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Heinrich introduces a bill to help tribes better manage buffalo herds

Stephen Pedersen

Buffalos have long played a significant role for many Native American tribes. They have provided clothing, food, shelter and much more. This week, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., introduced bipartisan legislation to create a permanent buffalo program that would help tribes manage current and future herds.

The Indian Buffalo Management Actwould provide consistent funding for tribal organizations that have established or are interested in acquiring buffalo herds.

Heinrich spoke before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Thursday on the importance of this bill.

“Establishing and managing a new bison herd is a resource-intensive process for tribes, and there's a very real need for technical and resource support,” he said.

He also discussed his visit two years ago to the Pueblo of Picuris.

“I learned about how the community is reincorporating bison meat back into their diets,” he said. “The tribal herd at Picuris has allowed the Pueblo to distribute much of that healthy, locally grown, culturally important protein to the community for free.”

The Pueblos of Pojoaque, Sandia and Taos also have buffalo herds. Prior to the systematic destruction of the buffalo in the 1800s by white settlers, there were over 60 million of them throughout much of the United States.

If passed, the bill would create a permanent buffalo restoration and management program within the Department of Interior to protect and develop buffalo habitats while also ensuring that tribes are directly involved in the decision-making.

The bill is co-sponsored by Republican Senator Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma. It has support from many organizations, including the InterTribal Buffalo Council, which is made up of 82 tribes across the country, as well as the National Bison Association, The Nature Conservancy, the National Wildlife Federation, and the National Parks Conservation Association.

The bill now awaits a full committee markup by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Support for this coverage comes from the Thornburg Foundation.

Jeanette DeDios is from the Jicarilla Apache and Diné Nations and grew up in Albuquerque, NM. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2022 where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Multimedia Journalism, English and Film. She’s a former Local News Fund Fellow. Jeanette can be contacted at jeanettededios@kunm.org or via Twitter @JeanetteDeDios.
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