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First buffalo in 130 years born on Wind River Reservation

FORT WASHAKIE — Jason Baldes saw it Wednesday mid-morning, just beyond a sagebrush-covered gully, the first buffalo born on the Wind River Reservation in more than 130 years.

He had been looking over the herd of 10 bison transplanted to the reservation from the Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge in Iowa last November. They were below him, coming up from the Wind River and he stepped back so as not to disturb.

Peeking over the edge of the bluff, he watched them move past him and to the north, where he then directed his gaze. And there she was, apart from the herd — a mother bison with a red calf at her side, the snowcapped Owl Creek Mountains behind her.

“How about that?” he exclaimed. “That is awesome.”

He took a moment to absorb the scene. “The first calf born in 130 years,” he said. “We’re the first to see it. I’ve got to send a text.”

Baldes is the second generation of his family that’s worked to restore buffalo, as tribal members call Bison bison, to the reservation. His father, Richard, began talking about and working toward buffalo restoration in the 1970s.

Jason Baldes spots the first bison born on the Wind River Reservation in 130 years on Wednesday, May 3. He and his father have worked for more than 40 years to bring genetically pure bison back to the Shoshone and Arapaho reservation where they hope the long-missing species will run wild and restore an ecosystem and cultural heritage. (Angus M. Thuermer Jr./WyoFile)

As bison representative for the Eastern Shoshone Tribe in its dealings with outside agencies, Jason Baldes was touring the fenced 300 acre pasture where the 10 buffalo roam just that morning, wondering when the first native calf would arrive. The Shoshone accomplished the Boy-Zhan Bi-Den (buffalo return) movement with the National Wildlife Federation, among others.

After texting the news to colleagues, Jason Baldes watched the herd walk up to the mother and calf, which had been born overnight. They’re going to meet it, he said as the herd mingled around the frisky newborn.

Slowly, Baldes walked toward the herd, crossing a shallow gully to a knob until he stood about 200 yards from the bunch. The other nine bison saw him coming and formed a protective line between Baldes and the pair.

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“Thunder,” a big bull known to stand ahead, was in front. It is the same behavior musk ox exhibit when threatened, Baldes said.

Thunder strode forward even more. Baldes made a polite retreat and the matter was settled. Baldes left the pasture to tell his father.

“It couldn’t be a better day than to hear something like that,” Richard Baldes said at his home in Fort Washakie. “I don’t know how to explain how I feel.”

The cultural significance to the tribal members is large, said Garrit Voggesser, tribal partnerships director for the National Wildlife Federation. “The circle was completed with the return of buffalo in November,” he said in a statement. “With the birth of this calf, we recognize that the buffalo’s return wasn’t a finale, but the beginning of a new chapter in bison conservation for the tribes.” Arapaho share the reservation with the Shoshone.

The Wind River Reservation buffalo herd lines up to protect the rust-colored first-born bison and its mother. The behavior is similar to that displayed by musk ox said Jason Baldes, who was the first to see the calf on Wednesday, May 3. (Angus M. Thuermer Jr./WyoFile)

The reservation designated the country’s first wilderness area in 1938, more than 20 years before the 1964 Wilderness act. Tribal members helped restore pronghorn antelope and developed plans to manage once-extirpated grizzly bears and wolves. Return of the bison is part of a larger desire to again see species that were once essential to Plains Indians.

“I can’t say enough how important this whole big picture is,” Richard Baldes said. “Why did it take so long?”

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About the Author

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Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at [email protected] or (307) 690-5586. Follow Angus on Twitter at @AngusThuermer

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14 Responses to First buffalo in 130 years born on Wind River Reservation

  1. Sid Gibson August 12, 2017 at 6:27 pm #

    Just hope it don`t get eaten by wolves or cougars.

    Tucson, Arizona

  2. Bob Cherry July 18, 2017 at 10:19 am #

    Thank you, Jason for bringing us this great news of the return of bison. Inua, and the Great Spirit have smiled on us!

    Cody, Wyoming

  3. Su Child May 13, 2017 at 10:03 am #

    Many of us celebrate in spirit with Richard and Jason Baldes and all others, who have supported their vision and faith. This event is significantly comforting for all of us.

    Cody, Wyoming

  4. Johnny SunDog May 12, 2017 at 9:02 pm #

    No worries, “buffalo” or “bison” – they probably have their own name for themselves.
    Good news and great work! — Johnny SunDog

    Deadwood, OR, Oregon

  5. Su Child May 12, 2017 at 9:29 am #

    Patience, persistence, and compassion develop in those, who stay the course. Thank you, Richard and Jason and those working with you. What a wonderful accomplishment for it represents the ability of humans to individually break through conditioning to meet and work together for the benefit of all. Bill Dion, of the Wildlife Federation and I distributed their 1998 documentary here in Wyoming libraries to keep the momentum alive, American Buffalo: Spirit of a Nation. The Park County Library title is American Buffalo: Battling Back. Forty years seems to be the amount of time it takes for major dedicated accomplishments: your precious herd, the recovering of the Denali name change. The Blackfeet Nation have just now ratified a Water Rights agreement with the State of Montana and the Federal Government, protecting their headwaters and sacred site. A Blackfeet Encounter, now on YouTube, documents their protest to corporate mining leases given by the Federal government without consultation with the tribes. We celebrate with you!

    Cody, Wyoming

  6. Janet Smith May 8, 2017 at 7:21 am #

    This is awesome! My great Uncle worked with the Shoshone many, many years ago. Are there currently wild horses still on the reservation and how or do they manage the population?

    King George, Wyoming

  7. Ken Miller May 7, 2017 at 3:41 pm #

    Wonderful !

    West Nyack,N.Y, Wyoming

  8. Don Daly May 6, 2017 at 11:31 pm #

    Wonderful news. I have often thought that there needs to be a large buffalo (Bison bison) herd on the Wind River Reservation and now I see a beginning.

    San Antonio, Texas

  9. Brian Allison May 5, 2017 at 9:34 pm #

    Those are Bison. There are no Buffalo that live in North America.

    Ammon, Idaho

  10. Dianne Riley May 5, 2017 at 3:40 pm #

    When so much else in the world feels like pure struggle and angst, this news is welcome and refreshing, indeed. Like a cool drink on a long, hot, dusty road with the destination unclear, this keeps the lonely heart beating and moving on. A sign that we are never forgotten, or lost in the Grand Scheme. Thanks for sharing this.

    Portland, Oregon

  11. Janet Hettinger May 5, 2017 at 10:08 am #

    They are bison not buffalo. We don’t have buffalo in the United Stares. They are found in Africa. He author got it wrong.

    Victor, Idaho

    • George Mathews May 7, 2017 at 4:49 pm #

      The author referred to them by their scientific name, Bison bison, and said that the Shoshone called them buffalo.

      Winston-Salem, NC, Wyoming

  12. Andrew Melnykovych May 4, 2017 at 9:18 am #

    Absolutely love to see this. So glad to see Jason Baldes continuing to carry on the legacy of his father, who has been championing wildlife on the Wind River Reservation for nearly half a century.

    Louisville, Kentucky

  13. Dan Neal May 4, 2017 at 8:37 am #

    This is some excellent news. Congrats to the reservation tribes and to Dick and Jason Baldes for all they have done to return wild buffalo to Wind River.

    Casper, Wyoming

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