The buffalo are coming!
February 12, 2003 10:02 AM   Subscribe

Adopt A Bison. There are several handsome candidates for adoption at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Oklahoma. Elsewhere, the 51 tribes of the InterTribal Bison Cooperative seek to restore the tatanka to their lands and way of life. And in North Dakota, the falling human population is creating more room for the bison to return to. Perhaps the time is right to restore the Great Plains.
posted by homunculus (20 comments total)
Here is a video you can watch on the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve from Scientific American Frontiers (I haven't had a chance to watch it yet, so I hope it works.)
posted by homunculus at 10:08 AM on February 12, 2003

Yay, homunculus! Serious good karma for prompting bison adoptions.

Anyone in the vicinity of southern Minnesota can visit our state's resident bison herd at Blue Mounds State Park. My fiance and I went last fall, and were completely awed by these spectacular animals.

There's also a drive-through bison paddock just outside Glacier National Park, on the Canadian/Waterton side, "where the mountains meet the prairie." P.S.: Resist the urge to be a yahoo; stay in the effing car and bring your telephoto lens.
posted by clever sheep at 10:31 AM on February 12, 2003

While you're at it, why not adopt a yak?
posted by Joey Michaels at 10:41 AM on February 12, 2003

If you don't want to adopt a bison, you can shoot one for around $1500. If your idea of "hunting" is walking through a fenced-in pasture and popping a cap in a semi-domesticated animal, that is.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:42 AM on February 12, 2003

I spent part of the summer travelling through Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Alberta and British Columbia. Grand Teton and Yellowstone national park in Wyoming had quite a lot of bison in them. The ranchers don't like them because they're wild animals and tend to go wherever they want, damn the fences. They are currently fighting to severely curtail their reintroduction and I hope that they are ignored. Clever sheep, Yellowstone had an entertaining display on bison, part of the display was a "don't play with them" exhibit that showed actual footage of dumb-asses "interacting" with them.
posted by substrate at 10:45 AM on February 12, 2003

The ranchers don't like them because they're wild animals and tend to go wherever they want, damn the fences. They are currently fighting to severely curtail their reintroduction and I hope that they are ignored.

That's being very unfair to those who's livelyhoods are affected by Bison populations. The real problem isn't just the lack of respect for fences, its brucellosis. Those who favor widespread range for Bison herds should really put their voices behind support for immunization efforts.
posted by Wulfgar! at 10:57 AM on February 12, 2003

As a born-and-raised South Dakotan, I encourage you all to support Bison, SD, too.

Please, Bison really needs your help. Thank you.
posted by DakotaPaul at 10:58 AM on February 12, 2003

tired of sticky ears?
sponsor a spectacled flying fox or adopt a marmot.
posted by quonsar at 10:58 AM on February 12, 2003

I've never adopted a bison, but I have been a foster parent to a few. It's just so hard. They come from rough backgrounds. Cody, the little fella that I took care of for about six months later year, came from a broken home: abusive father, drug-addicted mother, the whole nine yards. I wish that I had the resources to adopt a bison, but my apartment just isn't suitable for anything but short-term stays. I sure do appreciate the folks that adopt them, though.
posted by waldo at 11:35 AM on February 12, 2003

Ted Turner wants you to eat a bison.
posted by Frank Grimes at 11:49 AM on February 12, 2003

Adopting Bison is just the beginning. The Great Plains today are de-populating to the point that much of it has less density than in 1893, when the frontier was declared "closed." In 1987 a proposal was made to convert much of the Great Plains to a Buffalo Commons, which would tear down fences and allow Bison to return to their native habitat on a large scale.

Admittedly, there are huge logistic concerns to overcome (like how to keep them off the Interstates), but this idea, while radical, has some serious merit. Consider this map which shows the raw number of counties in the plains with declining population; it's staggering and might lead you to the conclusion that the century (in some places, marginally more) old experiment with Anglo-American farming on the Great Plains has been a resounding failure.

For another good article on the Plains' depopulation, try this NYT link.
posted by norm at 12:18 PM on February 12, 2003

(after having just read the article linked as "North Dakota" in the FPP, I realized some of my information is duplicative. Great post!)
posted by norm at 12:44 PM on February 12, 2003

I realized some of my information is duplicative.

More information is good. I should have taken the time to find more on the Buffalo Commons. Thanks for the links!
posted by homunculus at 1:01 PM on February 12, 2003

Another potential for the Great Plains is wind energy. The states with the greatest wind energy potential (pdf) are all plains states. I read somewhere that if North Dakota were turned into an enormous wind farm, it could fill almost all of the electricity needs of the entire U.S.

I wonder if bison can live comfortably on wind farms? I assume they would be unpeturbed by the turbines overhead. If so, perhaps some of the plains land could be transformed into combination wind farms/bison preserves.
posted by homunculus at 1:25 PM on February 12, 2003

I think I'd like to adopt a Chinese water buffalo. There's so much less red tape when you adopt from China.
posted by waldo at 2:06 PM on February 12, 2003

Let's think this through a little bit, shall we? Massive bison herds roaming the Plains sounds like a good deal, or at least an interesting proposition. What will that take? (More than just tearing down fences, I can assure you.)

According to the links presented here, people are abandoning the plains states. Fine. Who's abandoning their property rights? Somebody owns this land, and not all of it is the property of the federal government, to be sure. If a great game preserve (The Buffalo Commons) is to be established, this land must be bought back. At what cost? Who here is willing to pay, either through donation or taxation to exercise easement on The Great Plains?

What is the land currently being used for? Several persons in the NYT article suggest that its use for agriculture was an "experiment" or brief chapter in history. I find that an unlikely conclusion based only on population decline. Even as we accept a population density figure of 6 persons/sq.mile in North Dakota, that still leaves a whole lotta folk with interest in the areas that they have a use for. Are these people to simply be bought out and transplanted elsewhere? What will they do for a living?

We already know what large cattle herds can do to riparian wetlands (the kind scattered all over the mountain west and great plains.) Are we trading one difficulty for another?

What do we do about population control for bison herds. despite human arrogance and silly movies from Costner, indigenous Americans were not the ultimate predator of Bison. The Grey wolf (also called Bison wolf) was. Any effort to restore the Great Plains would involve reintroduction of a predatory species. Anyone who lives within a 400 mile radius of Yellowstone National Park should know how well wolf introduction gets received by John Q Public.

If we rely on hunting as a population control factor, than how do we implement those policies? Is it open season, or do we limit hunting of Bison to Native peoples (as has been suggested locally, sorry I can't find a link)? If the latter, then are they allowed to use guns to do this hunting?

In the big picture, American growth has significantly changed the Plains and the Mountain West over the last 100 years. In the rush to "restore" a past ecosystem, don't we actually run the risk of doing as much damage to other species (beaver, prairie dogs, Elk) as we have initially done to the Bison?

These are honest questions. Yes, I am a cynic. I believe our land use practices to be so fraught with emotion, greed, arrogance and enormous ignorance that I'm none too quick to favor large scale preserves for the sake of recreating what we have destroyed in the first place. I know that I'm spoiled in that I get to see Bison all the time. But what has been suggested here isn't a manageable game preserve. I would need some answers before I could support such an idea.
posted by Wulfgar! at 2:36 PM on February 12, 2003 [1 favorite]

This is a superb post and an even more wonderful discussion. I've learned a lot. Thanks so much Homunculus!
posted by anastasiav at 3:46 PM on February 12, 2003

As a North Dakotan, I can tell you from personal experience that bison make lousy housepets.

Plus, if you adopt one that's older than eight weeks old, they're nigh impossible to litterbox train.
posted by dakotadusk at 5:24 PM on February 12, 2003

You ask great questions Wulfgar! Thanks for making it clear just how complicated implementing the The Buffalo Commons would be.
posted by homunculus at 11:50 PM on February 12, 2003

(can Bison co-exist with wind farms?)

In Ernest Callenbach's awesome book Bring Back the Buffalo! there is a whole section about how bison love the turbines and co-exist just fine with wind power equipment, leading me to remember all the silly quotes about ANWR with the elk and caribou just loving pipeline equipment for back scratching etc.

Wulfgar, I think you raise important questions but I classify them as details (like my earlier question about the interstates). Yes, there is a large amount of money that would be necessary to extinguish competing land claims, but there is a lot of land out there that is essentially worthless, and a public-private partnership that raises money to add to a common pool looks good to me. Start small and then combine parcels; this is already happening to some degree on some of the larger reservations and with what the Nature Conservancy is doing.

As for the ecosystem concerns, the bison is a flagship species in that it is SO large, requires so many resources, that that to rehabilitate the land to allow them to do what they do would protect dozens of other threatened species, including prairie dogs, their predators (Black-footed ferrets, snakes, ground owls), antelope, grouse, and other prairie and plains bird species. It does NOT follow that wolf introduction would be necessary; in all reality bison had only one credible natural threat: humans. While young and dying bison were taken by wolves, I don't see this as being the major check on their population and could be worked around.

Finally, bison do not denude riparian zones the way that cattle do. They are more efficient with water and are a native adapted species to the continent as opposed to the exotic species of cattle; Lewis & Clark didn't notice a lot of destroyed stream beds when they went through the plains, and there were more bison then than cattle now.

It wouldn't be necessary to convert the whole of the plains states to a buffalo commons to achieve some noticeable results. The depressed nature of the farm commodity market is due to a large oversupply; buying out a lot of farms would have the added effect of driving down some of the supply glut and getting prices up to a more sustainable pace. Great discussion; obviously this is a pet issue of mine.
posted by norm at 9:39 AM on February 13, 2003

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