Bison herd given spotlight at annual Tallgrass roundup

Mike Erwin |
Outside the former Barnard Ranch headquarters, visitors at Tallgrass Prairie Preserve listen to Harvey Payne, the TPP’s community relations coordinator, during a public tour held earlier this month in conjunction with tbe Osage County nature preserve’s annual Bison Roundup.

Jack Buzbee/J-C correspondent

It’s been a big year for bison. That was the consensus earlier this month during the annual Bison Roundup at Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.

Located on approximately 40,000 acres of rolling bluestem prairie north of Pawhuska, the preserve is home to a herd of 2,700 bison.

So, it’s nearly always a big year for bison at Tallgrass, where members of the massive modern herd are descended from the original herd of 300 was released here in 1993 — a few years after the former ranch property had been acquired by The Nature Conservancy.

Every November for the past 25 years, The Tallgrass bison have been rounded up, weighed, examined and evaluated as part of the preserve’s comprehensive herd-management program. The event has become a way for the Conservancy to build public support for the local herd, as well as for the organization’s mission regarding the conservation of ecologically-important sites.

In May, the American bison was officially named as the national mammal of the U.S. (That federal decree was the original source of the “Big year for bison” comment.)

During the recent bison roundup event, Tallgrass spokesman Harvey Payne spoke about the possibility of the Osage Nation launching a bison operation on property the tribe acquired earlier this year from from conservationist/media mogul Ted Turner.

“The tribe and Mr. Turner are to be applauded for having the courage and fortitude to make it happen,” Payne said, who is the community relations coordinator for the Pawhuska preserve.

Located between Pawhuska and Fairfax, the Bluestem property constituted a vast section of the former Osage Indian Reservation and the purchase returned Osage ownership to the 43,000-acre tract.

Payne called the tribe’s acquisition of the site “a natural fit.”

Regarding Turner’s longtime use of Bluestem Ranch as a bison operation — and public discussions about the possibly of the tribe also doing so — Payne expressed willingness on the part of Tallgrass to assist the tribe, should it decide to pursue a bison operation at the site.

“If they choose to run bison there, we will gladly assist them any way we can,” said Payne. “There’s no need to re-invent the wheel when we’ve been doing it for 30 years.”

Payne said he can appreciate the reported divergence in tribal opinions about how the Bluestem propertys should be used. The Tallgrass propery acquisitions provide a perfect example, he said.

“What we’re doing here today is not what we had originally anticipated, in terms of land use, “Payne said. “There’s always going to be evolution in the thought process.”

This year, The Nature Conservancy’s Oklahoma chapter is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its first project in 1986: Tulsa’s Redbud Valley. The state chapter is making plans to release bison at a 3,000-acre site it recently acqured on southern Oklahoma’s Blue River.