Tallgrass Prairie Preserve bison roundup underway

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital
Tallgrass Prairie Preserve bison roundup underway

Under a full moon and just before sunrise, the familiar sound of rolling thunder rumbled across the Osage as the annual Tallgrass Prairie Preserve Bison Roundup got underway last Thursday.

For 21 consecutive years, the fall roundup has brought in native bovines from the Tallgrass herd to be weighed, examined and doctored. They then are either returned to the open range or separated out in accordance with the preserve’s carefully planned herd-management program.

“This will be the first year ever that we have held on to all of our older animals,” said Harvey Payne of Pawhuska, Tallgrass Prairie’s community relations coordinator.

Approximately 380 head — 2 1/2-year-old heifer and 1 1/2-year-old bull calves — are to be eliminated at this roundup, Payne said. He explained retaining the mature bulls and cows was possible this year due to the relief in drought conditions.

Payne said the culled bison will be sold by sealed bids to producers in Texas, Nebraska and several other states.

“They will be used to bolster their herds and for meat,” said Payne.

He added that the current beef shortage has helped make bison meat “a fairly hot commodity.”

“It’s becoming recognized for its tenderness and as a healthy alternative to beef,” Payne said. “That’s especially true for these animals that just eat the native grass.

Payne said the species of bison from which the Tallgrass herd is derived evolved on these same plains for 5,000 to 10,000 years. Before nearly being hunted to extinction, the last surviving American bison from what is now Oklahoma was killed in 1851 by a group of surveyers.

“That occurred right around where we are now standing,” Payne added.

Preserve Director Bob Hamilton said this year’s roundup follows the same general routine as the first one 21 years ago.

“There have been some improvements made along the way,” Hamilton said. “We’ve changed our pens to make things easier on us and the bison.”

All of the pipe used for the pens, corrals and herding chutes has been donated to the preserve.

“We have the public to thank for so much of what we do here.,” the Tallgrass director said.

A staff of fewer than a dozen persons was involved in the round up, in which gas-fed vehicles have replaced horses in bringing in the bison.

Tallgrass Prairie’s Christina Adams Bison Herd is named for the daughter of Kenneth and Dianna Adams from the Ken-Ada Ranch in Bartlesville. Their 1993 donation of 300 American bison provided a start for the herd that roams the preserve today.

The Nature Conservancy created Osage County’s 39,000-acre ecological sanctuary in 1989 from purchased portions of the former Chapman-Barnard Ranch.

The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, 20 miles north of Pawhuska, represents the largest surviving protected remnant of an ecosystem that once covered portions of 14 states from Texas to Minnesota. More than two centuries of urban sprawl and conversion to cropland have consumed over 90 percent of this once-sprawing landscape.