An effort to bring wild bison to the Great Plains aims to restore one of the world’s most endangered ecosystems.
“The elders from back in the day predicted that the only way the Native people are going to start gaining ground again, their ways of life, is when the bison come back,” said Fox.
The biggest impact that bison would have on prairie restoration, said Curtis Freese, a former biologist for the World Wildlife Fund and American Prairie Reserve, would be felt after the fences and manmade water sources were pulled out, and bison could interact with fire. Fire is a natural and essential part of the grassland ecosystem. Operating in concert with herbivore grazing, it speeds up decomposition that returns nutrients to the soil. Prior to European settlement, Indigenous tribes would intentionally set fire to the prairie, knowing that, once the grass burned, it would regenerate within several weeks, and then the bison would show up to eat the nutrient-rich grasses.