Cultural plant biodiversity in relict wallow-like depressions on the Wind River Indian Reservation, Wyoming, & tribal bison restoration and policy

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Agriculture


Bison and Native people have co-existed on the North American landscape for millennia. As a keystone species, bison support many other organisms including plants, animals, insects and birds. Their unique dust-bathing behavior create wallow-like depressions (WLDs), altering the landscape at the local level, and are believed to increase water accumulation and support different plant species in the surrounding area. Native Americans traditionally accessed forb plants as foods tools and medicines, which are believed to increase in wallows, and in the wallow like depressions (WLDs) studied in this project. The area chosen for this study is on the Wind River Indian Reservation (WRIR) in Wyoming, home of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes. The northern boundary of the WRIR has been identified as an ideal location for bison restoration. As bison reintroduction might impact plant biodiversity, this study gathered baseline data of cultural plant frequency inside vs. outside 65 WLD locations. Thirty-three plants were associated with WLDs, 11 plants contained sufficient data for comparison, and five plant species had a statistically significant difference in frequency using a paired t-test. Three cultural plants were shown to have greater frequency inside WLDs vs. non-WLDs. This baseline data will potentially be used to monitor changes to the landscape after bison are restored to the WRIR. Multiple tribes are maneuvering the political arena to acquire bison and the process is complex. Federal, tribal, state, and local agencies all vie for a say in management of genetically pure bison of Yellowstone National Park. Tribes are restoring bison and forming coalitions and international treaties to share and restore herds on tribal lands. The Fort Peck Tribes of Montana are re-acquiring land to allocate to their cultural herd of Yellowstone bison and lead the way in becoming a new tribally operated quarantine facility for excess Yellowstone bison. Tribal bison policy and acquisition is an exercise in tribal self-determination and will be a way for tribes to implement programs for cultural and ecological restoration in the coming years.




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