SGU and UNL students team up on bison research

Feb 25th, 2013 | By | Category: 24-3: The Science of Place, Tribal College News
By Lisa Colombe

Sinte Gleska University (SGU, Mission, SD) offers students daily meals with bison meat that comes from the SGU herd located just a few miles east of campus. Recently, SGU instructor Lisa Colombe and Dr. Clayton Kelling of the University of Nebraska – Lincoln (UNL) were awarded a $170,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture/ National Institute of Food and Agriculture Tribal College Research Grant for “Evidence-Based Strategies to Optimize Range Bison Herd Health and Productivity.” Now, students are assessing the SGU herd’s health, age, pasture acres, and condition. Students are performing this work within the classroom and during field studies.

Through environmental science courses and labs, samples are collected from the bison pastures and then analyzed at SGU and UNL. Research assistants and students have been extremely receptive to “live labs” and a solution-based curriculum that addresses a campus environmental science concern: bison herd health and productivity. This bison research was funded during a drought, making the project crucial for managing the optimal health of the bison.

Within the classes, student attendance is excellent, and information and skills are being disseminated back to tribal workplaces and local communities through annual workshops and seminars. Students have been using GIS and GPS to map acreage. They have also been counting herd animals and collecting hay, soil, water, vegetation, animal tissue, and fecal samples. A database of this information has been created and is continually updated. SGU students Brittani Whipple- Lopez and Mark A. Weaver presented posters on the bison research at the October FALCON conference in Albuquerque, NM. Students will also be presenting at the 2013 AIHEC conference.

The SGU bison herd has been an integral part of the university since 2001. The herd has grown in great numbers, and Colombe has identified the need to research overall herd and range health with considerations for available forage and supplements. Using student “sweat equity” and local resources and partnerships—such as with bison herd manger, Wayne Frederick, SGU graduate, and USDA research funds awardee—the SGU herd will continue to nourish students and tribal communities both in knowledge and health.

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