On 5,000 hectares of unploughed prairie in north-eastern Montana, hundreds of wild bison roam once again. But this herd is not in a national park or a protected sanctuary – they are on tribal lands.

Belonging to the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of Fort Peck Reservation, the 340 bison is the largest conservation herd in the ongoing bison restoration efforts by North America’s Indigenous people.

The bison – or as Native Americans call them, buffalo – are not just “sustenance,” according to Leroy Little Bear, a professor at the University of Lethbridge and a leader in the bison restoration efforts with the Blood Tribe. The continent’s largest land mammal plays a major role in the spiritual and cultural lives of numerous Native American tribes, an “integrated relationship,” he said.

“If you are Christian and you don’t see any crosses out there, or you don’t have your corner church … there’s no external connection, [no] symbolic iconic notion that strengthens and nurtures those beliefs,” said Little Bear. “So it goes with the buffalo.”

Only a couple of hundred years ago, 20 million to 30 million bison lived in vast thundering herds across North America. They were leftover relics of the Pleistocene and one of the few large mammals to survive the Ice Age extinction.

But less than 400 years after Columbus’ direful voyage, white settlers pushed their way west into Native American territory in so-called manifest destiny. And the US government made the fateful decision to cripple the Native Americans through whatever means necessary. One of these was the bison: the government viewed slaughtering the great herds en-masse as a way to starve and devastate Native American tribes.

Within just decades, the bison went from numbering tens of millions to within a hair’s breadth of extinction. “Fort Peck was the first to stand up and say we want to help. We want to restore these important bison back to their historic Great Plains home,” said Jonathan Proctor, Rockies and Plains program director with NGO Defenders of Wildlife, who has worked with the tribes for years to bring the bison back.

To do so, the tribe looked to Yellowstone’s bison herd. After the slaughter of the 19th century, 23 bison survived in a remote valley in Yellowstone. Today, the herd is 4,000 strong and is seen as a vital population because it has never been domesticated or interbred with cattle, maintaining genetic purity. While so-called pure genetics of the bison are often important to scientists and conservationists, Kelly Stoner – who heads the bison program at the Wildlife Conservation Society – said the issue is more complicated among tribal groups.

“You’ll find that amongst Native Americans … the predominant attitude is ‘if it looks like a buffalo and smells like a buffalo, it’s a buffalo’. The deep, personal relationship between Native Americans and buffalo exists, and is relevant and important, whether or not a particular animal has 8% cattle genes or not,” she explained.

Still, in 2007, Fort Peck Reservation eyed Yellowstone’s herd as a potential source to build a cultural herd. Fort Peck, and many other tribes, already had a commercial herd – used for economic purposes – but now they wanted to build a second herd with conservation in mind.

But getting bison from Yellowstone national park would prove far harder than Fort Peck initially thought. Although pure bred, Yellowstone bison carry the disease brucellosis. The Yellowstone bison originally contracted the disease from cattle in the early 20th century and now ranchers and state officials fear a return. Although scientists have never recorded brucellosis jumping from bison to cattle, it is theoretically possible according to lab research.

The first Yellowstone bison finally arrived in 2012: around 60 animals in all. “There was a huge celebration; many, many people from the community came out,” said Proctor. “It was just thrilling to see.”

Two years after their arrival, Magnan said that the bison had already begun to rejuvenate the land.

“We’ve seen the ecosystem revive. Grassland birds have returned, native grasses are thriving. We welcome and look forward to the buffalos’ continued benefits to our tribal lands.”

Since then, several more deliveries have been made and the Fort Peck herd – at 340 – is among the top 10 conservation herds in the US.

But the work has only begun. In 2014, two years after the bison came to Fort Peck, 13 tribal nations – representing eight reservations both in the US and Canada – signed a ‘Buffalo Treaty’. The treaty outlined the importance of bringing back free-roaming bison to both the US and Canada. “We used to always have an empty chair for the buffalo, for the spirit of the buffalo [at the dialogues], in our talking circles,” said Little Bear, who facilitated the dialogues. “It’s hard to explain but the buffalo was basically asking us, ‘you know, I’ve been gone for 150 years, why do you want me to come back?’”

By the end of the dialogues, the tribes agreed why. “The concern was the young people hear only stories, they hear the songs, they see the ceremonies, but they don’t see the buffalo out there,” added Little Bear.

The treaty is already making good. Last year, Blackfeet Reservation, also in Montana, received 89 genetically pure bison from Elk Island in Canada. Although the Blackfeet’s Iinnii Initiative – their name for buffalo – is the youngest, it’s also the most ambitious.

The tribe is negotiating with state officials to allow these bison, which are free of brucellosis, to range freely into Glacier national park and even, hopefully, one day as north as Waterton Lakes national park and Blood Tribe Reservation Canada – which would make it the first international bison herd in over a century.

Little Bear said they are also working with the Y2Y Initiative, which aims to create a massive wildlife corridor from Yellowstone to the Yukon for wildlife such as bears and wolves.

“We talked to the Y2Y people and said ‘hey, what about buffalo?’ And [they said], ‘we never thought about it but we can include buffalo.’” This year, wild bison returned to Banff national park after being gone over 100 years. Little Bear said the tribe’s Buffalo Treaty acted as a “catalyst” for the re-wilding in Canada’s first park.

“Tribes of the northern plains are the lead in wild bison restoration right now,” Proctor said. In 50 years’ time, the conservation community hopes to have at least 10 bison herds that number 1,000 animals – the minimum, he said, needed for the bison to fulfil their ecological role (currently only Yellowstone has a herd of more than 1,000 animals).

On top of that, Proctor hopes there will be a few herds of more than 10,000 animals, a herd size which hasn’t been seen since the mass extermination in the 19th century.

“Well never see bison roaming the entire Great Plains again,” said Proctor. “We’ll never see 20 million to 30 million bison again. No one is trying to go back in time. We’re trying to go forward. We’re trying to restore this important animal where we can, where people want them, and to the level where they will help restore the natural balance.”

For any of this to happen, Native American tribes will be key. They have the land and the desire to bring back the continent’s largest land mammal. And it’s not just bison, Proctor said. They have been instrumental in conserving wolves, grizzly bears, swift foxes and black-footed ferrets among other species.

Magnan said Fort Peck’s “dream” is to have 2,500 buffalo in their conservation herd running on more than 40,000 hectares. Already the tribe has passed a resolution to purchase more land.

“It’s amazing … with limited budgets and widespread poverty, [Native American tribes] are the leader in wildlife restoration when compared to the state wildlife agency,” he said. “In reality, it was not the buffalo that left us, it was us that left the buffalo. So we have to do something.”


Pink Floyd front man Roger Waters took a break from his South America-Mexico tour on Tuesday to visit Ecuador and denounce oil giant Chevron Texaco.

Rogers said he wanted to draw attention to cleanup in the Amazon Rainforest the company was ordered to carry out by a judge in Ecuador, who also ordered the oil giant to pay affected communities $9.5 billion in damages. The case has been ongoing for 25 years.

“This case is fundamentally important to everyone in the world,” Waters said at a press conference Tuesday morning in Ecuador’s capital city of Quito, referring to the case of the Ecuadorian communities of Lago Agrio against Chevron Texaco. He was joined Tuesday by some 12 members of the non-governmental organization Amazon Defense Front (ADF), which would arbitrate any payment of damages from Chevron.

Waters was also joined by Steven Donziger, a U.S. lawyer who has been helping the Ecuadorian plaintiffs seek justice since the beginning of the case, and who Chevron has accused of fraud. Donziger rejects these allegations.

“The whole world at some point has to decide whether the law is there to serve the people of the world or whether it’s there to serve the insatiable appetites of the oligarchs and the corporate tyranny under which we all have to survive,” Waters said during the press conference.

The long, complex case between Ecuadorian communities and Chevron Texaco began in 1993 when local residents of Lago Agrio filed a class action lawsuit against the oil company Texaco for decades of dumping toxic oil waste in the Amazon rainforest. According to plaintiffs, the toxic waste has seeped into the soil and local rivers, killing off several species of fish and contaminating the only water source for many local communities.

Waters was invited to Ecuador by the ADF, just one of the groups that represents the affected communities of Lago Agrio. He arrived to Ecuador Monday and went straight to the Chevron Texaco contamination site outside of Lago Agrio in the north of Ecuador, and later traveled to the capital Quito.

This is not the first time Waters has been politically outspoken during his Us + Them tour, which ends on November 24 in Costa Rica. While in Brazil in October before presidential elections there, he told the audience not to vote for the controversial right wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro, calling him a “fascist,” which was met with mixed responses by the crowd. He has also long been an advocate for human rights in Palestine, and supports the Israel boycott.

“No oil company has a right to go in and destroy the land, country, or habitat where other people are living without considering their rights,” Waters said.

In 2011, a judge in Ecuador ruled in favor of the community and ordered Chevron Texaco to pay up to $18 billion in damages. This amount was later cut in half by another Ecuadorian court, who ruled again in the community’s favor after Chevron filed an appeal.

For years, Chevron has refused to pay, forcing the Lago Agrio plaintiffs to take their case to other countries where Chevron has assets, like the US and Canada.

Meanwhile, Chevron filed a racketeering lawsuit against one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, Donziger, accusing him of using false evidence to win the case in Ecuador. When the multinational oil company won, Donziger was suspended from the Bar of New York State. The win also became the basis for US courts to rule in favor of Chevron, when the Lago Agrio plaintiffs tried to force the corporation to pay through their US assets.

Chevron Texaco did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication, but on their website, the corporation cites the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruling, saying Donziger’s team engaged in a “parade of corrupt actions… including coercion, fraud and bribery.”

At the press conference Tuesday, Waters said he witnessed the trial against Donziger, and called it a “kangaroo court.”

Waters said he is hopeful that the Canadian court will rule in the communities’ favor, citing a letter that shareholders sent Chevron Texaco’s CEO Michael Wirth earlier this year, urging him to agree on a settlement with the Lago Agrio plaintiffs. The letter was signed by 36 institutional investors, who collectively represent some $109 billion in assets.

“If we lose, it will be the end of the world as we know it, because the corporations will have won… and then we may as well all just jump in the river,” Waters said.


The Andes Amazon Fund celebrates the expansions of Puerto Córdoba, Comeyafú, and Camaritagua indigenous reserves in the Amazonas department of southern Colombia.

Known as resguardos, these areas are inhabited by thirteen indigenous groups, including the Bora, Barasano, Carijona, Cubeo, Letuama, Miraña, Matapi, Macuna, Tatuyo, Tariano, Tanimuca, Uitoto and Yucuna. The expansion of the three reserves will not only strengthen conservation efforts in the Colombian Amazon but will also ensure the survival of these threatened peoples and their cultures.

Expanded by a total of 113,103 acres (45,771 hectares), Puerto Córdoba, Comeyafú, and Camaritagua will contribute to an existing network of protected areas, strengthening the connectivity between Yaigojé Apaporis, Río Puré, Cahunarí, and Chiribiquete National Parks. This is an area of high conservation priority, as it includes the basins of the Puré, Mirití Paraná, and Apaporis rivers and contains at least one known uncontacted indigenous group— the Yuri.

“With the expansion of these important resguardos, Andes Amazon Fund has supported 5 million acres of new habitat protection in the area around Chiribiquete National Park. This huge block of protected habitat offers the best hope for maintaining healthy ecosystems while providing the natural resources that indigenous people depend on,” said Andes Amazon Fund Executive Director Dr. Adrian Forsyth.

The Colombian Amazon faces one of the highest rates of deforestation in the country. Between January 2017 and February 2018, an area 27 times larger than the size of Manhattan was lost due to small-scale agriculture, landgrabbing, illegal mining, coca cultivation, and other illicit activities. Indigenous land stewardship and the recognition of ethnic-community land rights have proven to be some of the best ways to stop this destruction.

“Securing the legal land rights of indigenous peoples will prevent potential illegal activities and further environmental degradation. These steps are needed now more than ever,” said Andes Amazon Fund Program Director Enrique Ortiz.

Close to the border of Brazil, the expanded resguardos will now protect a combined total of 285,778 acres (115,650 hectares) of tropical humid forests, flooded forests, and vegetation associated with rocky outcrops, lakes, and rivers in the region. These areas harbor a wealth of biodiversity, such as an estimated 1,500 species of plants, 300 species of birds, 100 species of amphibians, and 300 species of fish.

This effort was led by the thirteen indigenous communities with the support of the Colombian government and our grantee, Gaia Amazonas. We congratulate the indigenous communities residing in Puerto Córdoba, Comeyafú, and Camaritagua, President Iván Duque, Agencia Nacional de Tierras, Gaia Amazonas, and other partners for this landmark achievement that will help ensure the protection of the Colombian Amazon and those who call it home.


Conservation groups today sued the Trump administration for failing to consider protections for Africa’s rapidly dwindling giraffe population under the Endangered Species Act.

Today’s lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, D.C, comes weeks after the International Union for the Conservation of Nature updated its assessment of Africa’s giraffes, reaffirming the species is “vulnerable” to extinction and classifying two subspecies as “critically endangered.”

The suit challenges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s refusal to act on an April 2017 petition seeking Endangered Species Act protection for giraffes. The agency was required to respond within 90 days, but 19 months have passed without action.

“Giraffes capture our imaginations from childhood on, but many people don’t realize how few are left in the wild,” said Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Instead of throwing these unique animals a lifeline under the Endangered Species Act, Trump officials are twiddling their thumbs. Trump will be to blame if future generations know giraffes only as toys and not the long-necked icons of Africa.”

Fewer than 100,000 giraffes remain in the wild, and the population dropped nearly 40 percent over the past three decades. The species is gravely imperiled by habitat loss, civil unrest, and illegal hunting for meat, and is also threatened by the international trade in bone carvings, skins and trophies.

Anna Frostic, managing wildlife attorney for the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International, said: “The United States cannot stand idly by and allow thousands of U.S. imports of giraffe parts every year without any regulation while these animals are on a path to extinction. It is time that the United States stands tall for giraffes and gives this at-risk species the protection that it urgently needs.”

Endangered Species Act protection would help track and curb imports of giraffe bones, trophies and other parts and increase funding for conservation efforts in Africa. On average the United States imports more than one giraffe hunting trophy a day, and the country imported more than 21,400 giraffe-bone carvings between 2006 and 2015.

“The Trump administration would rather allow its rich donors to mount giraffe trophies on their walls than protect giraffes,” said Elly Pepper, deputy director of NRDC’s Wildlife Trade Initiative. “Giraffes are headed toward extinction, in part due to our country’s importation of giraffe parts and trophies. It’s shameful — though unsurprising — that the Interior Department has refused to protect them under the Endangered Species Act and I hope the courts will agree.”

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., by the Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society International, Humane Society of the United States and Natural Resources Defense Council.

A congressional measure that has interest in Montana, as well as many other western states, has cleared a hurdle in the process of becoming a bill, Thursday in the U.S Senate.

Savanna’s Act secured all unanimous votes, keeping the bill alive and headed for approval in the U.S House of Representatives before heading to the president’s desk. Introduced by Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, the measure has secured bipartisan support from Montana’s delegation.

The bill is named for Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, who was abducted and killed in Fargo, North Dakota.

Savanna’s Act requires the Department of Justice to update an online data entry format for federal databases relevant to cases of missing and murdered Native Americans to include a new data field for users to input the victim’s tribal enrollment information or affiliation. Republican Senator for Montana Steve Daines not only has shown support for Savanna’s Act but according to staff has also sponsored additional legislation to curb this “tragic trajectory.”

Daines believes missing and murdered Native women is a significant problem in Montana and subsequently has introduced four different legislative actions to combat crimes toward Native Americans, according to information provided by Daine’s staff. Meanwhile, Montana’s Democrat Senator Jon Tester, a co-sponsor of Savanna’s Act, said everyone in Congress must work together to end this epidemic.

“Savanna’s Act would ensure we all have access to the most comprehensive data regarding these crimes and make sure law enforcement agencies are on the same page as they investigate this unacceptable epidemic,” said Tester. Prior to a solid vote in the Senate, Tester said the Savanna’s Act cleared the Senate Indian Affairs Committee unanimously just a few weeks ago.

Bill requirements for Savanna’s Act include:

make standardized law enforcement and justice protocols that serve as guidelines for law enforcement agencies with respect to missing and murdered Indians,
develop protocols to investigate those cases that are guided by the standardized protocols, meet certain requirements to consult with Indian tribes, and
provide tribes and law enforcement agencies with training and technical assistance relating to the development and implementation of the law enforcement and justice protocols.

According to findings in the bill language, Indian women are murdered at more than 10 times the national average, on some reservations.

More than 4-in-5 American Indian women have experienced violence in their lifetime, according to the National Institute of Justice.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, homicide is the third leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native women between 10 and 24 years of age and the fifth leading cause of death for American Indian and Alaska Native women between 25 and 34 years of age.

Sen. Tester has also called for a Senate hearing on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women epidemic, which will take place on December 12, 2018. Most recently in Oct of 2018 Sen Daines introduced bipartisan legislation to expand tribes’ access to national crime databases.