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Forest County Potawatomi farm acquires 40 bison as it grows herd

Potawatomi bison
Potawatomi Farm
Two bulls from Yellowstone graze on the Potawatomi Farm. They were acquired as part of the Forest County Potawatomi's effort to establish a bison herd.

Joe Shepard points to a massive bison lounging in a snow-covered field in rural Forest County.

“See that one laying there, that big one,” he says. “That’s one of the new Yellowstone bulls.”

Even surrounded by dozens of other big bison, the bull stands out. Its broad shoulders and horned head sit well above the other animals in the pasture.

Falling snow sticks to the thick fur on its back.

“That just show how well insulated they are,” Shepard says. “The snow doesn’t melt on them.”

Shepard works on the Potawatomi Farm, which started cultivating this herd of bison in 2018.

In the past few months, the size of its herd has more than doubled. The tribe has acquired 40 bison this winter. Two bulls from Yellowstone arrived just last week.

“Bison are a traditional meat,” says Dave Cronauer, the farm manager. “In order to fill that need, we started a breeding herd.”

Bison sustained indigenous communities hundreds of years ago. But the animal was nearly wiped out by the end of the 1800s as European settlers overhunted them and pushed them off farmland.

The last wild bison roamed Wisconsin in 1832.

Now, centuries later, the bison are back, albeit they no longer roam wild on Wisconsin’s plains.

Their return is largely due to the efforts of the Intertribal Buffalo Council, which distributes bison from the national parks to tribal lands.

More than 80 tribes, including the Forest County Potawatomi Community, participate on the council. It has distributed more than 20,000 bison to about a million acres of tribal lands.

The Forest County Potawatomi Community has grown its herd to 62 bison.

Other Wisconsin tribes are establishing herds as well, including the Menominee and Oneida Nations.

It’s a way to bring back a once native species, while also returning a nutritious, traditional food source to Wisconsin’s American Indian communities.

Erin Gottsacker worked at WXPR as a Morning Edition host and reporter from December 2020 to January 2023. During her time at the station, Erin reported on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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