In-nii (Bison bison L.) reintroduction to Amskapiipikini (Blackfeet) Nation homeland: relationships with ksahko (soils)

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Date

2022

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Agriculture

Abstract

In-nii (American Bison) are returning to their Traditional Territories after being nearly wiped out of the Great Plains of North America and Canada. The in-nii are slowly returning to Native American tribes who have the resources to run reintroduction programs like that of the Amskapiipikini (Blackfeet). This in-nii reintroduction presented an opportunity to look at the effects of the return of in-nii to the Amskapiipikini, and what their influences might be on the soils, plants, and water resources of the Blackfeet Nation. This research project was conducted on the Blackfeet Buffalo (In-nii) Ranch and the adjacent RRJ Cattle Ranch, comparing the influence of in-nii and cattle on soil nutrient cycles and soil carbon dynamics. Soil samples were taken from locations on the landscape that were near water sources on lower elevations, mid hillslopes for mid-elevation sites and on hilltops at higher elevations. Soil characteristics included soil organic matter (SOM), nitrate, pH, cation exchange capacity (CEC), and exchangeable calcium, potassium, sodium, and magnesium. Only two (CEC, magnesium) appeared to have been influenced by in-nii and cattle. The remaining soil characteristics were little influenced by grazer type. Substrate-induced respiration was also measured in the lab to see how microbes decomposed SOM (carbohydrates and other molecules) to release energy and CO2; we found no evidence of differences between in-nii- and cattle-influenced soils. Finally, we measured field respiration rates and water infiltration rates at multiple fence line sites; field soil respiration rates increased when soil had water infiltrated after the dry readings, soils also increased the time to absorb water after the first infiltration tests were run. Our preliminary results suggest that the reintroduction of in-nii to these lands has not yet resulted in measurable differences in soil-related properties of the Blackfeet Nation. Even so, the return of the in-nii for the Amskapiipikini is also about understanding the importance of using cultural science when studying the ecology of a system. Doing this can create an understanding of the traditional ways of knowing while bringing cultural healing and restoring connections between Amskapiipikini, in-nii, and land.

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