American Bison Herd
The Crane Trust has re-introduced plains bison to the Platte River ecosystem on 800 of 4,700 contiguous acres of native riverine tall-grass prairie. The re-introduction of plains bison to Crane Trust lands on Mormon and Shoemaker islands is serving as an important restorative step in the Crane Trust’s long-term goals for managing the region’s habitat and ecology for cranes and other migratory birds.
Named the national mammal in 2016, the American bison is the dominant symbol of the natural world of the Great Plains and is an important part of our nation’s frontier heritage. Known as the largest mammal in North America, adult males weighing up to 2,000 pounds and standing 6 feet tall, their grazing on native grasses and disturbing soil as they roamed enabled many plant and animal species to flourish. By the late 1800s, their numbers dwindled from 30 million to fewer than 1,000 due to slaughter. It took over a century of public and private conservation efforts to see the population rise back into the hundreds of thousands, with nearly 30,000 still roaming wild.
Crane Trust researchers are supporting the ongoing preservation of this majestic species while studying and documenting the differential effects of bison and cattle on key ecological processes — including nutrient recycling, vegetative patching, habitat quality, disturbances (wallowing and horning), plant diversity, seed dispersal, and primary plant productivity. This is the first time such research has been conducted on Platte River habitat, with its complex mosaic of wet meadows, riverine tall-grass prairie, and riparian habitat.
From the very beginning, monitoring teams observed sandhill cranes foraging alongside the Crane Trust’s small bison exhibition herd, on grassland areas that had not been frequented by cranes in recent history. Long term, the Crane Trust will use bison to augment the role that cattle have played in its habitat management program for decades. With the expanded bison herd in place, it will be rewarding to see these two iconic species interacting once again on the Nebraska prairie! Also, The Crane Trust is looking forward to working with other partners to study genetic diversity of herds for the benefit to the species as the Crane Trust herd grows.