Feds Thinning Out Buffalo Herds

The proud American buffalo, whose numbers were dwindling a century ago, has made such a strong comeback that the federal government is now spending millions to get rid of some of them.

The government plans to spend $13 million this year to buy the bison and actually kill them, donating the meat to various organizations.

In recent decades, bison ranchers raised too many of the burly beasts, whose population was in the hundreds at the turn of last century but now hovers around 400,000 in North America alone.

The surplus devalued the market price. So the Department of Agriculture is stepping in to thin the herds.

"We had some overproduction," said Merlin Maas, president of the National Bison Association.

In an odd irony, one of the government-funded programs will provide surplus buffalo meat to the very people who depended on the animal for so many years: Native Americans, who are in dire need of good nutrition on reservations.

"The meat will be processed into ground bison, and some of it will go into bison stew meat," said Bill Sessions of the USDA. "The meat will be distributed through the food and nutrition services emergency feeding programs."

Buffalo ranchers hope the USDA plan will help their struggling industry, which has seen its meat and breeding business drop in recent years.

Some of the buffalo meat may even end up on school lunch menus. Instead of beef, kids may be eating buffalo taco salads and buffalo spaghetti.

"We think it's great to have young people introduced to our product," Maas said.

In an attempt to get the word out about the program, the National Bison Association will start marketing the lean meat with new logos and a catchy slogan such as "The Original Red Meat," according to Maas.