The American Bison, pictured here, is the heaviest land animal in North America and the second tallest after the moose. Before First Encounter, bison roamed an area from northern Alaska to northern Mexico and east to the Atlantic Seaboard. At their peak, over sixty million animals shared the grazing grounds that included Missouri.
Bison remained present in small herds throughout Missouri in the late-1600s, but herd populations steeply declined by the 1840s due to increased human activity. European Americans had expanded westward across the state, causing habitat loss and introducing bovine diseases as they began farming and ranching operations. Meanwhile, non-Indigenous hunting and demand for bison products increased pressure on existing herds. By 1889, Missouri newspapers reported Bison were exterminated in the state and fewer than 550 animals remained in the entire country.
Bison remained extinct in Missouri until efforts by conservation groups reintroduced them in the 2010s. In 2011, Dunn Ranch in northern Missouri, which owns 1000 acres of natural virgin prairie, welcomed thirty-seven genetically pure animals to restore the ecological process on the ranch. That herd has grown to over 200 bison managed in two herds. Today, there are an estimated 1800 animals located in approximately fifty-two different small herds in the state, including 100 genetically pure animals at Prairie St. Park.
Since 1900, similar efforts have increased the herd population in the United States to over 350,000. Today, the U.S. National Bison Association, the Nature Conservancy, and the Inter-Tribal Bison Council work to reestablish genetically pure herds dispersed across the bison’s original grazing area. Missouri ranchers and conservation groups play an essential role in reintroducing bison herds in the state in cooperation with these organizations.
Categories: Natural Enviroment
Subject: Bison; Animals
Contributing Institution: Missouri State Parks - Prairie State Park
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Photograph Date : 2010
Evolutionary Origin : 300,000 to 130,000 years ago