Committed to the reintroduction of the American Bison
Efforts are underway to protect and re-assimilate some of North America’s most majestic and imposing creatures back to their native environments. While more than a century ago, colossal and mighty herds of bison roamed across much of the Great Plains, today’s numbers are far from what they used to be. In order to retain and grow a bison herd, more room is necessary to give these giant animals the space they need to roam freely. The Herring Ranch located in the Texas High Plains provides an ideal location for reestablishing and promoting the livelihood of this majestic animal.
At one time, bison herds numbered in the 20-30 million, spread out across all of the Great Plains from Alberta to Mexico. The huge herds roamed freely from the Canadian Shield down to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Rockies all the way East to the Appalachians. This massive area stretched over 1,000 miles from East to West and well over 2,000 miles from North to South. Altogether, North America’s largest land mammal had free range, grazing in excess of 500,000 square miles.
The Great Plains provided an ideal home for animals accustomed to surviving everything from powerful blizzards to the summer heat. Also known for covering large distances as they roam, the plains provided never ending access to food with an endless supply of grazing land.
Across the Great Plains, bison enjoyed a diet rich in native grasses and sedges. It’s estimated that bison consume about 24 pounds of dry vegetation every day, secured by their systematic cycle of grazing and resting throughout the day. At about five to six feet tall at the shoulder, and with some males weighing more than a ton, it became necessary for the animals to eat a large amount of food to sustain their massive bulk.
Bison living on the southern edge of the Great Plains relied primarily on a diet of native grasses complemented with seasonal forbs to round out their diets. Most of the grasses included Buffalo Grass, Gama Grass and Blue Stem.; forbs included weeds and wildflowers, with such bison delicacies as coshia weeds and sunflowers. The rest of their diet was made up of browse like elm and mesquite. Altogether, these large grazers fed on a select combination of grasses, shrubs, herbs and twigs to survive. The ideal environment of the southern edge of the Great Plains exists over the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest aquifers in the world, and necessary for the sustainment of wildlife along with agriculture.
As the massive animals grazed on the plains, they also helped other animals and plant life native to the region. For instance, prairie dogs preferred the short grass trampled by bison to more easily spot predators while carnivorous predators like wolves needed the bison to replenish their own food supply. As the same time, generations ago, Native Americans depended on bison for food, clothing, and even shelter.
With the rise of settlers exploring the West, came a sharp decrease in the number of bison. By the end of the 19th century, with the species led to near extinction, the once enormous herds of millions instead numbered only in the hundreds. This was devastating for not only the bison, but for the environment and other plants and animals that relied on the bison for their own well-being.
Due to conservation efforts, though, and the hard work of a number of people and organizations across North America, the number of bison has grown again to around 500,000 animals. While nowhere near their historical highs, the bison are substantially higher in number today than they were a century ago. Still, few wild bison exist today, except for those that roam wildlife areas and parks. Yellowstone National Park boasts the largest Wild Plains Bison population, numbering around 4,000, while Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta, Canada has the largest Wild Woods Bison population, at around 10,000.
While it is unlikely the bison will ever again exist in the same numbers as in centuries past, sustainable private management will help to raise public awareness as to the many benefits this majestic creature affords us all. Southwest Plains Bison at the historic Herring Ranch is committed to the goal of reintroducing the American Bison to their former homeland. North America’s largest land mammal needs a large grazing land, and the ranch provides that on the southern edge of where the animals once grazed daily by the millions.
Kit Carson- mountain man, explorer of the west, and hunter of buffalo- once owned the historic Herring Ranch. While Carson hunted the animals for sport, and to feed the pioneers or yesterday, today’s focus is on sustainable ranching and the production of healthy antibiotic and hormone free natural meats. With combined holdings in excess of 65,000 acres, and a current bison population in excess of 2,500, Southwest Plains Bison is helping to sustain the animal’s future, and that of other native wildlife and plant life dependent on bison, for generations to come.