Oh, give me a home – where the Buffalo roam!

by Dave Hanks

BISON lost their home, but, thankfully, they have been brought back from the edge of extinction. This has been done, not only in National and Provincial Parks, but by a few private individuals that hated to see them disappear.

Lands where original Bison herds were common, have since felt the plow. But, domestic crops couldn’t thrive under the harsh conditions that the natural grasses could. Nor could domestic cattle fare as well on those same ranges. The resulting effect has left many areas of the northern plains in desolate condition. Some of those areas are now undergoing rehabilitation in an attempt to return them to their original state.

Some ranchers believe that Bison have some distinct advantages over cattle. I know, from personal experience, that feed costs are what can sink a cattle operation. Bison can skirt this issue, because they can survive winter on the available grass. Cattle require extra winter feed – which can run up operating costs drastically. Bison do need more space, better fences, and you must avoid the temptation to over-stock your ranch. Bison move around better than cattle, utilizing the food source more evenly. Also, Bison can be bred with cattle to produce hybrids known as Beefalos.

One of the most devoted individuals to Bison recovery is Ted Turner. He has used some of his wealth to finance his new found passion. He owns 55,000 head on his 15 ranches. His huge, original ranch is south of Bozeman, Montana.

Restaurants that feature Bison meat realize that people can acquire a taste for Buffalo burgers. Some folks like them better than regular burgers. The meat is leaner and has a lesser cholesterol content.

At home in Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Rocky Mountain High

by Dave Hanks

This title is taken from a John Denver song of a few years back. It is reminiscent of the privileges we have to be able to live “out here” – especially if you value nature and the great outdoors. And we have a lot of special places that one can go to enjoy without making a major excursion across the continent. Some are fairly close to home. I will name a few.

The Hagerman Wildlife Refuge, Boise City Parks, and Market Lake at Roberts; are all good sites to observe waterfowl, non-game swimming birds, and kingfishers. The Centennial Marsh, west of Fairfield, is a favorite spot of ours. Besides the species listed above, there are many wading birds, and a large kestrel population. While there, we also make the short junket east to Silver Creek and the Hayspur fish hatchery at Picabo. All these sites have a nice assortment of water-related species. The Camas Refuge by Hamer, Idaho, not only has the water birds, but we have seen Moose, Elk, Porcupine, Muskrat, Pronghorn, and other mammals there.

Good assortments of forest species are right here in Cassia and Twin Falls Counties: (i.e.) Rock Creek, City of Rocks, Lake Cleveland, and North Heglar Canyon – one of our most productive spots for photos. The Centennial Valley of southwestern Montana is relatively close and has good Moose and Pronghorn populations, along with song birds at the Lakeview Campground. It is also the site for the restoration of the Trumpeter Swan.

We have benefited greatly from lesser known wild spots and wildlife refuges. But of course, Yellowstone and other national parks are well known and visited, The National Bison Range, just northwest of Missoula, Montana, is a place we rank very high. It’s a longer drive to get there, but the rewards are great: Bison, Pronghorn, Elk, Bighorn Sheep, White-Tailed and Mule Deer, Coyote, Black Bear, and an assortment of birds are all there.

I grew up on a farm and have always been a “country boy” at heart. At various times in my life I’ve been called, by some, “a country hick”. Not too complimentary at the time, but I’ve grown to appreciate that fact. Yes I am a country “hick”.

Bison Coming down the drive over the mountain on the National Bison Range

Coming down the drive over the mountain on the National Bison Range

Bison: Remnants from Massive Herds of Yesteryear

The American Bison is not a buffalo. True buffalo are found in Africa and Asia. Bison, like cattle, are bovines. Incidentally cow (or bull) is not a species – they are genders. Bison can breed with our domestic cattle to produce a hybrid. Also, like cattle, they have four stomachs and chew their cud. Bison are the largest North American land animal and parallel our cattle in weight – bulls up to a ton and cows up to eleven hundred pounds.

Bison live on the prairie and on open, mountainous grasslands. They are most active in the early morning or evening (crepuscular), and even on moonlit nights. Mid-day usually finds them resting and cud chewing. This herd-type ungulate (hooves) has deceptive speed. A seemingly slow moving group always surprises me. They can be here and then gone in an amazing short period of time. Adults are a dark brown, but calves are a very attractive light, reddish-brown. At two to three months of age, the young switch to the darker adult color.

Depressions full of dust or mud are used as wallows. The wallowing helps shed hair and fight parasites. Bulls will do more wallowing at rutting time. Shaggy heads and shoulders are adapted to use as snow plows to reach winter feed or to face into blizzards. When faced with predators, calves and cows will move to the center of the herd – or when stampeding, in front with bulls at the rear for protection.

We have experienced Bison in Custer Park of South Dakota, Teddy Roosevelt Park of North Dakota, Canada’s Northwest Territories, and of course Yellowstone National Park. But, we find the National Bison Range, north of Missoula, Montana, to be the most interesting. The range borders the Flathead River. An Indian, by the name of Walking Coyote, hid four calves by the river during the age of the great Bison slaughter – thus the nucleus of this herd. The Bison in this park are managed to keep their range from being overgrazed. Each calf is branded a number according to its year of birth. In October, cowboys from surrounding communities drive the Bison into corrals where they are sorted, calves vaccinated, and an auction is held to dispose of the surplus.

American Bison

A massive front end – a formidable presentation to natural challenges

Beauty without Substance is Hollow!

The miles through Quebec roll on and on. The forests, hillsides, lakes, and streams are exceptionally pretty. But where is the animal life? We have traveled great distances without seeing a thing. What is wrong? Why? Satisfaction has escaped us. Other less glamorous areas, where animals can be seen, are much more enjoyable. As we travel back west through the prairie country, the scenery is less spectacular, but a few mammals grazing the grasslands and waterfowl in every pothole make things so very much more interesting!

The natural earth, with its vegetation and geology, is a glorious place. However, it seems sterile if there is nothing around to utilize the habitat! Fish in the streams, birds in the trees, reptiles scurrying on the ground, and mammals dominating the scene – just make a place so much more interesting. It’s like having a practical application for knowledge, and satisfaction is derived as a result.

The National Bison Range, in northwestern Montana, is an area of modest beauty. It is tremendously appealing though. Its Bison, Bighorn, Pronghorn, deer, and birds make it so. Davis Mountain State Park, in western Texas, is another place of a similar mien. Northern British Columbia is prettier than both, but it’s the caribou, bears, and other fur-bearing mammals that give it substance.

Yellowstone and Glacier parks both have, not only the animal life, but scenic beauty to add to the mix. Many of our parks do, and that’s what makes them such special places. I hold my breath that these unique spots of our earth won’t be desecrated.

Beauty and utility usually go together. It’s when they don’t, that things just are not right.

These Bison add character to mountain scenery