A North American Network of Bison Resources

I’m currently returning from an excellent bison conference hosted by the Minnesota Bison Association in Alexandria, MN. The two-day event featured an array of expert speakers who addressed everything from the benefits of late weaning of bison calves, to how to prepare and smoke bison brisket with delicious results, and so much more. Over 150 bison producers and enthusiasts from well beyond Minnesota attended the event, with ample networking opportunities abound throughout the weekend.

The Minnesota Bison Association is just one of 13 active state or regional bison associations across the U.S. in addition to the National Bison Association. Each of these regional associations is largely volunteer-run, wholly unique, and has been around for decades. The Minnesota association was in fact celebrating its 30th anniversary this weekend, with just about every founding board member present this year, including a 90-year-old bison producer who started raising bison in 1950! The collective knowledge of these founding members alone was incredible, and the fact that they’re still sharing their knowledge with yet another generation of bison growers was amazing to witness.

There’s also the Canadian Bison Association to the north and their half a dozen provincial associations. Our friends and trade partners to the north have a slightly different structure of their nation’s bison associations as they are technically affiliated with the national organization, ensuring collaboration across Canada. U.S. associations, by contrast, are all independent of one another and also collaborate extensively sharing resources, newsletters and participating in the NBA’s state/regional association committee, chaired by Rocky Mountain Bison Association president, John Graves.

Lately there has been discussion of the concept to merge the U.S. associations to form a larger, more unified National Bison Association, which the state/regional committee will be discussing later this month. While I certainly see the benefits of a larger, national association, I also see the great benefit of maintaining our collective independence and preserving each organizations unique character and history. Lots of folks don’t realize that these regional associations were initially developed for the purpose of hosting a judged bison show as to qualify for the 43 year old NBA Gold Trophy Show and Sale. As our bison shows and sales evolved over the years to accommodate the bison marketplace, so did the state/regional associations with each now offering distinct, regional-specific products and services.

In the past 11 months since becoming NBA’s executive director, I have managed to personally attend more than half of these association’s gatherings with my colleagues, Lydia Whitman and Karen Conley, attending a few more. In total, we have attended and presented at 10 of the 13 regional association conferences and bison auctions. I have come away from these visits with a new appreciation for the individuality of each bison association, their work and the amazing bison communities that they grow and foster among their membership.

While the NBA relies on its membership dues to keep the lights on and continue our day-to-day work with bison (with membership as low as $100/year I will remind you…), please also support your regional associations. All bison associations are not for profit organizations that operate on very slim budgets, and the benefits you’ll receive as a bison producer in terms of legislative and regulatory representation, education, and networking opportunities is both a wise business investment and a drop in the bucket compared to your annual operating budget. As the bison herd grows, so too does competition in the marketplace and membership in both your national and regional bison association are effective means to staying competitive while supporting our collective good-bison work.

Whether our nation’s bison associations remain independent or evolve into a larger, more organized structure, we’ll continue to work together for the betterment of the bison and its stewards. This summer and fall alone, the NBA will work with various bison associations as we pursue our six regional conferences that will bring our seasonal outreach closer to members and offering more region-specific education and updates. And thank you to all who are currently support the NBA and their respective state/regional friends through membership, we simply could not do it without you!

I invite you to see a full directory of bison associations at https://bisoncentral.com/state-regional-bison-associations/, and if you’re not a NBA member already, please consider joining at https://bisoncentral.com/nba-membership-options/.

Jim Matheson
Executive Director, National Bison Association