Preserving Bison in North Dakota & Beyond

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A visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park often includes a sighting of bison.
There are hundreds of the animals roaming there – after being introduced in the park in the 1950s in the South Unit, and the 1960s in the North Unit.

But there’s concern that over the long term, a lack of genetic diversity could threaten the herds.
Jim Olson reports on research designed to head-off that threat.

120 years ago, the bison was nearly extinct in North America. But that’s all changed.

(Dr. Blake McCann, Wildlife Biologist) “Over time we’ve grown to about 10,000 animals.”

Dr. Blake McCann is part of an effort to make sure that success story doesn’t reverse course. He’s a key player in research to find out how to make sure herds of bison managed by the Department of Interior and National Parks don’t stay isolated – genetically speaking.

(Dr. Blake McCann, Wildlife Biologist) “We’re going to have a problem eventually. In 50 years? Or is it 100 years? We don’t know exactly.

That’s why, when you drive through the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park these days, you may catch a glimpse of a bison with a colored ear tag. A green tag is one of ten local bison fitted with GPS collars, while orange tags were placed on a dozen female bison introduced into the herd from Badlands National Park in South Dakota.

(Dr. Blake McCann, Wildlife Biologist) “Driving through the park you may see these individuals and if you look closely you can see if they’re a resident, or if they are one of the animals brought in from Badlands. It’s interesting because sometimes you’ll see them standing together and that’s the nature of the data we’re collecting right now – what are their social interactions. That will inform if we’re seeing a subdivision in the herd.”

The idea is to find out if the newly-located bison mix in with the existing herd – or if they stay together in sort of a sub-herd. It’s important to find out because it plays a role in figuring the best way to introduce new genetic features into herds that are geographically separate from other animals on the continent.

(Dr. Blake McCann, Wildlife Biologist) “We’re not just managing herds in isolation, but we’re working together across parks, across Department of Interior units, for better stewardship of the species to maintain them, and optimal health and give them the best chance at surviving and interacting with the landscape and ecology.”

And that will ensure that future generations of humans will share the land with future generations of healthy bison. At Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Jim Olson, KX News.”

The introduction of bison from South Dakota is a two-year project to see how the new animals integrate into the local herd. It is scheduled to end in the fall of 2019.

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