The Rosebud Sioux Tribe wants to create the largest Native American-owned and managed bison herd in North America.
Wizipan Little Elk is CEO of the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation. He said the plan includes building a herd of 1,500 bison and possibly constructing a processing facility to provide food and economic development for tribal members.
He said now is a perfect time for the project, because the COVID-19 outbreaks at packing plants and meat shortages in stores are motivating consumers to find alternative food sources.
“I think what has happened with the coronavirus pandemic is we feel like the world has told us that our work is not only important, but urgent,” Little Elk said.
With help from the World Wildlife Fund, the development corporation plans to convert cattle pastures on the reservation to a bison range of 40 square miles. It’ll be called the Wolakota Buffalo Range.
The development corporation will get excess bison from the Interior Department, which manages a number of herds, including those in national parks.
Little Elk said the grass-fed bison will be killed and slaughtered humanely.
“Basically what that means is treating buffalo like buffalo, and not treating them like cattle,” he said.
First, the development corporation is replacing cattle fences with bigger, sturdier fences for bison. The first animals are scheduled for delivery this fall. And a feasibility study for a processing plant could begin soon.
The new bison project will have separate management from another Rosebud bison herd on the Pe’ Sla meadow in the Black Hills. Those animals are back on the reservation temporarily while the tribe fixes fence problems that allowed for multiple escapes.
- Seth Tupper is SDPB's business and economic development reporter.