By Logan Big Eagle, Contributing Attorney
On March 3, 2023, Deb Haaland issued Secretarial Order No. 3410 on the “Restoration of American Bison and the Prairie Grasslands.” The purpose of the Order is “to enhance the Department of the Interior’s work to restore wild and healthy populations of American bison and the prairie grassland ecosystem through collaboration among the Department’s Bureaus and partners such as other federal agencies, states, Tribes, and landowners using the best available science and Indigenous Knowledge.”
The Secretarial Order is available here.
The Order acknowledges the historical role of bison as a critical resource and lifeway for tribes and the grassland ecosystem. The Order recognizes that bison once numbered around 60 million in North America. Still, due to U.S. policies and ecological impacts, wild bison were reduced to 500 before conservation efforts restored the number of wild bison to around 15,000. The Order also recognizes that Tribes have maintained 20,000 additional healthy bison on Tribal lands.
Under the Order, the Interior will establish a Bison Working Group (BWG), including the National Park Service (NPS), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife (FWS), the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Geological Survey, and a Tribal Leader. The BWG will assume responsibilities under the Interior’s Bison Conservation Initiative and organize, collaborate, and conduct efforts to restore wild and healthy bison populations.
Within 120 days of the release of the Order, the BWG will engage in formal tribal consultation to develop a “Department Bison Shared Stewardship Plan.” The Plan will summarize consultation efforts and identify specific opportunities for the Department to lead or support the expansion of healthy bison herds on federal and tribal lands.
The BWG aims to be complete the Plan by December 31, 2023. The Plan will prioritize tribally led opportunities to establish large new tribally managed herds. The Plan will also seek shared bison stewardship with tribes on Federal land.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs will also establish a Bison Management Apprenticeship program in collaboration with the NPS, FWS, and BWG. The program will provide opportunities for tribal youth to work at FWS refuges and national parks.