On September 22, 2023, Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Senator Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), introduced S. 2908, the Indian Buffalo Management Act. The bill would establish a permanent program within the Department of the Interior to promote and develop the capacity of Indian tribes and tribal organizations to manage buffalo and buffalo habitat. The bill also authorizes the Secretary to enter into contracts with tribes to conduct buffalo restoration and conduct commercial activities. The bill would provide $14 million a year for these programs.
The bill would also provide a process for Indian tribes to obtain surplus buffalo from federally managed lands. This would address a long-standing issue with surplus buffalo at national parks like Yellowstone National Park. The bill is available here.
A similar version of the bill was introduced by former Congressman Don Young in 2021. At that time the bill passed the House of Representatives, but did not pass the Senate. The new bill emphasizes the inclusion of tribes in decision-making and it would enhance tribal involvement in bison restoration and management on tribal lands.
The bill aligns with the Administration’s broader vision of restoring bison populations to their historical prominence on American shortgrass prairies. The bill follows up on Interior’s announcement of $5 million allocated for tribal buffalo conservation, ecosystem restoration, and expansion. Of this total, $3.5 million from the Inflation Reduction Act is designated to support the InterTribal Buffalo Council’s herd development, and $1.5 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law may be used by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to expand tribal buffalo herds.
Patterson Earnhart Real Bird & Wilson LLP is dedicated to the representation of American Indian tribes, tribal entities, and individual Indians across the United States. Our mission is to support and advance the sovereignty, self-sufficiency, and self-governance of our tribal clients.
To learn more about how we can assist your tribe, contact our DC office at 202-434-8903.