Henry Mountains Bison
The story of the Henry Mountains bison reintroduction begins 300 hundred years ago when over 30 million bison roamed the United States from Florida to California, Mexico through Canada. Then came the pioneers, pushing west, followed by the Calvary and the railroad. Slaughtered first for meat, then as a military maneuver to starve Native peoples, the last wild herds were decimated by hide-hunters selling bison skins for profit back east. By the end of the 1800s, the frontier had closed and 30 million bison were replaced by 50 million cows. Only a few wild bison hung on.
Ranchers and early conservationists rounded up most of the remaining wild bison. Some were interbred with cattle and raised for meat. These animals began the lineage for a growing bison meat industry that continues to this day. Wild, genetically pure bison only remained in one location.
Congress created Yellowstone National Park in 1872, the first major conservation act of its kind. For the next sixty years, Yellowstone National Park would serve as the only refuge for wild, genetically pure bison. In 1902, twenty-four bison occupied Yellowstone. Now, over 4,000 populate the park.
In 1942, a group of Utah sportsman convinced state and federal officials that a herd of bison should be reintroduced into southern Utah. Without much fanfare, 18 animals were quietly trapped in Yellowstone, rounded up onto trucks, and driven south. Ancestors of the last wild and genetically pure bison were returned to a portion of their former range.
In the contiguous United States, bison are generally not free-roaming. With low natural mortality rates, the few wild herds that do exist are rounded up annually, culled, or fenced in. Even in Yellowstone National Park, wild bison are captured when they leave the Park’s boundary and tested for brucellosis –a disease that can be transmitted to cattle. Bison that test positive are sent to slaughter.
The Henry Mountains bison represent the last genetically pure, brucellosis-free herd that roams over a large area –over 385,000 acres. That’s twice the size of Zion National Park.
Despite all this space, Henry Mountains Bison are caught within a complex web of public lands, grass, ranching, and government agencies. The Last Herd documents this delicate balance and provides an example of how free-roaming bison and private interests can co-exist.
For more information on Henry Mountains bison, please visit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Mountains_bison_herd
For more information on how the state of Utah manages the Henry Mountains bison, please visit: https://wildlife.utah.gov/hunting/biggame/pdf/bison_15.pdf
For more information on bison in Yellowstone National Park and brucellosis, please visit: https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/bison.htm