Rugged survivors of the Northern Great Plains, bison were nearly eliminated in the late 19th century due to overhunting. The creatures’ highly profitable, heavy wool hides were fashionable for jackets, and the U.S. government also sanctioned their slaughter as a way to compel Native Americans, who relied on the animals for sustenance, onto reservations. Still listed as a “near threatened” species and considered “ecologically extinct,” bison no longer play a role in prairie biodiversity. But their survival today is due in large part to dedicated, often Indigenous-led regeneration efforts across the plains.
Since prehistoric times, the only place where bison have lived continuously is in what is now Yellowstone National Park. The massive animals, which can weigh up to 2,000 pounds, develop a burly undercoat of coarse fur that protects them from the elements, keeping them warm and comfortable in temperatures as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit. On a week-long camping trip last winter, photographer Drew Simms captured families of bison, along with other critters who frequent the area, in the stunning short film “-37°F in Yellowstone National Park.”
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