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Tribal buffalo manager Jason Baldes of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe was recognized last week by the National Geographic Society with a 2024 Wayfinder Award for his work to restore buffalo to tribal lands.

The prestigious award, which recognizes recipients for “pushing the boundaries in science, conservation, education, technology and storytelling,” designates Baldes a National Geographic Explorer while allowing him to apply for funding for a future conservation initiative. He was named among 15 total recipients

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Baldes is the founder and executive director of the Wind River Tribal Buffalo Initiative, which aims to bring buffalo back to tribal nations in the Great Plains. He is also the Senior Tribal Buffalo Program Manager for his tribe, and for the National Wildlife Federation's Tribal Partnership Program. Baldes has helped restore more than 100 buffalo to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes in Wind River since 2016.

In the 1900s, an estimated 60 million buffalo grazed across North America, Wind River Tribal Buffalo Initiative writes in its history online. Native Tribes relied heavily on the Buffalo for food, shelter, clothing, and spirituality. By the turn of the century—due to the U.S. government’s attempt to wipe out tribal nations by reducing their food supply—that number dwindled to a few hundred. Since the late 1990s, groups—beginning with the Inter-Tribal Buffalo Council, which includes more than 70 tribal nations across 19 states— have restored over 20,000 buffalo to tribal lands.

“Buffalo are a treasured part of our natural heritage, connecting us to the land and to the Indigenous communities that have held them sacred for thousands of years,” Baldes said in a statement. “I am proud to have devoted my career to protecting these incredible animals, and appreciate the National Geographic Society for supporting and amplifying our ongoing conservation efforts.”

Brian Kurzel, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Rocky Mountain Regional Center, said that Baldes’ award “could not be more well-deserved.”

“Jason has been a singular champion for buffalo restoration, helping to restore an iconic animal once on the brink of extinction while centering Tribal and Indigenous priorities,” he said.

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