Center will focus on research activities to improve bison herd health and production and economic viability of private and tribal bison producers.

September 8, 2020

3 Min Read
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South Dakota State University

Officials from South Dakota State University (SDSU), the National Bison Assn. and the National Buffalo Foundation formally launched the Center of Excellence for Bison Studies, to be headquartered at SDSU’s West River Research & Extension facility in Rapid City, S.D.

The 2018 U.S. farm bill authorizes the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute for Food & Agriculture to recognize centers of excellence in research, extension and education in the food and agricultural sciences, SDSU said.

The Center of Excellence for Bison Studies will be coordinated through SDSU but will include active participation by researchers and extension officials from other land-grant universities, including 1994 tribal land-grant colleges and universities.

The center will focus on research activities to improve bison herd health and production and the economic viability of both private and tribal bison producers, the announcement explained.

Plans for the center began in May 2017 when leaders of the National Buffalo Foundation, the National Bison Assn.’s science and research committee and Sinte Gleska University on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota convened with SDSU researchers at the main campus in Brookings, S.D. Participants at the session agreed on a number of research priorities, but recognized that a coordinated effort was needed to generate the resources to underwrite those initiatives, SDSU said.

“We will be pulling together the leading experts in their fields to help us gain a better understanding of this animal and the ecosystems it lives in and to develop new resources for the people who raise bison,” said Kristi Cammack, the newly installed center director.

Bill Gibbons, director of the South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station and associate dean for research at SDSU, added, “We realized in that 2017 meeting that there were many unanswered questions regarding all aspects of bison, ranging from their role in the landscapes they occupy to their importance in Native American culture to their significance in agriculture, and we recognized that there are many qualified researchers interested in taking on those projects. What was missing was a unified commitment to bring together the resources to support that research.”

Sinte Gleska University provost Phil Baird noted, “Bison are once again coming back to tribal lands across the country. Being a part of the center will help tribal managers as they restore both cultural herds and grow tribal nation-building herds.”

The center of excellence represents a significant milestone in the restoration of bison herds to North America, according to Dave Carter, executive director of the National Bison Assn. “Our knowledge on how best to manage our herds has evolved through a lot of trial and error, supplemented by scattered studies at universities across North America. The center of excellence will bring together academicians, ranchers and tribal bison managers in a collaborative commitment to help us be better stewards of our herds.”

The National Bison Assn.’s science and research committee will work closely with center leadership to identify key research and outreach priorities.

The National Buffalo Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable foundation dedicated to being the major trusted funding source for bison research and education, will embark upon a major fundraising campaign in the coming months to provide the resources to underwrite the center’s initial research projects. “Having the center of excellence in place and with SDSU’s direct involvement, we all see a much broader view of the future of bison while at the same time opening many fresh opportunities to expand our fundraising initiatives,” foundation chair Cecil Miskin said.

Cammack will oversee the day-to-day operations of the center, under the direction of an 11-member board comprised of SDSU, National Bison Assn. and National Buffalo Foundation officials, bison ranchers and tribal representatives. The center will operate under a formal memorandum of agreement that has been established among SDSU, the National Bison Assn. and the National Buffalo Foundation.

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