RAPID CITY, S.D. — Officials from South Dakota State University (SDSU) and the National Bison Association and the National Buffalo Foundation have announced the launch of a new center to improve understanding of bison herd health and economic possibilities for bison producers. The Center of Excellence for Bison Studies is a part of SDSU’s West River Research and Extension Facility in Rapid City.
Plans for the Center of Excellence date back to May 2017 when leaders of the National Buffalo Foundation, the National Bison Associations’ Science and Research Committee and Sinte Gleska University met with SDSU researchers in Brookings, South Dakota. Participants in the meetings agreed that cooperation among the various organizations was key in accomplishing the goals of researching the viability of private and tribal bison producers, and the overall environmental impact of reintroducing bison in ecosystems across the nation.
The partnership gained solid ground after the 2018 Farm Bill authorized the USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture to recognize centers of excellence in research, extension and education in the food and agriculture sciences.
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 Association. “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.”
Dr. Bill Gibbons, director of the South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station at SDSU and Associate Dean for Research, 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.”
Phil Baird, Provost of Sinte Gleska University in South Dakota, 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 National Bison Association’s Science and Research Committee will work closely with the Center’s 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 on 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,” said Cecil Miskin, chair of the Foundation.
“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 Dr. Kristi Cammack, the newly installed director for the Center of Excellence.
Cammack will oversee the day-to-day operations of the Center, under the direction of an 11- member board comprised of SDSU 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 Association and the National Buffalo Foundation.