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Environment

Annual Bison Roundup Happening At Northwest Iowa Preserve

bison_broken_kettle_1.jpg
Katie Peikes
/
IPR file
In 2008, The Nature Conservancy in Iowa brought 28 bison to Broken Kettle Grasslands Preserve in western Plymouth County. The bison are "genetically pure," which means cattle genes have not been detected in the herd.

The Nature Conservancy in Iowa on Tuesday will round up the bison at a northwest Iowa preserve to give them their vaccinations. They’re also selling dozens of bison to producers to keep the preserve’s numbers down.

In 2008, the Conservancy brought 28 bison to Broken Kettle Grasslands Preserve in western Plymouth County in the northern part of the Loess Hills. The bison came from Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. The bison are genetically pure, which means cattle genes have not been detected in the herd.

Reproduction increased the herd at Broken Kettle over time, which today has 275 bison.

The Conservancy’s Loess Hills Project Director Graham McGaffin said the 275 bison are a little more than the Conservancy like to have roaming the 2,100-acre pasture, so they’re selling 72 bison to producers after they get their checkups and vaccinations.

“If we let the herd grow without maintaining their size, we could overstress and overgraze the preserve,” McGaffin said.

McGaffin said the Conservancy typically sells bison after roundup each year, but the 72 is on the higher end.

The bison were brought to Broken Kettle to help control invasive species. Their grazing also helps open up the grass so plant species can grow and provide habitat to birds and butterflies.

bison_broken_kettle_3.jpg
Katie Peikes
The bison's grazing helps open up the grass so plant species can grow and provide habitat to birds and butterflies.

Bison were hunted to near extinction in North America in the 1800s, but they were saved through breeding with cattle. McGaffin said they’re a success story.

“The species itself is just tremendously resilient, tough, and just perfect for this environment,” McGaffin said. “It's one of those conservation success stories that it's fun to reflect on as a lifelong conservationist because it shows the good things that can happen through continued effort.”

The Conservancy has a veterinarian from the Akron area come to do the bison's annual checkups. A handful of volunteers as well as staff from other Conservancy sites help with the roundup. They’ll use all-terrain vehicles to corral the bison.