The National Bison Range

R0002096If you happen to be in Montana, driving between Kalispell and Missoula or vice versa, I recommend you take a few hours and swing by the National Bison Range.

Encompassing a low range of grassy mountains at the south end of the Mission Valley, the bison range is a beautiful place.  It has been managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service since 1908, when then president (and honorary president of the American Bison Society) Theodore Roosevelt designated it as such.  It was started with bison purchased from Charles Conrad, one of the prominent early residents of Kalispell.  These bison came to live in the Flathead, not a traditional home of bison, when a Pend d’Oreille man returned from a hunt east on the plains with four bison calves in tow.  That was in 1872.  12 years later fewer than 400 wild bison were still alive in the United States.  By 1908 the total population had grown a fair bit, due mostly to private herds like Conrad’s, but also to the presence of the US Army preventing poaching in Yellowstone National Park.  The bison did well on the range, and by the late 20s 28 bison were shipped north to Alaska, to start what is now the robust and wild Delta Junction herd.

R0002098oday the bison range is home to around 400 bison, and in early summer the bulls, not yet in rut, are content to hang out in plain site down low where the best dust wallows are to be found.

For us the range is perfect, and M at 8 months pregnant is not interested in hiking very far.  In most of the range you cannot leave your vehicle, something recent events in Yellowstone certainly endorse.  So bring binoculars and spend leisurely time looking at the coolest mammals on earth.

R0002103The range in good habitat for the full complement of native ungulates, including 1 month old pronghorn.  Elk, both deer sub-species, and bighorn sheep are also common sights.

As a hunter I can’t look at sights like these without something of an anti-Buddhist longing and sense of infamy, but at the same time hunting has made me appreciate patience and observation, and made my game eye much better.  We saw pronghorn pairs, like the one above, a half mile away up on the hills.  It’s sad to admit that in seven years of living nearby, this was only our second visit.  Surely that record will get better soon.

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3 thoughts on “The National Bison Range

  1. I started researching the local herd in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge after I read the “Bring bison back” post. I came across some American Bison Society reports on archive.org that contain some turn of the century bison census figures, scouting trip reports for future herd locations, and final reports for herd re-introductions.

    Scouting the Flathead – https://archive.org/stream/report__1190507amer#page/n25/mode/2up

    1920 Census – https://archive.org/stream/report191920amer#page/28/mode/2up

    Packing instructions by William Hornaday – https://archive.org/stream/report__1190507amer#page/62/mode/2up

    1. Fantastic stuff. There used to be bison in Golden Gate Park!

      The present location is a great one for the bison range, and it was nice they Society was able to get their first choice. I find it interesting they were considering Wild Horse Island, as the State of Montana later acquired it and introduced a herd of bighorns, which have done very well and provided many of the sheep used to repopulate other areas of the state.

  2. Not nearly as big as the herd in Montana, but the USF&W has a herd on a refuge outside of Denver. In fact, IIRC, the “seed” herd came from the refuge mentioned in MT. Nice to see them back on the high plains. There are plans to reintroduce them Soapstone Prairie outside of Ft. Collins, CO within the year as well. As you said, awesome animals.

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