NPR has the story about a German prince who is on the verge of fulfilling a decades-old dream to release wisents – also known as European bison – into the wilds of Western Europe.
Prince Richard of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg, a 78-year-old logging magnate, plans to release a bull, five cows and two calves into a 30,000-acre forest he owns in North Rhine-Westphalia.
But the prince and the wisent’s supporters are running resistance that might sound familiar to many Montanans:
“We were skeptical because we weren’t given enough information,” says Helmut Dreisbach, a cattle farmer and vice chairman of the Farmers’ Association of Siegen-Wittgenstein. “How will the animals react? Will they stay in a particular area or will they move onto working farmland?”
At the Montana Legislature lawmakers are grappling with similar concerns as wildlife groups, conservationists and Indian tribes seek to restore genetically-pure bison herds to the prairies American bison once called home.
Cattle ranchers are resisting the efforts and lawmakers are considering a host of bills aimed at restricting the translocation of bison. One bill even allows landowners to shoot bison that wander onto their property.
Sen. John Brenden, sponsor of the so-called “zero-tolerance” bison bill, doesn’t think there’s room on Montana’s landscape for the native grazers:
“I don’t think we can have free-roaming bison in today’s modern society. That’s the bottom line,” Brenden said.
At one time tens of millions of bison roamed the Great Plains of North America. Today the American Prairie Reserve estimates there are fewer than 7,000 genetically pure, non-hybridized bison left. Returning free-roaming, genetically pure bison to the Great Plains is a dream of many, and the he group is working to create a 3 million-acre grassland reserve in northeastern Montana.
As Clayton B. Marlow, a professor of rangeland science and management at Montana State University, told NPR, reintroducing wild bison, whether in Montana or in Germany, presents a unique set of challenges:
“We can’t release either population onto a landscape and rub our hands with satisfaction and walk away,” he says.
Marlow said precautions have to be taken with the European bison to ensure they don’t transmit diseases to local cattle or vice versa, a concern ranchers in Montana also have.
According to NPR, Prince Gustav is hoping for is a herd or two of 15 to 25 animals.
“If it doesn’t work we will have to take them away, but it will work,” he says. “If we leave them alone it will work.”