They are two of North America's mightiest beasts: the buffalo and the bighorn sheep. And thanks to herders and hunters, their once-dwindling populations are now thriving.
In the 19th century the U.S. government hoped to rid the land of Indians by exterminating the buffalo, a major source of their food, clothing, and fuel. The animals were also shot as food for railroad workers and because they were mammoth pests that obstructed the path of trains bound for the frontier. Today, Indian tribes around the country are helping bring buffalo herds back by raising the animals on their land—for their spiritual symbolism and for the money they bring in.
With 500 buffalo on 10,000 acres, the Cheyenne River Sioux in South Dakota have one of the largest such operations, reports The Arizona Daily Star. The Kalispel tribe in northeastern Washington raise about 130 buffalo on their 4,600-acre reservation, and several dozen other tribes from California to Maine want to get into the buffalo business too.
"Besides the meat, we sell everything from the hooves to the hides, the heads, the horn shells," Francis Cullooyah, who runs the Kalispel operation, told the Star. "And then we use the bones for some of our local artisans here. There's really not much that's wasted."
In Arizona, the population of bighorn sheep has grown from about 600 in the 1950s to about 6,000 today, according to the state's Game and Fish Department. The recovery is largely due to the efforts of groups such as the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society.
The society backed a 1984 law requiring the state to set aside some of its big-game hunting permits for raffle or auction by non-profit groups. Bighorn-sheep permits, which allow hunters to kill one of the animals, normally cost $153 for Arizona residents and $753 for nonresidents, money that goes directly into the Game and Fish Department's general fund. But all proceeds from the auctioned permits, which now total more than $1 million, may be used only for conservation projects, such as maintaining remote water holes, that benefit the species.
In February, a bidder paid a record $303,000 for a bighorn-sheep permit (the previous record was $67,500). "The money from this one tag is enough to finance 10 years' worth of transplanting sheep, or five years of helicopter surveys," Ray Lee, the Game and Fish Department's big-game chief, told the Tucson Citizen.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Home on the Range".