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A draft decision framework for the National Park Service Interior Region 5 bison stewardship strategy

December 2, 2019

The Department of the Interior Bison Conservation Initiative calls for its bureaus to plan and implement collaborative American bison conservation and to ensure involvement by tribal, state, and local governments and the public in that conservation. Four independently managed and geographically separated National Park Service (NPS) units in Interior Region 5 (IR5) preserve bison and other components of a formerly contiguous Great Plains landscape. Management of bison in IR5 parks has historically been specific to each park, and livestock and range management science informed much of the decision making. In the past two decades, NPS has shifted away from managing bison from this livestock-based perspective towards a wildlife stewardship approach, including ensuring their long-term adaptive potential and considering them as just one part of a complex ecosystem. This shift requires a more holistic and cooperative approach to stewardship that is challenging not only because of limitations in funding and fluctuations in leadership priorities, but also because of the constraints imposed by the parks’ relatively small, fenced areas.

The IR5 NPS Bison Stewardship Strategy (“Strategy”) will help the NPS to meet its responsibilities in cooperative stewardship of bison. The Strategy will serve to organize and consolidate the NPS’s legal and policy responsibilities within a framework of collectively defined values and objectives to support the careful and transparent decision-making processes that both guide and transcend park-specific planning. This report describes a preliminary decision framework for the Strategy, including the context, the fundamental objectives, and a range of alternative strategies developed and considered through two workshops and a series of conference calls with NPS personnel, stakeholders, and outside experts with an interest in IR5 NPS bison stewardship. Although not the Strategy itself, this framework serves as the Strategy’s starting point and identifies 14 fundamental objectives, falling in four major themes:

Persistence of Wild and Healthy Bison
1. Maximize the long-term persistence of bison in IR5 parks
2. Maximize the long-term adaptive capacity of bison in North America
3. Maximize the wildness of the bison herds
4. Maximize humane treatment of bison, while allowing natural processes to occur

Supporting Tribal Buffalo Culture
5. Improve relationships, trust, and communication with Tribes to enhance shared stewardship of bison within and beyond IR5
6. Maximize the number of live, healthy bison that can be transferred to tribal herds

Persistence of Native Ecological Communities and Processes
7. Maximize structural and compositional heterogeneity of native prairie plant communities across space and time within each park
8. Maximize the abundance and diversity of animal species of special concern
9. Minimize the loss of native grassland within each park
10. Minimize the abundance of exotic plants in the park landscape
11. Maximize riparian area and wetland integrity

Public Outreach
12. Maximize the number of healthy, wild bison that are visible to the public
13. Maximize the safety of visitors
14. Maximize public understanding of the past, present, and future of bison and Native Americans in the Great Plains

The terms “minimize” and “maximize” in these objectives describe the desired direction for each individual objective. Finding the right balance among these objectives and any others identified in further work is one of the central challenges in developing the Strategy. To that end, this report also demonstrates and describes potential methods for evaluating how well alternative strategies would achieve each of the fundamental objectives.

Publication Year 2019
Title A draft decision framework for the National Park Service Interior Region 5 bison stewardship strategy
Authors Amy Symstad, Brian W. Miller, Tanya M Shenk, Nicole D Athearn, Michael C. Runge
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Other Government Series
Series Title Natural Resource Report
Series Number 2019/204
Index ID 70207034
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center; Patuxent Wildlife Research Center