and reintroduce it into the elder and school meal programs. But, it also has cultural significance.
“To bring bison back to the people is like a resurgence of our identity and our culture so sometimes it brings tears to the elders eyes to see the animals released back onto what we would say is their native lands,” Cory Spotted Bear with the Three Affiliated Tribes said.
All while keeping the ecological balance in the park.
McCann says bad weather will limit what they can do the next couple of days, and they probably won't be able to use the helicopter anymore. He says they've been working longer days the first part of this week in order to get as much done as possible