Field Harvest of Grassfed Bison
Since being awarded a SARE GRANT, Sustainable Harvest Alliance has been expanding the range of its activities, from mostly local, Black Hills buffalo herds to herds on Pine Ridge, Rosebud, and one TNC property located in Eastern South Dakota. To date, we have used the first half of our grant money to support the harvest of over 200 buffalo and exposed nearly a hundred people to this new (actually old) way of harvesting buffalo. At these sites we have invited locals (native and non-native) to observe and participate to the extent allowable according to meat inspection. Where culturally appropriate, we have successfully lobbied our Animal Industry Board to allow use, and distribution to the People, of heretofore condemned buffalo parts.
In the spring of 2008 we demonstrated our machine and the techniques we have developed for harvesting buffalo to representatives of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture on a central Black Hills buffalo ranch. After that demonstration we were invited to set up our mobile harvester at the Wyoming State Fair. At the fair, in Douglas Wyoming we did mock demonstrations for delegations from the Wyoming state legislature, the Wyoming Governor’s office, and for Wyoming federal legislators and their staffs.
The legal use of inspected buffalo organs and body parts has been welcomed on the reservation. Buffalo parts have been put to culturally traditional uses and have been very well received, particularly by older, traditional Lakota people. We have also seen younger people being introduced to their heritage by access to these parts and the ceremony of buffalo harvest, in general.
The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has begun to use our harvester to further their expressed goal of raising buffalo without exposure to feedlot finishing and inhumane transportation. They see our work as a part of the restoration of native grassland habitats. With reference to our harvest of animals on the TNC’s Ordway Prairie, the land manager said this: “To be born, live, and die on the prairie, as these animals have, is a fate I wish for all buffalo.”
The Wyoming Department of Agriculture, the Wyoming State legislature representatives, and even Wyoming’s federal legislators showed up to have a look at our harvester and listen to our take on its possible use in Wyoming. The concepts and procedures received strong support and they are working toward procuring similar units for their state.
For 2009 we plan to continue to push our activities out to new places, particularly on the Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, Lower Brule, and Crow Creek reservations. We already are on the agenda for a tribal economic conference to be held at Flandreau, South Dakota where our presentation will focus on the economic opportunities of our field harvest system in undercapitalized communities.
We have received some press coverage but would like to produce a handbook promoting our humane, field harvest techniques. For cultural reasons, our field days have been informal and not advertised but, in the coming year, we hope to do some more-traditional advertising. While we have showed our system to nearly a hundred native people and untold numbers at the Wyoming State Fair, we intend to increase that number in the coming months.