Federal officials said Monday that Kansas’ Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve could be a possible home for bison from Yellowstone National Park.
A long-awaited Department of Interior report that looked at using Yellowstone’s bison herds to further the restoration of a species that once ranged most of the continent indicated 20 parcels of public lands in 10 states could be suitable for the park’s bison, although it’s likely to be years before any animals are relocated.
One of those sites includes Chase County’s Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, near Strong City.
Currently the preserve has 27 bison, including calves. Most of them have come from the herd at Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota.
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve Superintendent Wendy Lauritzen said Monday the preserve has plans for getting an additional 20 bison this fall and within a year and a half could have as many as 60 bison, all descended from the herd at Wind Cave.
“All national parks that have bison have been getting calls,” she said. “We were asked if we had the land mass for possibly bringing in more bison.
“In reviewing the request, we saw it as a possibility but not anything we could do immediately.”
If bison from Yellowstone were brought to Chase County, Lauritzen said, it would be after all state laws had been reviewed. At this point, only Wind Cave bison are being pursued by the preserve, she said.
Tens of millions of bison occupied North America before overhunting nearly drove them extinct by the late 19th century. Yellowstone was one of the last holdouts for the animals in the wild and had roughly 4,600 bison at last count.
During their winter migrations, the animals periodically spill into neighboring Montana, triggering large-scale bison slaughters to prevent the spread of the animal disease brucellosis.
A pilot bison relocation program in Montana has struggled to overcome opposition from ranchers. They worry both about the disease and the possibility of bison competing with cattle for grazing space.
Monday’s report was intended to supply other options for the bison beyond Montana. Park service officials said it could be five years to a decade before more animals were relocated.
“If we were to do this, where would you place these bison? This report gives us a head-start on that question,” said Jorge Silva-Banuelos, an official with the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar first issued a directive for his agency to come up with a relocation plan for Yellowstone bison in May 2012. Moving some bison could help relieve population pressures that led to the slaughter of thousands of migrating Yellowstone bison during the last decade, under an agreement between Montana and federal officials.
Other states and locations identified Monday as potentially suitable for relocated bison were:
Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park; Colorado: Baca National Wildlife Refuge, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve; Iowa: Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge; Montana: Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, National Bison Range; Nebraska: Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, Scotts Bluff National Monument, Valentine National Wildlife Refuge; North Dakota: Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, Sullys Hill National Game Preserve, Theodore Roosevelt National Park; Oklahoma: Chickasaw National Recreation Area, Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge; South Dakota: Badlands National Park, Wind Cave National Park; Utah: Book Cliffs, Henry Mountains.