Update on the Crane Trust’s Growing Bison Herd

2016 first bison calves 018The Crane Trust’s herd of 63 plains bison has become familiar with the Platte River’s lowland riverine grasslands throughout 830 acres of our Shoemaker Island property, bringing with it a breathtaking and unmistakable sight upon our prairies. The hierarchical leader is a 9 year old bull, with a diverse age structure of 29 cows, heifers and 26 bulls, with 7 calves from this current year, and more to come any day!

The Crane Trust will continue to make management decisions regarding herd size as we study impacts of our current and past actions, but anticipate a herd of 75-80 bison in the next few years. The bison have roamed throughout the four different pastures under the watchful eye (and lens) of staff, volunteers, friends of the Trust and many visitors on our trail systems. The majority of the bison herd arrived in January and February of 2015, bringing a lot of excitement back to our prairies along with future ecological impacts that have been documented and are currently being studied by our land and science teams.

Bison in blizzardThe bison have weathered an unprecedented flood in 2015 (in modern time anyway), as well as a few blizzards, along with several gorgeous sunrises and sunsets in the short time at the Trust. While the only ones worried may have been the staff, the bison didn’t hesitate but to only be themselves and enjoy the moments that are ever changing in Nebraska. The entire staff are “wowed” daily as they work to protect our valued resource. We constantly learn the “In’s and Out’s” of bison management, which is never-ending and translates to being on “Bison time.” Whether we’re leading animals to other pastures, checking to see if they have calved, conducting health checks, trying to study them, or reporting we just saw them in a spot that would be a fantastic photo, but come to find out, they are not there anymore and the list goes on.

IMG_6381Andrew Caven, our lead biologist, created a monitoring plan (with highly standardized protocols and multiple uses), before the herds arrival. The plan will lead the way for staff, researchers and students to study the bison’s ecological impacts and responses to management actions focusing on vegetation, bird, small mammal and mesocarnivore responses. The Crane Trust is currently collecting behavioral and physical descriptive data to help us understand the social hierarchy of our herd and have been collaborating with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to study low stress handling techniques for bison handlers to consider.

Looking into the future, the Crane Trust is collaborating with Universities, private sectors, and government and non-government organizations wanting to focus on genetic diversity for long term benefit of the species. We are hoping to set up a case study with our herd, as we bring in different animals from across the United States and Canada while creating new relationships, to increase genetic diversity of the Plains bison and to learn more about the animals that are back roaming our prairies.

2016-03-31 13.27.41The Crane Trust’s herd is currently located in our 380 acre pasture, just south of the walking bridges from the Nature and Visitor Center. There is currently a hiking trail that goes around the entire pasture, as well as some trails that break off to detour along the north channel of the Platte River, both trails full of natural beauty and surprises. The bison will remain in this pasture through the month of June, to be re-evaluated and possibly moved to another area of the property. There are currently no bison along our interstate pasture as we are re-working our corral system as funding becomes available, but anticipate our herd to return in late summer or early fall. Please stop in and enjoy the trails, and possibly grab a glimpse or picture of the bison – or better yet, sign up for the VIP Photography Excursion for your best opportunity to photograph these magnificent, ancient creatures, and witness the impact and beauty they bring to our prairie landscape.

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