The bison herd along U.S. Highway 69 will soon be temporarily relocating to a site south of Big Brutus so improvements can take hold at their current home.
The bison have overgrazed the native grasses during the herd’s almost 90-year residence at the site, and the move, which is anticipated to be for a year, has been deemed necessary to allow the grass to take hold.
“The reason that we are moving the bison is to give last year’s native grass planting a chance to get established,” said David Jenkins Mined Land WA Public Lands Manager. “Native grass seedlings cannot withstand to be overgrazed at first.”
This is one of the final improvements in a project that has included fencing upgrades, providing the herd with a watering system that offers fresh water year-round and generally improving the long-standing display.
“The bison display has been here since 1926,” Jenkins said.
“We’ve tried to make some improvements,” he said, adding that trying to get the native grass established is one of the last parts of the display’s renovation.
“There was a mix of more cool season grasses,” Jenkins said.
He said fescue had become one of the most common grasses present and the bison needed more warm season grass.
“I know that they do well on native grass. It’s a higher-quality forage for them,” Jenkins said.
The seed mixture includes big and little bluestem grass, Indian grass, switch grass and eastern gamagrass, as well as blackeyed Susan, Illinois bundle flower, purple prairie clover and Mexican hat.
“We planted the grass last year, so this is the second growing season,” Jenkins said. “Since this is the second growing season of the planting, I’m hoping that we’ll really see the grass come on this growing season and be able to move them back sometime next year.”
However, Jenkins said that decision will hinge on how the grass is growing, and that the grass will be assessed next growing season to ensure its readiness prior to the return of the herd.
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“Our goal is to improve forage for the bison and habitat in the display that will have a positive effect on other wildlife in the area,” Jenkins said.
The move will be a gradual process and is expected to take place in early-to-mid April.
A catch pen will be set up for the bison, and they will have the chance to get used to it as they are fed there for a few days.
They then will be loaded in a stock trailer for transportation to their temporary home half a mile south of Big Brutus Museum on the east side of County Road NW 60th.
There, they will dine on a mixture of cool season and warm season grasses that will provide a high-quality forage. The 75-acre pasture also offers water via access to a portion of strip-mined lake.
Jenkins said any additional questions may be directed to his office at 620-231-3173.