Thursday, October 15, 2015 - Wild bison have been reintroduced into an area where they haven’t lived for more than a century: Illinois, a state that was once covered with grassland. The new herd, recently established on the 500-acre Nachusa Grasslands prairie restoration project about 100 miles west of Chicago, is growing and thriving.
The Nature Conservancy began acquiring land for this project in 1986 with the goal of creating a large prairie in a state that has lost nearly all of its native landscape. The culmination of their efforts occurred last October when the first bison were trucked in from the Broken Kettle Grasslands near Sioux City, Iowa. The project managers said the overall goal is fostering a symbiotic relationship between the prairie ecosystem and the animals necessary to sustain it. Bill Kleiman, the Nachusa project director, noted that the 14 calves already born are doing well and have increased the herd size to 44.
The herd’s expansion is an obvious sign that the animals are historically suited to the area, but other data supports the project’s mission of letting the bison herd’s roaming, grazing and fertilizing maintain the prairie. Without that activity, it’s almost impossible to maintain the unique biodiversity of the prairie grasslands.
Researchers have found that smaller mammals, such as mice and voles, are building nests of bison hair, and that swallows can be seen hovering over the herd, feeding on insects attracted to the bison. These developments confirm that the entire ecosystem is healthier, with growing animal and insect populations, which will eventually attract a wider array of species to the area.
Intensive hunting virtually wiped out the bison east of the Mississippi as far back as the 1830s. Over the last several decades many small herds have been brought back to farms and ranches in the Midwest, but the Nachusa herd has several traits that distinguish them from bison already being raised in Illinois.
The Nachusa bison have not been interbred with cattle, according to the conservancy. They are direct descendants of the original North American bison population that was saved from extinction at the beginning of the 20th century. The Illinois herd remains “wild,” with human interaction only once a year for a quick veterinary checkup.
COMMENT: Bison do well on Advanced Biological Concept’s cafeteria style mineral program. Even 500 acres to roam on is still relative confinement and does not allow adequate natural access to balanced minerals. ABC’s program mimics the historical availability of natural mineral licks to provide the necessary array of minerals.
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