USA–– BROWN COUNTY, Neb. Rounding up bison on any day is hard, dirty work.
Workers and volunteers with the Nature Conservancy of Nebraska made do last week on powdery ground thick with dust and ash from drought and wildfires. Together, they rounded up 126 bison for sale after wildfire destroyed the bison’s pasture along the Niobrara River.
It was a little dirty that day, a little dusty, said Mike Vigoren, a conservancy employee. They’re quite a bit wilder than cattle. They can get pretty rambunctious.
Fire damaged about 95 percent of the conservancy’s eastern pasture, the rangeland where the public views bison.
If rains don’t come, more of the remaining 293 bison from the eastern herd will have to be sold, said Mace Hack, executive director of the conservancy’s Nebraska chapter. That could jeopardize the next few years of public viewing, he said.
A lot of people enjoyed coming up to the preserve and seeing the bison in their native range, Hack said. It feels like what the Great Plains used to look like.
The conservancy’s north-central Nebraska preserve is the closest large herd of buffalo to the Midlands’ major population centers. About 1,000 people a year tour the preserve.
Two herds live on the preserve, one east and one west, and the conservancy typically culls bison from both in the fall to keep the number within what the land can sustain.
What’s different this year is the need to rapidly and more dramatically thin down the eastern herd, Hack said. Otherwise, starving animals would roam onto neighboring ranchland in search of pasture.
Hack said the conservancy sold nine adult bulls and 117 bison that were 1 and 2 years old, essentially all of the eastern herd’s future breeding stock. Last week’s buyer was a South Dakota bison rancher, he said.
Hack anticipates another sale this fall involving some of the 420 bison in the western herd. Fire damaged about one-third of that herd’s pasture. How many will be sold depends on the ongoing drought.
Because that rangeland is so remote, the western herd is inaccessible to the public, Hack said.
Area rancher and volunteer wrangler Darvin Brannon took a break from last week’s roundup to admire the hairy beasts, so evocative of a different era.
They’re tough, he said. They know how to survive. That’s what I like about them. They could do without man, not like dairy cattle or beef cattle.