Currently we have 57 bison at the Crane Trust and plan on building the herd to near 80 over the next couple of years. This allows us to ease into our carrying capacity without inadvertently having negative impacts to the prairie ecosystem as we monitor their impacts upon our prairies.
Over the last year, our staff has analyzed social behaviors and hierarchy of our herd to gain a better understanding of how different animals interact with and affect the herd dynamics, as well as how the herd functions and behaves as a group. We have also monitored vegetation, avian, and small mammal responses to grazing that will be used to help us better understand the effects of management decisions and plan for the future. This past fall we have completed management actions which included specific burned and hayed areas throughout the bison prairies and plan to monitor the prairies responses. We will continue to collect data and analyze the responses of our land management practices to increase our knowledge of and better understand the effects of bison upon our riverine tallgrass prairie and wet meadow complex.
Other research includes genetic analysis to determine purity and diversity of the Crane Trust bison herd. On October 11th, in cooperation with Dr. Clayton Kelling and staff from the University of Nebraska, we successfully collected blood samples from our bison herd for genetic testing. All blood samples will be sent to Texas A&M University for analysis. Previous analysis of the Crane Trust bison herd have shown our bison to be very diverse when compared to 8 core herds established by the U.S. federal government (National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service) to assess levels and sources of genetic diversity. As we look to the future, we plan to introduce new bison to the Crane Trust with lineages from missing core herds to promote bison genetic diversity for the benefit of the species.
Our partnership with Dr. Clayton Kelling has also led to continued cooperation with the Central State Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (CS-CASH) to improve our low stress handling techniques to ensure improved safety for bison and bison handlers alike. We are working hard and using adaptive management strategies in hopes of leading by example for others to follow throughout the bison community. We continue to learn and progress with every interaction and continue to identify concerns that we believe will improve safety and efficiency for bison and bison handling throughout our working facilities.
We look forward to bringing a select herd of bison back near our Nature and Visitor Center this week. These 7 bison will be the foundation of our research herd and used for genetic purposes into the future as well as studying their impacts upon a specific prairie. Offspring from this herd will be introduced to the larger Crane Trust herd near our main campus once they can be weaned from their mothers. The two separate herds will allow us to manage for genetic diversity and allow us flexibility with the introduction of new bison as they are introduced back onto the Crane Trust’s prairies.
The Crane Trust staff continues to be very excited about the future of the bison herd as we continually learn more about the species, their impacts upon the prairie ecosystem, species genetics and of course “to witness the presence of this historically dominant grazer in the Platte River Valley”! Make sure to find time in the near future to step out into nature for a chance to relish what we do, the trails are free and there is much to see.