Bison's Historic Range in the U.S.

Great herds of bison once thrived in North America between the Appalachian Mountains on the east and the Rockies on the west. It is estimated that around 30 million bison roamed the continent when Columbus landed.

Extensive hunting and the construction of the country’s rail system decimated their numbers and by 1888, only 541 bison remained in the U.S. Efforts began to prevent the species from becoming extinct. William Temple Hornday (1854-1937), an American zoologist, had a significant influence on the efforts to protect and increase the herds.

A 1905 census indicated there were 835 wild bison and 256 bison in captivity at that time. Sanctuaries, zoos, and parks were safe havens for bison and helped to increase their numbers. The first national preserve for bison was founded in 1907 near Cache, OK and later became the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Reserve. Subsequent game laws and other protective measures allowed the surviving bison to live and multiply.

The bison at our Nachusa Grasslands preserve come from the herd at Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. Unlike most other American bison, animals from the Wind Cave herd have not been bred with cattle. Bison from Wind Cave are the species’ most genetically pure and diverse specimens.

Today about 350,000 bison live in the U.S. and they can be found in all 50 states. Conservancy preserves across the country are currently home to approximately 5,500 of these amazing animals . The map above shows bison's historical range, as well as some of the places they can be found today.

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