Last week I told you about how the American bison herd was decimated in the 1800s and brought to the edge of extinction. I love researching this and sharing it with you. We went from some 30 million bison down to a small number right down the highway in Yellowstone National Park.
In the early 1900s many people – especially hunters and other sportsmen – were alarmed at the rate that various species were being hunted to extinction. Many of the animals were not hunted for their meat or hides. Instead, they were killed purely for sport with stories of eastern dudes shooting rifles from train platforms and leaving the carcasses behind to rot.
Because so many American Indian tribes relied on the bison, killing large numbers was also viewed as a way to get the tribes under control and forced onto the reservations.
In 1907 – 10 years before the National Park Service even existed – some 28 head of bison in the park were relocated from the Mammoth Hot Springs area of the park to the Lamar Valley. A ranch was created, and semi-domesticated bison from other parts of the country were brought in to supplement the herd. While there were some differences in the DNA of the two groups, they were still bred successfully at the “Buffalo Ranch.”
Historians say bison were ranched for close to 50 years in Lamar Valley until the fences were removed and the animals were allowed to roam freely. Today approximately 4,600 bison exist in Yellowstone National Park and are a constant reminder of a true conservation success story.
The ranch is now home to a ranger station and the field campus of the Yellowstone Association Institute (YAI). If you ever get a chance, I recommend participating in a seminar with YAI.
Today there are many bison ranches in the West, and the meat is served in restaurants all over. Ted Turner even has a chain of restaurants specializing in bison meat. I notice that many Cody restaurants serve bison and its lean meat is very popular with some my friends.
I always get a kick out of something that initially seems like a contradiction but makes sense when you think about it. Namely, the more popular bison is as a food, the better it is for the species as a whole. In other words, the more bison that are raised and slaughtered for food the harder ranchers work to raise more of them and keep their herds healthy.
Until next week, I am lovin’ life – and good bison burgers — in Cody, Wyo.