WCS’s Arctic Beringia Program has co-produced a new feature-length documentary film with Tribal partners in the community of Old Harbor, Alaska, titled “The Herd.”

This film follows a free-roaming herd of plains bison (bison bison) that were transferred to Sitkalidak Island, Alaska in 2017 and the nearby community of Old Harbor, which owns, manages and harvests them. This acquisition of bison from nearby Kodiak is part of a larger narrative of Indigenous-led efforts across North America to populate bison on Tribal lands. With over 70 Tribes currently in membership, the InterTribal Buffalo Council has organized distribution, education, and grant financing for Native American communities to develop their own bison herds.

There are many purposes unique to this effort, including economic opportunities and cultural healing. Food security is also one of them. The arrival and growth of the bison on Sitkalidak represents a new chapter for Old Harbor. Fishing, their dominant local industry, faces developing challenges each year, with the community increasingly reliant on supply chains from the mainland. To this end, Melissa Berns, Old Harbor native and member of the Alutiiq Tribe of Old Harbor, has developed the Sitkalidak Bison Project to offer a reliable and local, nature-based resource of high-quality meat for her village. The economic opportunities for this project are also numerous, ranging from locally guided bison hunts to the eventual processing and sale of bison meat.

Said Martin Robards, Regional Director of WCS’s Beringia Program: “This story is timely and critical, particularly in our current COVID 19-impacted environment, where both economic interruptions and food insecurity have touched every corner of the globe. It's of the utmost importance for remote communities such as Old Harbor to foster food sovereignty in order to flourish - a thread embedded in the core of this story. This is but one example of a larger, forward-moving effort among Tribal communities across North America to develop bison-centric programs. Such efforts foster hope and resilience for Tribes and wildlife alike, while also deepening the understanding of processes supporting key areas of interest for the humanities, including self-determination and cultural resilience.”

For over a century, WCS has collaborated with Tribes and agency partners to conserve and grow the population of the North American plains bison. These efforts have lead to crucial milestones in bison conservation, including the designation of the plains bison as our National mammal.


WCS Arctic Beringia Program uses the best available science and Indigenous knowledge, along with expertise in trans-boundary policy and storytelling, to work with diverse communities, Indigenous groups, agencies and other partners to understand and protect wild places and wildlife, including their role in local food security. The Arctic Beringia region hosts vast intact tundra landscapes and seascapes with robust assemblages of free-ranging native species such as walrus and caribou, supports vibrant mixed economies for Indigenous communities, and is valued by diverse stakeholders across the globe.

This program is part of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). With headquarters based at the Bronxe Zoo, WCS has regional programs working all over the planet to protect wildlife and wildplaces. WCS draws on over a century of active engagement in Alaska and a continuous presence in the Arctic Beringia region since 2002. We build on that foundation to secure the long-term needs of wildlife through partnerships, including with industry and local peoples facing a growing development footprint and profound climate change impacts.