This week and for the next two weeks, governments from most of the world’s nations are meeting in Montreal at “COP15” ~ the U.N. Biodiversity Conference ~ to adopt a plan to reverse this crisis.

At a time when the world gathers to solve the biodiversity crisis, let’s not forget the power of species to bring us together. Charismatic megafauna like the American Buffalo have boundless appeal and cultural significance not just for the Tribes, but for billions of people worldwide. A focus on recovering wild bison in Yellowstone, in the C.M. Russell Wildlife Preserve, and establishing a “buffalo commons” from Canada to Mexico, as envisioned in the Buffalo Treaty, can help to rally the ambition needed to halt extinctions, restore biodiversity, reverse the climate crisis, and fundamentally reshape our relationship with nature. As the Buffalo Treaty states:

It is our collective intention to recognize BUFFALO as a wild free-ranging animal and as an important part of the ecological system; to provide a safe space and environment across our historic homelands, on both sides of the United States and the Canadian border, so together WE can have our brother, the BUFFALO, lead us in nurturing our land, plants and other animals to once again realize THE BUFFALO WAYS for our able land, and requiring another third for feed crops.

bfc obt july 2022 04 james holt signing treaty

On the eve of the Biodiversity Conference of Parties in Montreal, the UN’s environment chief, Inger Andersen, framed the issue as one of paradigm change:

“As far as biodiversity is concerned, we are at war with nature. We need to make peace with nature. Because nature is what sustains everything on Earth … the science is unequivocal.”

"Our planet is in crisis," added Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the head of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Mrema emphasized that a global agreement on biodiversity is "crucial to ensure that the future of humankind on planet Earth is sustained”.

According to the leading science on reversing biodiversity trends, which is informing the UN’s approach, the key to our survival will be supporting and restoring “large mammal assemblages” in 30% of the planet’s ecosystems by 2030, and 50% by 2050. As Vynne et al. (2022) show:

Assemblages of large mammal species play a disproportionate role in the structure and composition of natural habitats. Loss of these assemblages destabilizes natural systems, while their recovery can restore ecological integrity.

The “large mammal assemblage” identified for the U.S. to do its part — one of 20 worldwide that could cumulatively solve our crisis — is none other than Yellowstone’s wild buffalo (See: Table 1, at link). Bison are “ecosystem engineers,” whose interactions with other plants and animals profoundly influence the structure and function of their habitats and the wildlife therein. As Yellowstone’s lead biologist puts it, based on a decade-long study, “bison are not just moving to find the best food; they are creating the best food by how they move” across the land.

The delegates at COP15 are set to embark on the final stage of negotiations on a new global biodiversity agreement. Raising the ambition needed to achieve its goals will be possible only by recognizing that species and ecosystem approaches are compatible. In today’s world, landscape-level conservation alone is not sufficient to halt extinctions. We need to scale our conservation efforts up to ecosystem-wide strategies, and supporting Yellowstone’s buffalo in the entire Yellowstone Ecosystem, rather than just

As the authors of “REWILDING: The Radical New Science of Ecological Recovery” (2022) put it, we now have “the opportunity to be the first generation in human history to leave nature in a better place than we found it.” As staunch allies of both Tribes and Buffalo, the Buffalo Field Campaign is determined to make good on that promise.

Read the Facing The Storm Blog: From Wildlife Conservation to Ecological Civilization this Update is distilled from.