Tribal leaders hear plan to ‘grow’ bison herd

08/28/2019 08:15 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
A bison cow stands close to her calf on land managed by the Cherokee Nation’s Natural Resources as part of the CN’s bison program near Bull Hollow. Some elected officials want to grow the herd so meat can be offered to citizens. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
In this 2017 photo, then-Tribal Councilor Dick Lay looks at a bison corral after a Resources Committee meeting in Bull Hollow. Cherokee Nation leaders on Aug. 12 discussed the future of the tribe’s bison herd and its potential as a source of meat for citizens. ARCHIVE
TAHLEQUAH – Cherokee Nation leaders on Aug. 12 discussed the future of the tribe’s bison herd and its potential as a source of meat for citizens.

David Moore with CN Management Resources said he and his crew are expanding pastureland for the herd, which sits at roughly 150 bison including 26 calves.

“We’ve taken back some land to increase our footprint that we’re trying to raise these buffalo on,” he said. “I’d like to grow it, you know, grow the herd and not just let it sit there – try to make it big enough where we can do something with it.”

Tribal Council Speaker Joe Byrd, during the Aug. 12 Resources Committee meeting, suggested striving to offer bison meat to tribal citizens.

“We don’t just want to look at them,” he said. “We could put that in the elders’ program or Head Start program, or somewhere in there and utilize that. It’s some of the healthiest meat. But instead we’ll serve unhealthy meat to our people out in the communities. Let’s grow that and see if we can’t start utilizing that herd. I wouldn’t mind if we only had 10 out there if everybody was eating healthy.”

The herd, located on tribal land near Bull Hollow in Delaware County, was established in 2014 – following a 40-year absence – on 1,000 acres with 38 female bison from the Badlands National Park in South Dakota and 12 bulls from the Teddy Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.

On Aug. 12, then-Tribal Councilor Dick Lay asked Moore, “Did we know what we were doing when we got into it?”

“I cannot answer that for you,” Moore said. “I was not involved at that point. I inherited it. I’m going to try to grow and move forward with it. We doubled the land they were on. We’re in the process of building a fence right now. The land we’ve taken back, there’s another 1,000-plus acres. I hope to eventually…grow the herd into that area.”

Moore added that it would take “several times what we’ve got” to “maintain a herd and utilize it for commercial meat.”

“It’s going to be a slow process, but I’m excited,” he said. “That’s our goal is to grow it so we can get there. We’ve got to get some outside bloodline in this. We haven’t, and we need to. So we’re selling some of the calves and then we’ll keep some. Then we’re trying to get new bulls in to grow the herd. Probably 200 to 300, I think, you could probably get some meat. I don’t know if you can get enough to keep everyone happy, but I think that’d be a good starting point.”

Sara Hill, who was secretary of Natural Resources on Aug. 12, said she recently visited the Quapaw Nation’s multi-million dollar bison and cattle processing plant in northeast Oklahoma.
“They obviously spent a lot of money on it,” Hill said. “I was just very impressed with that facility. They have a large staff. They do bison and a lot of different types of animals there. Obviously they are prepared and ready to take more animals than they’ve even got right now. I learned a lot on that visit with them.”

Tribal Councilor E.O. Smith said he was also familiar with the Quapaw operation.

“They’re making some money off that buffalo,” he said. “If we would take buffalo and put it in an attractive package in all of our travel plazas and put ‘Cherokee buffalo meat,’ it would be rolling out the door. We could sell it faster than we could produce it.”
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