Assistant Secretary Newland Highlights Bison and Grasslands Restoration During New Mexico Visit

TAOS, N.M. (April 25, 2024) — Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland visited New Mexico this week, where he joined leaders from the Taos Pueblo for the release of 10 bison from Yellowstone National Park into their existing herd. During the visit, Assistant Secretary Newland highlighted the significant funding the Department has invested through President Biden’s Investing in America Agenda to support the restoration of bison populations and grassland ecosystems in Tribal communities.

Through its bison range activities, the Taos Pueblo is reestablishing native grasses through vegetation treatments that reduce the overgrown sagebrush canopy, helping to minimize nutrient and moisture competition. The new additions will add important genetic diviserity to the Tribe’s existing herd of 100 bison. The transfer was facilitated by the InterTribal Buffalo Council, which received $3.5 million to support its herd development and apprenticeship program created by Secretary’s Order 3410. The Council is a collection of 80 Tribes in 20 states that facilitates the management of more than 20,000 buffalo.

These activities advance the Department’s Grasslands Keystone Initiative, part of a restoration and resilience framework that is guiding $2 billion in investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act to restore lands and waters and advance climate resilience.

The Department currently manages 11,000 bison in herds across 4.6 million acres of U.S. public lands in 12 states. Last year, Secretary Haaland signed S.O. 3410, which is enhancing the Department’s work to restore wild and healthy populations of American bison and the prairie grassland ecosystem through collaboration among Department bureaus and partners such as other federal agencies, states, Tribes and landowners using the best available science and Indigenous Knowledge.

American bison once numbered 60 million in North America, with the population anchored in what is now the central United States. Many Indigenous cultures, especially in areas where the species was most abundant, developed strong ties with bison and relied upon them for sustenance, shelter, and cultural and religious practices.

In the 19th century, bison were nearly driven to extinction through uncontrolled hunting and a U.S. policy of eradication tied to intentional harm against and control of Tribes. By 1889, only a few hundred wild bison remained. The persecution of bison contributed to the decline of healthy grassland ecosystems and, eventually, to the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. The loss of the keystone species, coupled with land conversion, led to declines of other important grassland wildlife, such as migratory birds and pollinators.

Beginning in the early 20th century with the support of President Theodore Roosevelt, conservationists and scientists made a collective effort to restore the American bison. Since then, collaborative conservation and restoration efforts have increased the number of wild bison in the United States from fewer than 500 to more than 15,000. The Department will continue to work closely with state and Tribal wildlife and livestock managers to maintain healthy populations of grassland dependent species.