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The American Bison is a symbol of the American West and needs protection now to maintain a healthy populaton. Bison were most recently introduced into the Greater Grand Canyon region by Charles “Buffalo” Jones in the early 1900’s. This herd was sold to the state of Arizona in 1926, and has since been managed by the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD).  The AGFD held annual roundups and cullings of the herd to control the population, but the practice was discontinued somewhere in the early 1970’s, with licensed hunters now providing the sole means of population control. 

Take time to get to know the bison herd of the North Rim.

Uploaded to YouTube by machv in 2009.

The herd is managed as a wildlife game species by the AGFD, but in 2000, the bison escaped enclosure in their designated habitat of the Grand Canyon Game Preserve (GCNP) in House Rock Valley and migrated up onto the Kaibab Plateau.  The bison have since wandered between the Kaibab National Forest and Grand Canyon National Park, returning to House Rock Valley in the summer to rut. There is now concern that fewer bison are returning to House Rock Valley each year and some are not leaving GCNP at all.

GCNP believes that the current bison herd may need to be moved out of the Park due to impacts of such bison on Park resources.  It is likely that a removal plan will be put into place in 2011.  While it is currently unclear where such bison will go if removed from the Park, it is quite possible if not likely that the Park, working with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, will propose that the bison be moved to the northern two thirds of the Kaibab Plateau that was formally designated as the Grand Canyon Game Preserve by Teddy Roosevelt, and that is currently managed by the U.S. Forest Service. 

In 2010, the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust provided financial support for a study to quantify potential impacts of nonnative American bison on the seeps, springs, and riparian areas of the Kaibab Plateau within Grand Canyon National Park to best form a scientifically sound and humane management plan of the herd.

Currently portion of the Kaibab Plateau controlled by the U.S. Forest Service is managed for traditional cattle grazing – though the current permittee, the Grand Canyon Trust (a regional conservation organization), is far from a traditional livestock producer.  As discussions about bison management evolve over the coming months, it is quite possible the Grand Canyon Trust would be amenable to shifting its livestock management priorities to accommodate bison across that portion of the Kaibab Plateau.  If such a transition occurs, bison would remain in the Greater Grand Canyon region as a free-ranging herd, while their impacts on fragile seeps and springs within Grand Canyon National Park would be mitigated. 

Over the coming months, substantial encouragement will need to be directed towards Grand Canyon National Park, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, and the U.S. Forest Service to allow bison to be moved out of Grand Canyon National Park, and to less constrained habitat.  Financial resources offered for such a move (directed towards planning, gather costs, and/or “drift” fencing keeping such bison out of the Park, for example) could be extremely influential.   

Overall, the discussions surrounding bison management could trend in an extremely positive direction over the coming months, leading towards a win-win-win habitat conservation win, or they could devolve towards a contentious resolution not beneficial to any party, or the bison themselves.   HSWLT is hopeful that the former path is followed, and that free-ranging bison in the Grand Canyon region become a reality.

In order to expand the scope of HSWLT’s influence and effectiveness for the benefit of wildlife, we frequently share funds, expertise and HSWLT’s humane philosophy with other organizations.  All HSWLT shared efforts are rooted in our commitment to providing wildlife with safe places to live, forever, by assisting other organizations that share our concerns for wildlife and habitat. 


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