Annual bison roundup underway at Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

Ponca City Now - October 31, 2019 2:28 pm

Editor’s Note: Senator Bill Coleman represents Senate District 10, which covers all of Osage County and most of Kay County. He attended this year’s Nature Conservancy’s Bison Roundup. He provided the photographs with this story.

The Nature Conservancy’s Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Osage County, Oklahoma, is in the midst of its annual roundup of more than 2,500 bison.

Each fall, usually in late October or early November, the Preserve holds TNC’s annual “Bison Roundup.” The iconic animals are herded into pens, counted, their health is checked and they are inoculated for diseases. This roundup area of the preserve is closed to the public for  the safety of the animals as well as humans.

The surplus animals that the Prairie Preserve can’t naturally support are then sold off. This year about 500 animals were sold by sealed bid. Their numbers will be replaced through the natural addition of calves born in the herd. The  surplus animals are sold for the health of the heard and prairie, according to TNC. This sale also helps to make it sustainable financially as the funds are used, along with donations, to fund the over $1 million annual operation budget.

Bison in the herd are run through pens for evaluation and veterinary care. Those being thinned from the herd are identified and separated to be sold.

The vast majority of the year the animals are mostly untouched and left to roam the preserve free. These few weeks during the roundup are usually the only time of the year that these bison experience the touch of humans.

The Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, as it is formally known, is the largest (39,650 acres) protected remnant of tallgrass prairie left on earth. Due to urban sprawl and conversion to cropland, this ecoregion, originally spanning across 14 states from Texas to Minnesota, have left less than 4% remaining of this landscape

Since 1989, The Nature Conservancy in Oklahoma has proven successful at restoring this fully-functioning portion of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem with the use of 2,500 free-ranging bison and a “patch-burn” model approach to prescribed burning.

Visitation has been increasing yearly since the preserve due to the bison and the Preserve has reached 20,000 annual visitors now.

The preserve is open every day from dawn to dusk with no charge for admittance. It can be accessed via county roads. There are free ranging bison herds, scenic turnouts, hiking trails, picnic tables, breezeway information and public restrooms at the Historic Bunkhouse. The gift shop / visitor center is open from February through mid-December from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is operated by docents, and is typically open every day.

If visiting the Preserve, please observe the following guidelines:

  • Stay on the trail. Don’t collect plants, insects or other species or disturb soil, rocks, artifacts or scientific research markers.
  •  No dogs. Preserves harbor ground-nesting birds and other wildlife that are extremely sensitive to disturbance.
  •  No bicycles or motorized vehicles. Native plants and research sites are easily trampled.
  •  No hunting, camping or campfires.
  •  For groups of 10 or more, please contact us before visiting a preserve (a volunteer naturalist guide may be available).
  •  Please do not leave behind trash. Bring a bag and carry it out.
  •  Please report to us any problems you observe (e.g., camping, plant removal, hunting, off-road vehicle damage, etc).
  •  No drones! There is sensitive wildlife habitat for which drones can cause a disturbance.

For more information, please visit:…/plac…/tallgrass-prairie-preserve.xml


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