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Ranchers oppose Ogalal Sioux Tribe’s bison reserve plan

RAPID CITY (AP) — Some cattle ranchers on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwestern South Dakota are fighting plans for a large bison reserve being pursued by the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

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The tribe and National Park Service are working on making the South Unit of Badlands National Park into the nation’s first tribal national park. The plan includes the return of bison to the park and the end of cattle grazing on leased land and some private land, which could be condemned, the Rapid City Journal reported.

The Tribal Council approved the plan for the 1,000-animal Stronghold Buffalo Grazing Unit in June. Ranchers who rely on the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and Oglala Sioux Tribe grazing permits were recently notified that their leases will expire in October 2015.

“It is tribal land they are on. The tribe does have that option to pull that lease,” tribal spokeswoman Toni Red Cloud said.

Tribal officials had been scheduled to meet with ranchers on Friday afternoon to discuss the matter and try to reach some type of agreement, but the meeting was postponed because of the bitterly cold temperatures, Red Cloud said.

Sandra Buffington, who is in her 60s, told the Journal that without her 11,000 acres of leased land she will have to sell her cattle. She was offered a chance to relocate to the southwest corner of the reservation along the Nebraska border, but at her age starting over is a daunting prospect, she said.

Although there is no current legislation to create and fund a tribal national park, the National Park Service has completed a general management plan and environmental impact statement on the South Unit that includes four management alternatives.

“The National Park Service and the tribe are working to resolve issues that will result in legislation that could be introduced” in Congress, Perry Plumart, spokesman for Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., said.