EnviroNews: Bison make spring greener

By Amy Brunvand

Yellowstone’s migrating bison herds make grass grow more quickly and last longer according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Typically, grazing animals migrate in the spring to follow a “green wave” dependent on climate, weather and topography. However, intensive grazing by bison herds provides plants with more sunlight and more fertilizer.

The research indicates that the large bison herds that used to inhabit the Great Plains engineered a more productive grassland ecosystem, and the researchers conclude, “restoring lost bison migrations will require that these animals be allowed to freely aggregate, intensely graze and move in sync with landscape-level patterns of plant phenology.”

However, restoring bison migration means overcoming political barriers. The National Bison Legacy Act passed in 2016 designated the North American Bison as the national mammal of the United States, but had no provisions for restoration.

Efforts to restore bison to the landscape outside of Yellowstone National Park are documented in Kurt Repanshek’s new book Re-Bisoning the West (2019). In 2014, American Indians and Canadian First Nations signed the Northern Tribes Buffalo Treaty to restore bison to 6.3 million acres of tribal lands in order to “welcome BUFFALO to once again live among us as CREATOR intended by doing everything within our means so WE and BUFFALO will once again live together to nurture each other culturally and spiritually.”

Another large-scale effort for bison restoration is the American Prairie Reserve in Montana which is buying private ranches in order to re-wild prairie habitat.

Opposition to bison restoration comes largely from ranchers and the Montana State Legislatures which is sympathetic to ranchers. The Trump administration has refused to review the status of Yellowstone bison for endangered species protection.

Engineer the Green Wave: pnas.org/content/early/2019/11/20/1913783116; American Prairie Reserve: americanprairie.org


This is an excerpt from our January EnviroNews column. View the full article here.

This article was originally published on January 6, 2020.