It was a little confusing at first, but the bison at Caprock Canyons State Park are settling into a pasture that’s 10 times what they were used to — basically the entire park.
Park staff opened up 10,000 acres to the approximately 100 members of the Official Texas State Bison Herd on Tuesday, a big step in a program that has expanded their access since it started in 2010.
“We’ve kind of been working them with feed trucks to follow. When they got through the gate, they’d go into any opening to check it out,” said Donald Beard, park superintendent.
“And when they saw the bison metal cutouts (an art installation), they took off running to them. When they figured out they weren’t really bison, they moved on.”
And with all that range to roam on, the animals descended from the almost-extinct Southern Plains herd settled into an area of about 200 acres.
“They’ve been there for three days. It’s a restored area where we put a prairie dog colony,” Beard said.
It was a bit of a historic event in that the herd is wandering almost freely on prairie their ancestors used before hunting nearly wiped them out, and before pioneer cattleman Charles Goodnight captured remnants of the herd in 1878 to raise and breed.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department staff and volunteers rounded up the beginnings of today’s herd from JA Ranch, south of Clarendon and Claude, and brought them to Caprock Canyons, just north of Quitaque, in 1997.
“It’s been something we’ve been working on for years. It’s good for the bison and good for the park,” said Rodney Franklin, regional director for Texas State Parks Region 5. “This is a major step toward the ultimate vision. Being the Texas State Bison Herd makes it a pretty big deal.”
There are still areas that need the habitat restored, and TPWD wants to continue to grow the herd.
“Managing the herd has been an adventure for us,” Franklin said. “Managing the numbers and making sure the resources are protected is part of it, making sure we’re balancing the resources and recreational opportunities.”
Here’s a bit more from the Chron.
In 2003, media tycoon Ted Turner donated three bulls to help the herd, which had gone through more than a century of inbreeding that threatened its survival. At the time, the herd had dwindled to 53.
The Texas herd was started in the 1870s with five bison calves captured by Charles Goodnight, one of the most prosperous cattlemen in the American West, with more than 1 million acres of ranch land and 100,000 head of cattle at his peak.
His wife urged him to save the bison, also known as buffalos, because hunters were killing them by the hundreds of thousands for their hides and meat and to crush American Indian tribes who depended on the animals for food and clothing.
The herd was donated to the state in 1997 and moved to 330 acres of the state park, which was once part of Goodnight’s JA Ranch between Lubbock and Amarillo.
When the Transcontinental Railroad was built across the United States in the 1800s, the bison – which are believed to have numbered in the tens of millions – were split into what was known as the Northern and the Southern herds.
I don’t have anything to add to this. I just love stories like these and figure they’re worth sharing.