When I told my friends I intended to start a blog advocating for the bison, the first question invariably was why. But “why” implies origin or genesis. I cannot point to a specific event which inspired me nor did I receive a command from the heavens. Rather the genesis of this endeavor lies in the weaving of many strands, raising the more difficult question: Where to start? So, let me lay out the strands, which are not necessarily chronological, and hopefully the origins tapestry for this blog will appear.
Almost two decades ago my wife and I decided we would pack up the kids and go to the Tetons and Yellowstone for a long vacation. It was the first time for me as well as for the kids, and we fell in love with all of it. If you have never been out to the Tetons or Yellowstone, go! Well, we loved the experience so much, we have returned almost every year since that first time, making the Bill Cody Ranch near Cody, Wyoming our base of vacation operations. Seeing the bison herds each time we journeyed into Jackson Hole and in the Hayden and Lamar valleys of Yellowstone, I felt not just a sense of wonder, but blessed as well; thankful the bison had come back from the brink of extinction.
On the way back from Wyoming, we would also spend a couple of days in the Black Hills and Custer State Park of South Dakota. One time, as we drove through the wildlife loop of Custer State Park, the earth began to tremble and the cars ahead of us stopped suddenly. Just as we stopped, bison came running up the hill to our left and ran alongside and between the cars. My first thought was: Wow, this is so cool!! But my next immediate thought (or more appropriately a prayer) was: Oh, my God! Please don’t let them hit the car. I think that was first time I experienced wonder and fear at the same time. It definitely was the first time bison inspired me to say a prayer. But now I include the Buffalo Nation in my prayers.
These experiences and similar ones with the bison created within me a deep sense of wonder, appreciation, gratitude, and fear of the bison; in a word, awe. Out of that awe, grew not only the need to understand the nature and history of the bison, but the motivation to promote the wild bison.
But the sense of awe toward the bison is not the only strand. The Plains themselves inspire. We would also go into the Badlands and the Black Hills. Both amaze. But turning and facing out away from the Badlands and looking out over the endless expanse of grass, one is overwhelmed by the immensity of the land and the humbleness it instills. For the expanse reveals our insignificance and utter dependency on creation. In those moments, the preciousness of the Great Plains hits home with the overwhelming realization of the essential need to preserve the Great Plains and its keystone species, the bison.
Kept in the dark by scant coverage of the plight of the Great Plains, we do not realize that one of the great ecosystems in the world is deteriorating. Perhaps the deterioration does not occur at the rate experienced during the Dust Bowl years, but nonetheless, the Plains still continue to decline. It may sound like an exaggeration when I say, without wild, free-ranging bison, the Great Plains cannot recover. But it is not an exaggeration. Bison are a keystone species to the Great Plains.
Also woven into this emerging tapestry lies my ongoing interest and sorrow since my teenage years for the plight of the Native Americans. When we broke our treaties with the Native Americans, we broke our word and consequently lost all honor. My dad taught me that outside of a man’s family, all a man has is his reputation, which is earned. And the only way to earn an honorable reputation is by keeping your word. If you cannot be trusted to keep your word, then you are no man. Applying my father’s instruction, the treaties must be honored; not just for the sake of the Native Americans but for us to become honorable human beings. Of course, reverting and reclaiming all the lands involved is not likely to happen (Still we can hope). But then the question that has haunted me remains: what can I do without coming across as some kind of New Age Native American wannabe or some self-righteous liberal savior wannabe, or just a naïve white guy with good intentions? Well, okay, so I probably won’t be able to shed the “naïve white guy with good intentions” impression. But I have always felt the need to do more than just make donations and write legislators regarding particular bills and pending legislation. Given the bison as sacred and central to the culture and spirituality of the Plains Indians, working to restore the bison would support and strengthen the renewal of Native American culture. Perhaps this gesture will, at least in some small measure, go toward atoning for our past sins.
Putting these experiences, learnings and life-lessons together, I had to do more than donate to organizations dedicated to bison restoration and nudge my representatives. But given my current circumstances I cannot join the self-sacrificing individuals on the front lines with such organizations as the Buffalo Field Campaign and the American Prairie Reserve. So, I arrived at a blog, which I hope will be a humble voice added to others’ voices, and an invitation to join what I consider a noble endeavor. Advocating for the bison is not simply an end itself, but is a means to a greater end.
Script. I have to admit this blog is also a learning discipline. Since I am not a bison biologist nor a Great
Plains ecologist, but only someone who has committed to bison restoration, my
education must continually grow. But I find putting thoughts to paper, or
computer screen, essential to learning. Feedback is critical, as well. As you read the articles posted, please
provide critique. Let me know what is
inaccurate or incorrect as well as what you found to be helpful. Thank you.
 Before anyone cries sexism here, please understand I have chosen to preserve the words my father used and the context of a father speaking to son regarding what it means to become a man.