Bison arriving at Broken Kettle Grasslands
Bison Reintroduced to Iowa Part of a herd of 28 bison arriving at The Nature Conservancy's Broken Kettle Preserve in the Loess Hills of western Iowa. © Chris Helzer/TNC

Stories in Iowa

Reintroduction of Bison to Iowa

A bison herd of 28 arrived at Broken Kettle Grasslands in the fall of 2008

More than 150 years ago, bison were a natural and integral part of the prairie ecosystem before Europeans settled the vast central tallgrass prairie. Bison grazing provides a “disturbance” which allows for a more diverse mix of prairie species and a diverse structure critical for the survival of the animals dependent on prairie habitat.

And now, bison are coming home to the globally rare Loess Hills landscape and the largest contiguous native prairie in the state.

At the end of October, Broken Kettle Grasslands will welcome a small herd from the Conservancy’s Lame Johnny Creek Ranch, in South Dakota. This herd originated from the Wind Cave National Park herd and is considered to be an unhybridized herd. In other words, there is no evidence of cattle introgression or cattle genes as determined by current DNA testing techniques. This starter herd, of about 30, will be a maternal grouping—bison that all know each other, have group dynamics figured out, and like to stick together.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, final preparations are underway for their arrival. Iowa and South Dakota staff are working through the final details of the transfer plan, along with our state veterinarians, to ensure a safe, stress-free trip for the animals. Final touches are being placed on our corral and high-tensile electric fence. Native prairie hay is ready to go into the trap pasture where the bison will be held for their first few days in Iowa. Woven wire fencing is secured around the trap pasture. Gates are double checked.

The excitement is building. It’s a celebration. Large-scale prairie restoration efforts are working in Iowa. The arrival of these big, native grass-eaters is an exciting step in our long term goals for Iowa’s largest remaining prairie.

Broken Kettle Grasslands

Broken Kettle Grasslands is located in the northern portion of the Loess Hills, which rise 200 feet above the Missouri River Valley, snaking in a narrow band of wrinkled bluffs that cover some 650,000 acres along the state’s western border. It is 25 minutes northwest of Sioux City, Iowa.