The summer of 2023 marked a historical landmark: the reintroduction of wild bison to the grasslands of the Blackfeet Nation, where they have been missing for over 150 years. Bison used to be abundant across the Great Plains; in the 18th century, they numbered in the tens of millions. But by the late 19th century, their populations had collapsed to near extinction, through a combination of destructive commercial hunting and a military campaign to undermine the livelihood of native tribes. Through dedicated individual efforts to shelter bison, isolated herds made it through this dark era, and their (genetically wild) populations now number in the tens of thousands. Alongside spearheading the reintroduction, the Blackfeet Tribe is conducting a large-scale research effort to monitor the flora and fauna on native land, and thereby study the impact of bison on the ecosystem.
I am one of the partners within this monitoring framework, collaborating with Dr. Jordan Kennedy of Indigenous Led to conduct passive acoustic monitoring of the Chief Mountain region and understand the biodiversity and population dynamics of vocal wildlife. To this end, we deployed SwiftOne units to perform an initial evaluation of the habitat (with the help of five local interns). We plan to continue subsequent deployments in future years, and intend to perform further fieldwork and data analysis together with local high school and community college students.