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Archive for Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Drought forces relocation of Kansas bison herd

March 14, 2012

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— A lack of forage caused by the lingering drought in southwest Kansas has forced the state to temporarily move most of its bison from the Sandsage Bison and Wildlife Area near Garden City.

The 40 bison were moved in February to the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge in McPherson County, The Garden City Telegram reported Tuesday.

Tom Norman, area manager for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, said the lack of rain combined with Sandsage's terrain did not provide enough food for the bison.

"I can tell you the normal precipitation is around 18 inches per year. ... We've just had these years that were either below normal or it might have been normal, but we haven't been able to recover or get ahead of it again," Norman said. "So, if you look at any one year in and of itself, it may not be very indicative of what's been going on the last decade, but if you look at the decade as a whole, conditions just haven't been good for forage production."

It is only the second time the Sandsage herd was moved from its 3,670-acre wildlife area since the original herd was brought to the area in 1924. The last time was in 1939 when the herd was moved to Lake Scott State Park, he said.

The size of the herd, which is the oldest publicly owned herd in Kansas, has been steadily reduced since 2002 because of the lack of forage, Norman said.

"And since that time, every year, we've just had to reduce the herd a little bit more because we just haven't had the kind of grass production needed to carry those animals on a sustainable basis," he said.

The 2,500-acre Maxwell refuge has a different type of soil than Sandsage, which provides a lusher prairie, he said.

Ten bison remain at Sandsage. They'll be kept in corral pens and fed hay and protein supplements until enough forage grows in the spring.

Norman hopes the entire herd will be back at Sandsage by the fall.

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