CSU releases herd of genetically pure bison into Soapstone Prairie Natural area and Red Mountain Open Space
Nothing speaks of the culture of the American Frontier like the iconic bison that used to roam this land by the millions. In an effort to restore this culture, the Colorado State University Foothills Campus released 10 genetically pure bison into the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and Red Mountain Open Space on Nov. 1.
The term “genetically pure” refers to bison being without bovine, or cattle, DNA. Most bison herds in Colorado contain anywhere from 2-5 percent bovine DNA. This herd, called the Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation Herd, is the first of its kind to be introduced into this area.
It began about 10 years ago when the city of Fort Collins partnered with the USDA to bring bison back to the Soapstone Prairie. The idea was to reintroduce a culturally significant natural grazer to the area. CSU joined in on this project to bring back an iconic animal to the Wild West.
Seven of the genetically pure animals were born and bred naturally, brought in from Yellowstone National Park. The embryos of the three youngest animals were created in a lab.
More reproductive technologies are being used in wildlife conservation. In the past, they have been used on endangered animals such as big cats and pandas.
Last year, black-footed ferrets were released into the Soapstone Prairie with the help of reproduction technology.
These efforts in wildlife conservation not only aid ecologically but also give visitors a memorable experience.
Jennifer Barfield, special assistant professor in animal reproduction, made the release possible. Barfield and her team created three embryos and transferred them into three female bison. Barfield used a wash on the embryos to prevent brucellosis, a disease that causes early termination of pregnancy. It can be transferred across species — bison can give it to cattle, who can give it to people who work with the animals. It is important to prevent the spread of this disease for that reason. Therefore, reproductive technologies have benefits beyond wildlife conservation.
About 350-400 people gathered behind a yellow rope to share this special moment with the bison. The Crow Nation of Montana, also called Apsaalooké, blessed the herd and chanted the “Welcome Home” song. The local Iron Family from Fort Collins drummed. The Native Americans participating in the ceremony included Ernest House Jr., executive director of Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs in the Governor’s Office; Alvin Not Afraid Jr., secretary of the Crow Nation; Soloman Little Owl and Stanley Pretty Paint, spiritual leader of the Crow Nation.
Large headdresses adorned with feathers waved a top their heads as the bison stomped up dust behind them, and onlookers were brought back to the American Frontier. Tiffani Kelly, assistant director of CSU’s Native American Cultural Center, attended the event.
“Being able to welcome this animal back to its homeland was emotional and spiritual for the Native American community,” Kelly said. She described how important bison were to Native American tribes before European colonization. They provided Native Americans with items essential to their survival, like meat and hide.
“We were excited to share with the larger community how culturally significant this was,” Kelly said.
From the scientists’ perspective, Barfield said, “It was a realization of a dream to see them running across the prairie.”
The bison thundered out of a small corral onto the bright plains that is their new home. It brought back a piece of Colorado history.
“People connect with bison,” Barfield said, and this was Fort Collins’ attempt to bring back an icon of the West.
Barfield and her team want to welcome visitors to the Soapstone Prairie and Red Mountain to take in a piece of American history. Soapstone Prairie is closed December through March, so those interested should visit by Nov. 30. CSU has fundraisers in place to increase the land set aside for theses cultural creatures. ❖
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