Will the ecosystem follow suit when the bison returns?


Eisenberg’s career has studied wolves and bison. It combines western science with traditional ecological knowledge, an environmental research area based on ancient indigenous knowledge. She said the field is especially important for bison restoration as the Plains Indians – a term used to describe the many indigenous tribes that inhabit the Great Plains of the United States and Canada – have been for thousands of years are dependent on bison and their habitat. Year.

Kyran Kunkel, a conservation biologist and associate professor at the University of Montana and a research fellow on the project, said: “Bison has moved in the past due to fire, Native Americans, predators and the climate in the area.” The Smithsonian Institution Kunkel also works worked with the US Prairie Reserve, a nonprofit that aims to restore bison, tear down fences, and join fragments of private and public land to restore the local grassland ecosystem.

“They move and create a landscape of great heterogeneity,” he added. “So they affect the grass and vice versa, which is what causes the diverse ecosystems there – birds, small mammals, large mammals and insects,” he said.

“The changes we see today are due to the direct changes we made to other species – not just the loss of bison, but the control and management of predators, including fences, hay plants, and manipulation of Willows, ”said Kunkel.

Curtis Fries, a former biologist with the World Wildlife Fund and the US Prairie Refuge, said the greatest impact bison had on grassland restoration will be felt when fences and man-made water sources are removed and bison can interact with fire. Fire is a natural part of the grassland ecosystem. It works with herbivores to graze, accelerating decomposition, and returning nutrients to the soil. Before the Europeans settled, indigenous tribes deliberately set the grasslands on fire. They knew that once the grass was burned it would regenerate within a few weeks and then bison would emerge to eat the nutritious grass.

“Now you have a functioning ecosystem,” said Fries. “As in history, the dominant herbivores can graze and create heterogeneous habitats, which is essential for the development of grassland birds. “

Bison is also a valuable source of protein for wild carnivores and tribes, and they also hope to reintroduce bison into their diet. Their corpses feed on fast foxes, golden eagles, grizzly bears, wolves, beetles and nematodes. “Of course it’s like pouring a bag of nitrogen fertilizer on the ground,” says Fries.

In addition to Native American efforts to restore the bison, conservation organizations in the United States have long struggled to let the bison back into some native areas. The American Bison Association, the Boone and Crockett Club, and the Zoological Society of New York have all studied bison ecology and reproduction. One of the most promising efforts, under the direction of the US Prairie Reserve, is the establishment of a historic bison habitat in central Montana. The nonprofit currently owns approximately 810 bison on the purchased land, but many ranchers believe these efforts could pose a serious threat to their livelihoods and lifestyle, and could further marginalize their businesses.

In Glacier County, The location of the Blackfeet Reserve, the ranch, benefits the local economy. Many ranchers, including some Native Americans, see bison as a threat, as competition for scarce resources such as grass and water, and as potential carriers of diseases that are deadly to cattle. However, other ranchers are trying to regenerate the land by changing grazing methods. In some cases, this involves managing cattle in a way that mimics the historical past of bison grazing and crossing the land.

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