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Bison at Soapstone
Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation Herd Project

 

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Preserving an Icon

Established on Nov. 1, 2015, the Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation Herd began as a collaborative effort between Larimer County, the City of Fort Collins, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and Colorado State University. The herd originated with ten individuals, each with a genetic lineage from the remaining wild bison of Yellowstone National Park, which also show no evidence of having bred with cattle. The Laramie Foothills herd is intended to serve as a genetic source for other bison herds where their valuable genetics may strengthen the gene pool within the receiving herd and/or contribute to genetic conservation of the species as a whole.

Unfortunately, due to brucellosis, an introduced disease that is now endemic in the Yellowstone area, it is not as simple as just taking animals from Yellowstone and moving them around to establish other conservation herds without extensive quarantine. Colorado State University researchers use assisted reproductive technologies (ART) to generate offspring with these valuable Yellowstone genetics. These technologies include artificial insemination, in vitro embryo production, embryo transfer, and techniques for washing embryos and sperm to prevent transmission of disease. There is no genetic engineering involved in this project. The technologies have been used to preserve and propagate the naturally occurring genetics of Yellowstone bison. Calves produced using these techniques, as well as naturally bred and born bison under the care of USDA-APHIS, were founding members of the Laramie Foothills herd.

This project also seeks to restore the prairie on which bison depend. Of course, bison play an important role in balancing the health of this valuable ecosystem. Scientists from the Warner College of Natural Resources at CSU are studying how bison reintroduction effects plant and animal populations on the prairie.

Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and Red Mountain Open Space are public spaces providing viewing opportunities between March 1 and Dec 1. Staff from these programs, along with collaborators from the Denver Zoo and the Warner College of Natural Resources at CSU evaluate how bison influence visitation and how the presence of bison affects how visitors connect with the landscape.

Bringing bison back to this space was also important for local indigenous communities. The partners of the Laramie Foothills Bison Herd respect and honor the presence of the bison in a space that has historical meaning for Native American tribes. We hope this project provides a space where connections with this animal and land can be re-established. Some of our bison have been given to tribes in support of their efforts to grow their own herds and foster that connection on their own lands. This continues to be part of our mission.

Since their re-establishment on the prairie, the Laramie Foothills herd has flourished. In just 5 years the herd has grown to approximately 100 animals, though numbers will fluctuate from year to year, and they now range on approximately 2700 acres. This growth is the result of introduction of new bison and a lot of natural breeding. The first generation of calves born on the prairie are now having calves of their own! We invite you to visit them and watch them grow with us. They can be seen at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, from the entrance road, the south parking lot, or the Cheyenne Rim trail. Please note that sometimes they may not be in a visible area or at a distance from the viewing points. Bring binoculars, just in case.

The care of the bison is supported by donations and we are grateful for all support. If you would like to donate to help us continue our work, visit advancing.colostate.edu/bison.

-Download the Bison Days scavenger hunt for kids!

 

 Project News

 
  • newborn bison
    ​A bison calf born at CSU in early June 2015 will find his home on the range with the Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation Herd. CSU contributed assisted reproductive technologies to the project that will restore disease-free bison - with Yellowstone genetics - to northern Colorado open space in fall 2015.​​​
  • Bison at Soapstone
    CSU scientists, local land managers and Native Americans prepped for a reintroduction of bison on public grasslands with a commemorative microbrew!​​​​
  • Bison Soapstone project
    As part of the project to return American bison to the prairie, students in the Warner College of Natural Resources are studying the effects of bison release on the animal's former stomping grounds in northern Larimer County. ​Collaborators at the Denver Zoo are investigating public perception, as well as agricultural stakeholder opinions and concerns, as a result of the bison reintroduction.​​​
  • reproduction, bison
    As of Nov. 1, 2015, American bison returned to northern Colorado with help from our advanced reproductive technologies. This exciting conservation and restoration project gave a herd of 10 genetically valuable and disease-free animals 1,000 acres to roam and graze.​​​​​
  • Bison at soapstone release
    ​​Science and ceremony joined as American bison with distinctive bloodlines returned to the grasslands of northern Colorado. The wildlife conservation project employs CSU reproduction science and is cheered by Native Americans with cultural and spiritual ties to bison.​​
  • native american, bison, arbl, soapstone prarie
    Before the CSU team moved the Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation Herd to its new prairie home, a Native American elder and drummers offered an ancient blessing ceremony for animals and scientists alike. It was one part of Native participation in the bison project.​
  • bison calf
    Just as the American bison officially became our national mammal, two bison calves were born to a conservation herd on public grasslands near Fort Collins. CSU is providing assisted reproductive technologies for the bison project.​​
  • bison
    We’re celebrating the one-year anniversary of the Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation Herd on public lands in northern Colorado. The herd has a hoof-hold and already is contributing heirloom genetics to conservation projects nationwide.​​