Return of the Bison


©2019 C. Henry Martens

I grew up in interesting times. One of the more interesting societal changes in my early years was the way white people were waking up to past wrongs against those people not white.

There was a slew of movies as I grew up expressing the terrible treatment of native peoples in the United States during the expansion phase of our growing nation. Little Big Man, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Flapping Eagle, and Soldier Blue are the ones that come to mind immediately.

So I grew up with a cognizance of how First Peoples were treated badly, even if colored by a Hollywood perspective. As a result, I’ve used what few opportunities I’ve had during my life to learn more and to think about the issues involved. I’ve engaged with people of native heritage when most white people would ignore or avoid them. Sometimes I’ve been shut down because First People have a societal issue themselves, a way of treating whites that get too inquisitive.

But still, I’ve been interested in the evolution of the issues and how they have morphed over the years.

One of the things that has come up and seems to have gotten some traction over the years is the idea that Natives of the Americas are due reparations.

I’m generally not a fan.

After all, my own ancestors immigrated to the continent in the very late 1800’s and settled in urban environments. They had no real contact with Native Peoples. They never owned slaves, nor did they steal lands and displace anyone to be placed on a reservation. My progenitors never walked the Great Plains behind a wagon pulled by oxen or shot at anyone they deemed “good” only if they were dead.

I have no interest in pulling money from my own pocket to be placed in the pocket of someone else. Especially someone who has been supported by the government, even if questionably and at times terribly, for generations… and as a society within a society has failed to thrive over time, instead becoming even more dependent.

But I still have this war going on in my mind because I feel bad for people that are placed in the kinds of positions that First Peoples have been placed in. I have no problem helping people, regardless of their circumstances or history or skin color.

I’d just like to have a reasonable expectation that my help would be appreciated and have a lasting positive effect.

And… I don’t want to hurt myself or my own family to any great extent in providing any help.

So I got this idea several decades ago. In the early eighties to be specific. And now this idea seems even more relevant in the twenty-first century than it did back then.

The idea first cropped up as a result of the Farm Crisis of the early eighties, a time when farms were going out of business, bankruptcies and foreclosures rampant in the rural communities, and a lot of farms being repossessed for inability to repay government loans. A lot of farms were placed in limbo to become fallow until larger farms that managed to stay solvent could buy them up. Even farms intentionally left unworked, and paid to be, by the government in order to create higher prices for farm products.

So what is this idea, and how does it relate to bankrupt farms and reparations to First Peoples?

I began to wonder why all these empty farms couldn’t be consolidated into one vast strip of land running north and south from the border of Canada to somewhere in Texas, averaging fifty miles across or so east to west. Really a pretty minor strip of land in the context of the greater continent.


To reestablish a grassland where herds of bison would once again migrate from summer pastures to winter grounds, and back again… to be managed by and for Native Peoples. But for other purposes as well.

Would Native Americans be interested in this kind of reparation? I mean… I realize that there are east coast tribes, west coast tribes, and pueblo dwelling tribes that never hunted plains buffalo. One of the major impediments to any idea is if people can work together for a mutual benefit without wanting something specific to their own desires.

If we want reparations… then those receiving them must be willing and able to accept them.

Another issue with this idea is how to get a solid block of real estate without privately owned farms pock marking the intended reserve. Can the government make moving to another location attractive to those who feel connected to their generationally owned family farm? What kinds of incentives would work for those people? Bankrupt and repossessed farms occur in places where this reserve would not be located, so would those farmers dispossessed be satisfied with a trade up to more acreage in another part of the country? Or would cash be better? Or guaranteed government loans? Or what?

This idea is only a dream. It seems to have some insurmountable obstacles to becoming a reality… but especially insurmountable to those that will never bother to consider it in the light of “How can we get it done?”

Some other concerns:

Fencing. We currently fence all highways to keep people and livestock off of the roads. I don’t see this as a real impediment.

Highways. If there are going to be large herds of seriously large animals moving across the landscape, commuters traveling across the reserve must be somehow protected. Can roads be elevated or buried? Or can the reserve boundaries be thinned where roads need to cross? Can we use a combination of strategies effectively?

Animals. There aren’t enough Bison to populate this kind of area efficiently. Can livestock producers share the space with migrating herds of cattle as the Bison populations grow slowly?

And of course, there are other issues. Aren’t there always obstacles to be overcome to do something glorious?

Some of the benefits I see have only recently become apparent.

We would have a sudden return of wildlife, aquifers, and grasslands that have been stressed or destroyed over the last hundred or so years. It’s an environmental bank we would be making a huge deposit in. In terms of the environmental good, probably more important than Yellowstone.

As Bison disappeared from the central plains the ground began to turn to desert. It turns out that large animals are essential to fertile soils, or artificial fertilizers and practices that destroy soil can keep areas green as a poor alternative. Africa is losing arable lands to desert as their migratory herds are disappearing. There is presently some very good scientific evidence that grasslands are better at sequestering carbon and greenhouse gasses than forests.

A return of migrating herds of large ungulates to the prairie would reinvigorate soils and return them to a cycle of building fertility instead of the present cycle of deterioration and destruction. This would also result in cleaner air and more natural weather patterns as the grasslands begin to work with nature instead of being used by humans to work against nature.

A wild idea?


But how long has it been since the United States did something worthy of being the best nation in the world? Think about it in terms of how to get it done instead of in terms of why it would be difficult.

And then we can start talking about how we can set aside areas of the oceans to provide seed stock to invigorate the rest of the seas.

Who knows… maybe this could start a trend that would save us all. Taking care of the small blue planet.

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1 thought on “Return of the Bison

  1. I eat Bison instead of beef they are now farmed. The problem with the environment is humans trying to control nature. In the big picture natural resources are used faster than nature can provide because there are too many humans. Government needs growth in the economy for more taxes and more consumers. More people means less for everyone. Your solution does not solve the problem.

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