Collaring Bison at American Prairie Reserve
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Collaring Bison at American Prairie Reserve

November 8, 2019


Bison used to roam these grasslands in tens of millions and by moving across this landscape, grazing, or distributing seeds and wallowing, They created unique types of vegetation, which in turn created diverse habitats for other species. And then they were gone. The area, perfect for mega-grazers,
became home to cattle ranching. Without bison engineering this landscape,
some grassland species seem to be losing their place. Pronghorn need mixed grasses for their diet, chestnut-collared longspur need bare ground and
shorter grasses to breed in this ecosystem. And without bison grazing behavior, we’re losing that diversity. With bison back on the land, it’s an opportunity to understand their precise role on the landscape and how they impact it. We have two main mega-grazers on this landscape. You have bison, which has been introduced here after 100 years, And we have cattle. And how do these two species differ?
That’s what I’m interested in. We want to know how bison are shaping the ecosystem through their movement and behavior. And the first step is learning where they go. We’re going to put a collar just like this one on the animal. This a GPS collar that talks to the satellite and transmits data to us. The top part is the GPS and right here on the bottom we have the battery. And right here we have a mechanism which is called a “drop-off” so in a year, this is going to open and the collar will drop off, and we’ll come and collect it from the field. We have two people that are trained to handle bison. They’re from American Prairie Reserve, they’ve gone through rigorous training. These two people are the only ones who touch the drugs and dart the animal. What do you think about the one at twelve o’clock? Do it! The one on the left is clearly too big, but the right two… they’re the same age class. We’re going to stop here and get Lars all set, and then we are going to go after one in the group by the road. Dart’s in. We’re trying to finish up putting on the collar and taking all the other additional measurements in about 15 minutes. The most important thing is is the animal welfare and also people’s welfare while handling such large animals. Once we’re done, we give the reversal
and we’ll watch as the animal gets up, and we continue to watch it just to make sure it’s doing ok, that it went back to its group. That was great.
It was fast. This is the movement of one bison that we collared late April. So just in three months, we found out that bison move all over these pastures. They are changing the grassland in a complete different way than what we would see in cattle pastures. You have to rotate cattle all the time to make sure that they’re not overgrazing different parts. But with bison, they keep moving. They just rotate themselves. They are utilizing basically every part of the grasslands. We’re getting a very fine scale view into what bison do on a daily basis. I’m really excited to see what we’ll see next in the next nine months.

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