The Nature Conservancy Kansas Chapter and the National Park Service announce that 13 bison have arrived at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in the Flint Hills of Kansas, the last landscape expression of tallgrass prairie in North America.
At one time estimates of up to 60 million bison roamed the continent. However by the early 1900s, fewer than 1,000 were left. Bison were an integral part of prairie ecosystems before European settlement. The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve herd will provide ecological, educational, and visitor benefits.
The new herd arrived October 20th. They were held in a small corral until Friday, October 30, when they were released into their new home, the 1,100-acre Windmill Pasture. The bison are from Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota, which originated from14 animals donated in 1913 by the New York Zoological Society, and six more in 1916 from Yellowstone National Park. The Wind Cave herd is one of only two known public herds without evidence of historic cattle interbreeding, making the herd prized by bison conservationists. The 13 bison released at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve will serve as a satellite herd for the larger Wind Cave herd.
Bison tend to graze in patches, resulting in a mosaic of grazed and ungrazed areas. Bison also prefer to graze grasses while avoiding most broadleaf plant species; across their range, bison consume over 90 percent grasses, whereas grass consumption by cattle is typically less than 80 percent of their diet. The patchy grazing distribution of bison and their avoidance of herbaceous plants tend to enhance prairie plant diversity. Other bison behaviors, such as wallowing, horning trees, wandering when grazing, and the bison’s tendency to graze closer to the ground also differ from cattle behavior and can alter species richness and grassland biodiversity.
Many steps were needed before bison could be reintroduced to the preserve. These actions included the development of a management plan, completion of an environmental assessment, and enhancement of fencing in order to contain bison. The public is encouraged to visit the Preserve to welcome the new arrivals.
The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is located two miles north of Strong City on Kansas State Highway 177 (the Flint Hills National Scenic Byway).
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.