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Roundup reduces size of North Unit’s bison herd

Posted 10/06/10 (Wed)

By Tina Foreman   
Farmer Staff Writer

With no injuries or incidents to people or bison, the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park has once again held a successful bison roundup.
For the North Unit, it all began in 1962 when 20 bison, half male and half female, were transferred in from the park’s South Unit. With occasional roundups and culling, prior to this year’s roundup, the bison population had grown to approximately 325 animals.
“With 325 bison in the park, we were hitting the upper limit of our target population, so it was decided that the park would hold a roundup this year,” says Eileen Andes, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, chief of Interpretation and Public Affairs. “Our goal was to cull the herd to around 100 bison. The number may seem a little low, but the population can double in just three years.”
The North Unit’s last roundup was held in 2004.
“When we hold roundups simply depends on the population,” adds Andes. “Our goal is to keep the park from getting over-grazed, and because the bison have no natural predators in the park, we have to step in and control the population.”
The park’s roundup facility is placed at the end of a natural funnel, which allows the animals to be rounded up using a helicopter.
“The helicopter locates groups of bison and then herds them through two knolls which make up our natural funnel or alleyway and into a large pasture holding pen. Once the animals have calmed down, they are put into the alleyway and into the chute.”
After being placed in the holding pen, the hard work begins as rangers from TRNP and other parks in North Dakota, which is approximately 40 workers, begin their job of processing the bison. Each bison is led into the squeeze chute where it is checked over to determine its general health, age and that it is brucellosis free.
“Each animal is given a number on its rump and all of the information obtained is logged,” says Andes. “Before being released, the biologist decides if the animal will be kept or culled. Then the ones that are staying in the park are given a microchip that will hold all of its information.”
Even though the park no longer has space for the bison, there are others who have space and use for the bison.
“We had four entities apply for this year’s culls,” states Andes. “Because of our limited pen space, we are only able to send the bison to two different places.”
This year’s culls were shipped to the Black Feet Nation in Montana and the Spirit Lake Tribe of North Dakota. Once the animals were processed, the ones being sent off were loaded into waiting semis and shipped to their new homes.
“This year’s roundup was very successful,” says Andes. “We worked for three days and processed 276 animals. There were a few bison that became too agitated and were released without being processed and a few lone bulls that weren’t rounded up, but our post-roundup estimate is 108 bison remaining in the North Unit.