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New Bison Herd Doing Well in Utah’s Book Cliffs

Utah – -( Last winter, the transplant of 30 bison from the Henry Mountains to the Book Cliffs drew the attention of people across the country.

Bison on the Book Cliffs

DWR biologists know of four calves that have been born into the new herd. So how are those bison doing?

Very well, biologists with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) are happy to report.

“Our surveys this spring and summer have documented not only great survival but also fairly good reproduction,” says Dax Mangus, DWR wildlife biologist.

“[It doesn't appear that any of the 44 bison that we reintroduced in two separate releases died this past winter]. And we’ve seen four calves. That’s a sign of good reproduction and good nutrition. Among the bison we moved, only a few cows were pregnant, [so seeing four calves is great].

“The bison are adapting well to their new environment.”

The Book Cliffs are in east-central Utah.

Two releases

Last summer, the Ute Indian Tribe donated 14 bison to the DWR. Biologists released the bison onto public land in an area in the Book Cliffs that doesn’t have any roads. This area is known as the “Roadless Area.”

In January 2009, another 30 bison were collected from a public herd on the Henry Mountains in southeastern Utah. These bison were released on two ridges in the western area of the Book Cliffs that has roads.

“We put radio collars on eight of the 14 bison we released in the Roadless Area,” Mangus says.

After the bison were transplanted, Mangus says these yearling bulls and cows moved downstream and farther into the Roadless Area.

Within a few weeks, however, almost all of them were seen on the edge of Ute land, or on the tribal land itself. “Human activity during the first few weeks of the hunts likely spooked them off the public lands,” Mangus says. “As the winter progressed, some of these bison moved off the tribal lands and back into the Roadless Area.”

Meanwhile, the 30 bison from the Henry Mountains, which were released in the middle of the winter, stayed close to their release sites. “The exception were a couple of bison that headed down the south slope of the Book Cliffs divide,” Mangus says. “Fortunately, they decided to stay on the south slope. They didn’t try to cross the Cisco Desert and make their way back to the Henry’s.”

Exploring their new homes
As spring moved into summer, the bison began exploring their new homes.

“Four of the eight collared animals from the Ute tribe moved well into the Roadless Area, where they were joined by bison from the Henry Mountains release,” Mangus says. “At least four more from the tribe have checked out the southern slopes, but all of them have since returned to the divide area.

“Our last survey in mid-July showed most of the bison from the original Roadless Area release have moved into the head waters of West Willow and Hill Creek. That puts them on the border of the tribal land, or just inside the tribal boundary.

“From what I could see on my last trip into the Roadless Area, it’s likely that they moved to the tribal land to avoid people. There isn’t much difference in the habitat between the two units, but there is a major difference in the number of people in the two areas.”

Mangus says the largest concentration of bison is in the roaded area near the divide. “This herd includes animals from the Henry Mountain releases, a few left over from a private herd and some bison that have made their way over from tribal land,” he says. “As a result, this herd is a bit larger than expected.

“These animals seem to be more tolerant of people, but that may be because in the Roadless Area, people are on foot or horseback and are easier to see. In the roaded area, most people are partially hidden inside their vehicles. And the vehicles generally follow specific routes along the roads.”

Watch from a distance
Mangus wants visitors to enjoy seeing the bison, but he asks you not to approach the bison too closely.

“These bison are large, wild animals, and they can be dangerous if they’re cornered or spooked,” he says. “We also have a herd of young animals that haven’t become established yet. We don’t want people to frighten them off the areas they’ve found. These areas have good habitat.

“So, if you see them, go ahead and watch, but please keep your distance,” he says. “If you see them start to move or react to your presence, then you’ll know you’re much too close.”

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