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Bison research expanded

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On Sept. 8, officials from South Dakota State University (SDSU), the National Bison Association and the National Buffalo Foundation formally launched the Center of Excellence for Bison Studies, a facility focused on research activities to improve bison herd health and production and the economic viability of both private and tribal bison producers. The center will be headquartered at SDSU’s West River Research and Extension facility in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Plans for the Center of Excellence began in May 2017 when leaders of the National Buffalo Foundation, the National Bison Association’s Science and Research Committee and Sinte Gleska University convened with SDSU researchers at the main campus in Brookings, South Dakota. Participants at the session agreed on a number of research priorities, but recognized a coordinated effort was needed. 

“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. 

Dr. Bill Gibbons, director of the South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station at SDSU and associate dean for research, added, “We realized in our 2017 meeting there were many un-answered 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 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 the 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 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,” Carter said.

The 2018 Farm Bill authorizes the USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture to recognize centers of excellence in research, Extension and education in the food and agricultural sciences. 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 colleges and universities under the 1994 Tribal Land Grant Program. 

Cammack will oversee the day-to-day operations of the center, under the direction of an 11-member board comprised of SDSU, National Bison Association 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 Association and the National Buffalo Foundation.

For more information on the center of Excellence for Bison Studies, contact Cammack at 605-394-2236.

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