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There are too many bison in Yellowstone. Some will be relocated to tribal nations


More than 5,000 bison roam Yellowstone National Park. That's too many, according to the National Park Service. Nine hundred of these bison will be culled - hunted or caught and slaughtered. A small number will be relocated this winter as part of an agreement reached by wildlife officials and tribal entities. Troy Heinert is executive director of the InterTribal Buffalo Council, also a member of the Rosebud Sioux Nation, and joins us now from Nevada. Thanks so much for being with us.

TROY HEINERT: Well, thank you for having me on.

SIMON: This is because of the threat of a disease, I gather.

HEINERT: Well, it's a threat of the disease, but it's also about restoring, you know, wild buffalo to tribal nations. That's what ITBC's main focus on because we know our tribes have the capability to manage and grow those herds and, you know, get the pristine genetics that Yellowstone buffalo have.

SIMON: Well, tell us about that and what your hope is.

HEINERT: Well, Yellowstone buffalo are the cornerstone of the species. They're the last free-roaming wild buffalo that go back to the same buffalo that our ancestors followed and made their life from. So tribes are very interested in keeping that species alive and that genetic alive and bringing it into their own tribal herds, and as well as the spiritual and cultural connections that we have to those buffalo.

SIMON: Well, tell us about that.

HEINERT: The Lakota people and then ITBC, which has 76 member tribes, all have a unique connection with buffalo. Buffalo was our main food source. It was shelter. It was tools, weapons. But it was also more about learning. Our young men watched buffalo and saw how the males protected the cows and the calves. And it gave us a sense of resilience. You know, we view the buffalo as a relative, and we try to treat them as such. And many tribes have their own ceremonies and songs as it pertains to buffalo.

SIMON: Why is there such a limited number of bison who can be relocated? Would you know, Mr. Heinert?

HEINERT: The facility is just not big enough. And we're working on that, working with, you know, congressional representatives and park managers to increase the size and the capability of catching more of these animals.

SIMON: You must have some very mixed thoughts about this - on the one hand, happy to welcome bison back into some communities. On the other hand, there's a loss, too, isn't there?

HEINERT: We know that we have tribes that can take care of these animals, so it is kind of difficult when some of those animals are culled, you know? But we also understand that, you know, the ceremonial hunts, the neighboring tribes and the agreements that they have with the park - you know, we can support those efforts as well because that is a cultural and a spiritual connection to that. So, you know, it does kind of feel like we have some mixed feelings. You know, our focus is let's get as many live buffalo to as many tribal nations as we can.

SIMON: Troy Heinert is executive director of the InterTribal Buffalo Council and also a member of the Rosebud Sioux Nation. Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Heinert.

HEINERT: Thank you very much. I really appreciate the time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MINUTEMEN'S "COHESION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.