Utah, a model for bison restoration

By Amy Brunvand

Bison are nomadic and are going to go where they want to go. They are not easily contained with fences. – Bates & Hersey, 2016

Utah is a model for restoring wild bison to their ecological role, according to an article by scientists from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, which states that there are currently only six free-ranging wild bison herds in the U.S. and two of them are in Utah: the Henry Mountains herd, established in the 1940s and the Book Cliffs herd, established in 2008.

Even though bison are native to Utah, Utah’s original herds were wiped out by the time Brigham Young’s party arrived in 1847. The current herds were populated with bison transplanted from Yellowstone.

Utah’s two bison herds are unique because they are genetically pure (not mixed with cattle genes) and disease-free; they are classified as wildlife and are managed by hunting.

In the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, bison management outside of the National Park has been far less effective due to the fact that bison are classified as livestock, not wildlife. Every winter after the tourists are gone, hundreds of bison that cross the park boundary are shot by licensed hunters or trapped and slaughtered. Montana ranchers oppose establishing wild bison herds because they fear that their cattle would have to share forage on public lands grazing allotments.

Native American tribes would like to take Yellowstone bison in order to re-establish culturally important herds on Indian reservations, but have been unable to transport the bison because of overblown fears that the bison could transmit the disease brucellosis to domestic cattle. Colorado has a similar law that defines bison as domestic animals and is trying to stop Ute tribal bison from re-populating across state lines.

The American Bison was named the national mammal of the United states in 2016 and it is a potent symbol of ecological restoration since herds numbering over 30 million animals were nearly hunted to extinction in the 1800s as European settlers tried to destroy the plains Indian cultures that depended on bison.

Bates, Bill, and Kent Hersey. “Lessons Learned from Bison Restoration Efforts in Utah on Western Rangelands.” Rangelands 38, no. 5 (2016): 256-265.; Buffalo Field Campaign: buffalofieldcampaign.org

More March 2017 Environews Here.

This article was originally published on March 8, 2017.