The 10th annual Symphony in the Flint Hills will take place June 13 at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve near Cottonwood Falls, and preparations already are underway.
The trickiest job so far? Moving the preserve’s bison herd from one pasture to another.
Symphony crews will start arriving June 1 to begin to set up for the concert. The bison have to be long gone from the pasture for that to happen.
That’s not easy. The 2,000-pound beasts walk across ridges and clearings, noses to the ground, biting off blades of grass, bellowing primordial sounds, deep and guttural.
“It has to be their idea to move,” said Paula Matile, conservation specialist for the Nature Conservancy whose office is based at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.
“They are wild animals, not domestic,” said Gene Matile, the bison manager.
It’s not a long move, but it is still a move. The 60 bison will still be on the preserve and will be moved back to the pasture once the concert is over.
But the move takes some planning. Bison babies are involved, and bison mamas don’t take kindly to being pushed.
“When you put pressure on buffalo and start moving into their space, they can start getting on the defensive,” Paula Matile said. “They can get aggressive if they feel somebody is threatening their presence and will stand their ground, especially with their babies around them.”
For now, Gene Matile is using a little behavioral modification – he’s feeding the bison pellets and using a siren to move the herd a little closer each day to the new pasture.
The move will be good for the preserve’s visitors, said Wendy Lauritzen, the preserve’s superintendent.
“It is closer to the schoolhouse and closer to the highway, so people may be able to see the bison from the highway,” Lauritzen said.
Located 85 miles northeast of Wichita in the Flint Hills, the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve is 10,894 acres that encompasses the Z Bar (Spring Hill) Ranch in Chase County.
Because it is spring, the bison are calving and the prairie grasses are greening. Add to that activity 30 restless animals younger than 2 – half the herd – who are wanting to find their way in the bison social pecking order.
“They are like children; they need old buffalo to school the young ones,” Gene Matile said. “And if it ain’t their idea, they probably ain’t going.”