Tribe buys land near Arlington to raise buffalo

Within months, a dozen bison will graze on nearly 60 acres just west of Arlington.

In a year, the size of the fledgling herd could be doubled, and American buffalo meat will be for sale.

Those promises are from the Stillaguamish Indian Tribe, which recently purchased 56 acres of farmland for buffalo to graze on. The property is on the west side of I-5 between exits 206 and 208.

“We’re planning on starting with two cows and a bull, then also get other younger buffalo,” said Stillaguamish Tribal Chairman Shawn Yannity. “We’ll have meat ready for next year.”

Bison will provide a multitude of benefits for the tribe, Yannity said.

The herd will be a tourist attraction, with the fresh, lean buffalo meat as a main attraction.

The animals’ hides and hooves, which usually demand high prices, will be used for tribal ceremonies. The meat, which experts say could help prevent diabetes, a disease that runs rampant in Indian Country, will be readily available for tribal members.

The herd will help preserve farmland, too, Yannity said. The tribe is partnering with the Intertribal Bison Cooperative, a South Dakota-based organization that relieves national parks of surplus bison and delivers them to tribes who want to start herds.

The cooperative has 57 member tribes in 19 states, Executive Director Jim Stone said. Each member pays $500 each year. The cooperative rounds up about 250 animals from national parks each year, at a cost of $350 to $600 per animal. The cooperative offers a federally funded tribal herd development grant that helps pay for fencing, corrals and other infrastructure.

“We guarantee that the animals we get are genetically pure bison from Badlands National Park and Windcave Naitonal Park,” Stone said. “There has been intermixing with cattle in the past, and you don’t want those genes present. The tribes want to restore a genetically pure animal.”

Though buffalo are generally more associated with Plains tribes than the Pacific Northwest’s Salish tribes, Yannity said the animal is part of Stillaguamish tribal culture.

“It’s part of our traditional food, and we’re not accessing our traditional food like we used to,” he said. “The next best thing is to provide this buffalo to tribal members.”

Most tribes have stories that include buffalo, which migrated throughout the country. But much of that connection was lost when buffalo herds dwindled due to railroads and other development, Stone said.

“In the Northwest, there are predominantly elk and salmon people. The buffalo may play a smaller role, but it’s proven to have played a part,” Stone said.

The herd could draw tourists to the Arlington area, where they’ll learn about local tribal culture and sample buffalo meat, Yannity said.

Arlington city officials are aware of the tribe’s plans, Assistant City Administrator Kristen Banfield said.

“We always play off just about anything nearby to lure potential visitors,” Banfield said. “(The herd) is not a specific thing we’ve marketed to yet, but there’s always that potential.”

Stillaguamish leaders hope the herd will grow from 12 to 15 buffalo to about 70 buffalo within a few years. As the herd grows, the tribe may consider purchasing more grazing land for separate groups of buffalo throughout the county’s northern areas.

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