The bison are coming
Tue, Oct 11 2011 at 10:02 PM
By The Nature Conservancy
The Conservancy’s Dunn Ranch preserve, located in the heart of the Grand River Grasslands in northwest Missouri, is entering one of the most dramatic and exciting phases of prairie restoration: the reintroduction of bison onto the landscape. The bison’s presence on the prairie will restore ecological processes, such as soil disturbance and selective grazing, which are integral components of natural grassland communities.
Bison are integral components of tallgrass prairie ecosystems. The reintroduction of bison at Dunn Ranch is the final link in restoring a fully functioning prairie ecosystem.
Bison grazing patterns promote native plant diversity. Bison graze on dominant sedges and grasses and avoid broadleaf and flowering plants (called forbs); this results in a biologically rich prairie. In contrast, cattle primarily consume forbs, allowing sedges and grasses to grow unchecked.
Bison behavior, such as wallowing, tree horning, and roaming while grazing, increases diversity in grassland species. Even fire, a regular occurrence in the Grand River Grasslands, is shaped by the grazed and trampled areas left by bison herds.
Bison are an iconic American species. Before they were hunted to near extinction in the late 1800s, bison roamed the Great Plains for nearly 10,000 years. Bison are a part of Missouri’s natural heritage.
Bison at Dunn Ranch
Thirty bison will be brought to Dunn Ranch in the fall 2011. Thirty more will be brought to the preserve in 2012. The bison will be relocated from existing Conservancy preserves in South Dakota and Iowa.
Bison at Dunn Ranch will come from a herd that is disease free. All bison entering or leaving the Dunn Ranch herd will be tested for brucellosis, tuberculosis, anaplasmosis and bluetongue. An annual roundup will be conducted to test and, if necessary, treat bison for any diseases or parasites. Calves at Dunn Ranch will be routinely vaccinated for brucellosis.
The Conservancy has more than 25 years of experience in bison management. Bison on Conservancy preserves are managed in a safe, ecologically appropriate, respectful manner which emulates natural herd structures as closely as possible. To maintain genetic diversity, bison are swapped amongst Conservancy herds on an annual basis.
Safety is a top priority for the Conservancy. The bison will be confined to the Dunn Ranch property. Fencing at Dunn Ranch exceeds industry standards in all areas, and will be inspected daily. Even with the best fencing, however, it is possible that a bison may escape the enclosure. The Conservancy is well prepared for such an event, and has developed a detailed plan of action to minimize or eliminate damages.
Bison at Dunn Ranch will be genetically pure. The herd coming to the preserve originated from Wind Cave National Park, one of only two herds in the United States that were not crossbred with cattle.
Bison at Dunn Ranch will benefit the local community. The site will provide engaging educational opportunities for visitors interested in grassland ecology and will contribute positively to the local economy.
MNN is working with The Nature Conservancy to bring you state-by-state environmental information.
Photo: USFWS Mountain Prairie/Flickr