Anetlope Island, Utah (AP) — For the first time in nearly 70
years, Utah has a new free-roaming bison herd.
Officials in the U.S. state this week are taking the final steps
toward restoring bison to the Book Cliffs, a remote and rugged area
in eastern Utah where bison images appear on ancient rock art and
skulls have been found in the fossil records.
“We’re bringing them back to their native range,” said Dax
Magnus, a wildlife biologist for the state Division of Wildlife
Eventually, state officials expect the Book Cliffs herd to grow
to around 450. That would make Utah – which already has one herd
managed by an American Indian tribe and two herds controlled by the
state – among the West’s leaders in the number of wild bison
roaming within its borders.
“It’s a neat opportunity to have kind of an icon of the American
West” expanding on Utah’s publicly managed lands, said Dave Olsen
of the wildlife division, who oversaw a plan approved in 2007 to
bring bison to the Book Cliffs.
On Saturday and Sunday, crews in a helicopter and an airplane
captured 31 bison from the Henry Mountains in southeastern Utah.
The bison were trucked to Antelope Island State Park in the middle
of the Great Salt Lake.
The park, which has about 500 bison of its own, provided a
series of chutes and corrals where the bison could be sorted and
checked for disease before heading for the Book Cliffs.
Magnus was one of about 20 state employees who spent much of
Tuesday at Antelope Island getting the animals ready for the
They have been tested for diseases such as brucellosis and
tuberculosis and have a clean health record, wildlife officials
said. About a dozen were affixed with radio collars so the herd’s
movement can be tracked.
The bison, which have had minimal human contact, behaved as
expected in the chutes – snorting, bucking and staring wide-eyed at
anyone who approached. Domesticated, they are not.
But that’s the idea, wildlife officials said. The project is
intended to return an element of the wild back to Utah.
Bison, which can weigh up to 900 kilograms, once roamed huge
swaths of North America before being nearly wiped out in the late
1800s and early 1900s.
As bison numbers slowly rebounded in the West, some were brought
to Antelope Island as part of a ranching operation. Today the herd
numbers around 500 and is one of the main reasons why people visit,
second only to views of the landscape, said Ron Taylor, the park’s
“It’s a big draw,” he said.
In 1941, 18 were taken from Yellowstone National Park and
brought to the San Rafael Desert. The herd grew and eventually
moved to the Henry Mountains, where today there are around 450.
Decades ago, state wildlife officials started talking about
returning bison to the Book Cliffs.
The state, with contributions from several advocacy groups, paid
$4 million for three ranches in the area and for the grazing rights
on public lands. That has reduced the number of cattle that will
share the land with the bison.
Some also worried that the bison could impede oil and gas
development in the area. State officials agreed not to use bison as
a way to limit mineral development.
When the bison arrive in the Book Cliffs on Wednesday and
Thursday – after a seven-hour trailer ride – they’ll have more than
1,300 square miles of state and federal land to roam. They’ll join
14 bison brought out in August and hundreds on nearby tribal lands
that are controlled by the Ute tribe.
Magnus said the area’s remoteness and ample food supplies make
it a perfect spot for bison.
“You’re really about as far from civilization as you can get,”