ROSEBUD RESERVATION, S.D. (KELO) – A project on the Rosebud Reservation is aiming to bring more bison back to the area.

Right now, about 130 bison call this ranch in the southwest corner of the Rosebud Reservation home.

It’s all part of Wolakota, which is a project of the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation.

“Our main goal with the project is to regenerate the buffalo to native lands here on the Rosebud and with that we are hoping for a better connection culturally with generations to come and getting a better understanding of the Lakota way of life,” range assistant manager, TJ Heinert said.

TJ Heinert is the range assistant manager.

“Make sure they are nice and healthy and make sure their wellbeing is what they need and whether that’s keeping up on fence lines to keep them protected in our property and protecting them from predators or through the storms, making sure they are well fed,” Heinert said.

So far, bison have come from the Bandlands National Park, Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, and the American Prairie Reserve in Montana.

“What we are doing is we have a five year start up plan to get the ranch established and running, we have 133 head on the grounds at the moment,” Heinert said.

The goal is to have a herd of 1,500 over that time. To help make that possible a lot of work will go into getting the 28,000 acre ranch in the best condition for bison.

“This property has been used as a cattle ranch in the past so there’s a lot of infrastructure in place for cattle but almost none of it is suitable for buffalo because they’re just a completely different animal than cattle so we need to put up taller fences that will contain them better,” range manager, Jimmy Doyle said.

Along with bringing more animals to the area, the project also aims to strengthen the prairie ecosystem.

“We are going to be doing a lot of rotational grazing, moving the herd around so that requires a lot of cross fencing to split the whole 28,000 acres into smaller pastures so we can manage the plants to have adequate rest time for plant and range health,” Doyle said.

As well as create cultural opportunities and a learning environment.

“Our main goal and kind of way of life is we are all related and buffalo are our relatives, and as a Lakota people, that’s how we survive, we use them for food, clothing, shelter, tools, that’s how we survived and learning that you learn a better understanding of what it actually means being native and having the relatives back on our native land,” Heinert said.

This year more work will go into putting in more fences and building infrastructure.

“I think we’ve accomplished a lot in the last year, we definitely have a long ways to go but I think we are making good progress and we’ve got a pretty solid plan in place to make sure that progress keeps moving forward,” Doyle said.

A project that will be beneficial for future generations.

“There’s just endless opportunities to learn from the actual buffalo themselves so as we get started we learn more, we know their needs, we know what they need to do, and what we need to do to help them, and as a native people on native lands, as long as they are stong and healthy, we become strong and healthy,” Heinert said.

To learn more about the project, click here.