McDonald - Bison Restoration

McDonald - Bison Restoration - GREAT PLAINS RESEA RCH w a...

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Unformatted text preview: GREAT PLAINS RESEA RCH w. a: meas STUD; '1- w RASKA IW}. maul Winn mus-1'5; ' mammfilh m " GREAT PLAINS RESEARCH Volume 11 Number 1 Spring 2110] CONTENTS EISUN: THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE (IF THE GREAT PLAINS Papers from the Center for Great; Plains Studies’ 24th Annual Intorlzlislrn'pfliHanr Symposium BISDN FDRAGING: CLlhiATE, FEEDING, AND MOVENIENT Carbon and Nin'ogen Isotopes in Areheologieal Bison Remains as Indica- tors of Paleoenvironmental Change in Southern Alberta Jeremy J. Leyden and Gerald A. Oetelaarl Carbon Stable Isotopic Analysis of Bison Dentition R- Mark Larson, Lawrence C. Todd, Eugene F. Kelly, and .le,’ft"n.=.yr M. Welker ................................................................................................. 25 Nutrient Composition at? Grass- anrt Grain-Finished Bbon Martin J. Marehetlo and Jun)»r A. Dnskellofi Where the Buffalo Roamed—(lr Did They? RESTORATION, MANAGEMENT, AND GRAZING POLICY Essay: Bison Restoration in the Great Plains and the Challenge of Their Management Judith L. MeDonaldlfl3 Managing Bisonto Restore lliortiirera-zitg,r Joe C. Trueti, Michael Phillips, Kyran Konkei, and Russell Miller___.....,123 Whai the Past Can Prnvide: Combination of Prehistoric Bison Studies to Modern Bison Management Kenneth F". Cannon.145 A Camille-Mary on Bison and Cultural Restoration: Partnership between the National Wildlife Federation and the InterTribal Bison Cooperative Stephen C. Torhit and Louis Laliosefifi Greer Pin ins Research 1 i ll.” Spring Zflfll l.’ lfl3—2l E! Copyright by the Contact for Great Plains Studies ESSAY: BISDN RESTGRATIUN IN THE GREAT PLAINS AND THE CHALLENGE OF THEIR NMNAGENIENT Judith L. McDonald Eollege oj'Arrs and Letters Henri-iii Static Unit’ersin' Hemidjr'. MN senor Mod @pturibttnjroanet ABSTRACT—Efforts to snvc'rernnant wild bison from extermina— tion have resulted in the establishment of herds on private, public.' and tribal lands. Ironically. their successful restoration has evolved into a profitable agricultural industry and a practical alternative to raising domestic cattle. Bison restoration actively:- managed by humans raises ecological. ethical. and evolutionary.r quest-ions about whether we are compromising their native ability to function in a grasslands ecosystem. hi this ossa}r I examine-current bison management practices. conflicting human values about land-use practices. and emerging Ianda-nse initiatives focusing on wild bison and ecosystem restoration in the northern Great Plains. Kev Woans: bison. grasslands. species diversity. n-ihot lands. values conflicts Introduction The grasslands of the Great Plains extend across It] states, three Cana— dian provinces, nations of Mexico. and lands under the‘jurisdiction of over tit} American Indian tribes. These magnificent grasslands evolved over millions of years under the influence of grazing. fire. and climate {Garlic et al. IQQT} and were stabilized by the equal balanchtg of vegetation. soil. and climate {Weaver 1963}. Bison were the primary grazers until Euro-Ameri— can settlement tDstiie et al. 19%: Lieht 199?}. but cattle and sheep have replaced bison as the dominant grazers {Manning 1995}. Life in theso grasslands is often tenuous because of accumulative environmental. economic. and social changes [Great Plains Committee 1936‘. De fires and Gnizlo 1992]. Bison, once nearly extinct. have made an amaz— ing numerical recovery. Yet. the evolution-of bison restoration into an agricultural industry {Hudson 1993; Hughes [993} raises questions about their genetic divers-it},I and whether their innate characteristics as a wild species will be preserved. Population losses among family farmers and 103 “3'4 Great Plains Research Vol. 11 No. 1, Mill ranchers tLicht 1991'; USDA 1999} and population gains among Indian tribes (Hirschfeider and D'eMontano 1.993, Paisano 1999} raise questions about tlte future of their ways of life and about how the historic range of bison will be used in the future. Large questions remain concerning the appropriate use of land in a region characterized by aridity, frequent droughts, harsh climate, habitat degradation (Sieg et a1. 1999), and large areas with sparse populations. Embedded within each of these questions are a host of interrelated cultural, ecological, philosophical, political, and so— ciological issues concerning bison, humans, and future land use in the Great Plains which must be addressed in this new century. Here 1 focus on bison restoration in the mixed—grass and shortgrass regions of the northern US Plains. My objective is to suggest that bison restoration does not necessarily mean that the bison wiJl survive as a wild species and to demonstrate Plains people have conservation alternatives with which to inspire positive land—use changes for bison and for humans in the Great Plains. Bison Decline and Restoration The Great Plains region has been home Lo :1 close association between bison and various human cultures for centuries (Wedei 1961; Schlesier 1994}. 1rel, it has also been the scene of what Roe { IQTUJ concluded was the final extermination of bison as a “free wild species" during the period from lttfifl to ”330. Since no scientific survey or official census was taiten of the bison population prior to the late lfifltls, attempts to identifyr their numeriea] presence are historical conjecture. Estimates of the bison population during their peak period range from 25 million (White 1991} to T5 million {Seton 1929}. By the last decade of thc I'llth century, these millions of bison had been reduced to fewer than LOW extant animals [Hornaday 133?}. By the end of the iflth century, their estimated numbers worldwide had increased amazingly to nearly 3flfl,llfltl (Fig. l]. Speculatlng about their estimated numbers is less productive ecologi- cally than ascertaining the factors affecting their near demise. Civer time, the causes have been determined to be more complex than originally thought, White {1991}, for example, said “bison were in trouble” by the 134th, less because of over hunting and more because of drought, habitat destruction. competition from exotic species. and introduced diseases. Isenberg {20110) builds on Whiteb conclusions by giving greater emphasis to the variable grasslands environment as well as to the harvesting and marketing activities Bison Restoration in the Great Plains IDS teen 1395 icon was 1913 1933 1951 1932 1969 19s: teen Year Figure [. Estimated US bison population, IHHLJ—TEI'SIEI‘ [data for ltititi in Nomads].- lfifiTtdaIa for 1395 and 1905 in Dar'y 19M: data for £908 and I933jnfian'etson 1933; data for 1951-1992 in Dan: [99? and data For I999 in Albrecht 21110). of both Indian and Euro-American participants. In short, both Indian and Euro—American actions and policies, together with dynamic physical forces within the grasslands environment, led to the near demise ol'hisorn {Mel-[ugh 19H; Flores 1991: 1|iii’hite 199]; Krech 1999; Isenherg 200D}. This, consequently, brought an end to the way of life 1‘ or Plains lndians {White 199i} and opened the way for Euro—American agrarian expansion {Limerick 193?}. This expansion brought family farmers and ranchers into a land that differed from what most of them had left behind. Their stories of perseverance through uncertain climatic, demographic, and economic times are well documentecl [Limerick i931: Maione and Etulain 1939'. White 19%|; West I995). Yet some of their accomplishments, and those of their descendants. have often had negative manifestations: drawdown of under. ground water supplies, soil and water erosion, habitat destruction, and reductions in native fauna and flora (Os-Hie et a]. IGQ‘T}. As the nation has become more urbanized and agriculture has become more industrialised, the number of t‘arniljlr farmers and ranchers has diminished. much like the members of tribal people or bison herds did a century ago. 106 Great Plains Research 1vol. ll No. I. Will Figure 2. Estimated US bison population in I‘J'J‘ST by type ofberd disLt‘ulintt {Albrecht zone}. More than lilii years after the “dwindling.“ as the near demise of the vast bison herds has been called. a remarkable increase in bison population has occurred through the establishment of herds on private. public. and tribal lands l[Fig 2i. Examining current bison management practices dis— closes real philosophical differences among those who raise bison-and it raises justifiable concerns about the lossof species characteristics common to wild bison. My feces here is on private bison herds, because that is where the greatest restoration and. growlh have occurred in the sour century. Bison Management Practices and Loss of Species Characteristics This section focuses on two primary questions: Are bison in private herds being managed to preserve or to alter their innate. natural species characteristics? What difference do the innate characteristics make? Writer Doug Coi‘fman. who restored the Hornadajrr Bison Group {Shell Efiflfll. describes those characteristics as “physical structure. physiology. behavior. and species associations which bear directly-r on their ecological and evolu— tionary potentials" {Coffman Zillilflb}. implicitly embedded in this question. and in Coi‘fmalfs elaboration. is the premise that preservation of the innate characteristics of bison is important to their future as a wild species. 1|iiu’ild. in simple terms. means having, the necessaryI trails to survive and reproduce under natural conditions in their natural ecosystem (Knowles et al. 1993). Bison Restoration in the Great Plains It)? Fred DuEray. executive director for the Pie Hca Ka. lnc.. which man— ages the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe‘s hutTato herd, criticises the practice of raising bison i'or solely practical reasons. without a spiritual foundation. “There has to be a sense of value." DuBray writes. "There has to he a philosophy behind it. ethics. those sott of things" {DuBray 19937393}. Implicit in this question. and in EluEtray‘s philosophical perspective. is the idea of accountability to the forces that support and sustain all life in the Great Plains: the grass. the soil and the water beneath it. the flora and fauna that enrich it. and the humans who devolve from it. ("if the estimated l't'SJJflll bison currently in private herds in the US. an estimated | Hamill. or nearly two~thirds of bison in private herds. are in It} Great Plains states l Albrecht let'llil. chr half of the bison in the Great Plains are concentrated in the nordiern Plains states of South Dakota. Mon— tana. and North Dakota {Albrecht 1999, personal communication). it is noteworthy that bison were nearly exterminated because theyr were regarded as an industrial animal {White 19941“). Their restoration into a practical alternative to raising cattle again makes them an industrial animal. in spite of the commonly cited reasons for making the switch from cattle to bison such as health, economics, environment. and aesthetics {NationaJ Bison Association 1993; Callenbacb Wild: Hudson 1993'. Marchelto Holt; Wnerdiner 1993; Cournoyet' I999: Albrecht fiflflfll. As die demand for bison meat and breeder stock has turned bison ranching into a profitable agricultural indestry, two types of ranchers have emerged. The first treats bison as a commodity. raises them like cattle. and fettetts litern on grain. The second treats bison as wild animals and graves them on grass. Management trends, such as feedlot finishing. dehorning, small herd sizes. skewed sex ratios and selection based on characteristics that alter bison behavior. lead some scientists to say bison are being man— aged as livestock and. therefore. are well on their way to being domesticated {Hudson 1998: Lott 1993: Schneider Will-ll. Fecdlot finishing creates fears that this technology accelerates genetic alterations for domestication and reduces the healthy advantages of bison meat {Hudson IQQEJ. So far. pre— liminary research comparing the nutrient content of meat from grass—fled bison to that of grain—finished animals is inconclusive thiareheilo 1993: Robinson Eflflfl'. Marchello and Briskell Elmo). Artificial selection involves manipulating genetic composition in bison t'rom generation to generation: one direction has been to select animals better adapted to humans and to a captive environment [Lott with}. According to Geist t £996]. bison ranching is nothing more than domestication oi'a wild animal. It makes no difference+ he writes. whether bison are altered deliberately or inadvertently. because 103 Great Plains Research ‘v'ol. ll No. l. Ell-Ell ranching makes bison “tractable and a source of products desired by their owner or the marketplace" (Wild: 12?}. Some bison producers, such as TR. Hughes. object to the notion of raising bison as cattle. Hughes {1993}. for example. favors maintenance of the wild character of bison developed by natural selection and adaptation. and he opposes genetic tinkering and feedlot finishing of bison {Rave 1993}. What is needed. he claims. is a “mindset which works to cooperate with nature. utiliziw the grassland resources to which these animals are so well adapted" (Hughes 1993). Conservation biologists Berger and Cunningham {1994} support Hughes’s view that bison raisers need to recognise and maintain the valu- able traits of bison as wildlife by cooperating with nature. After studying the behavioral ecology of bison at Badlands National Park in South Dakota. they concluded that “Bison in zoos are not the same as the bison we ob- served—frisky. aggressive, shy. social. powerful” {1994:rviiil. The bison held in captivity and under the control of humans behaved differently than bison that were relatively free to range the grasslands. Yet. bison are often isolated in small herds on small tracts of land. making them captive animals much like those in a zoo- Ecologist James Shaw {1993} is among those scientists who believe that bison restoration is largely based on five foundation herds and about T"? animals that have evolved through roughly 17 or 13 generations since their near extermination in the late 1806s. However, the genetic evidence sug- gests that “bison still harbor measurable levels of genetic variability within and between herds" {Shaw 1993}. Many scientists have cautioned that low genetic variability. to the extent that it appears. would limit the potential of bison for future evolutionary change (Lacy 198T; mwin ct al. WEB}. Two biological scientists at the University ot‘Alberta say that “genetic variation wimin and between populations can be affected by population bottlenecks. founder effect. genetic drift and the amount of gene flow between populations" [Wilson and Stroheck 1993:l Ell). A population bottle neck occurred when bison were nearlyI exterminated. A founder effect. created when a small group of animals are removed front a larger herd to start a new one. hears directly on both private and public herds. Two founder effects have been experienced. The first one occurred when a small number of wild bison were. captured to begin private herds {Wilson and Strobeclt 1993}. and the second thunder effect occurred when a small number of animals were taken from private herds to start public herds {Wilson and Strobeclt liliiil}. Genetic drift involves random changes in alleles and occurs Bison Restoration in the Great Plains 1139 when gene flow via the exchange of animals between populations is re stricted. Alleles, according to veterinarian CW. Seeman {20130. personal communication}. are genes that occupy a specific place on a chromosome and determine inheritance. isolating bison on small landscapes, where gene i" low between isolated groups can occur onlyr through artificial migration and human intervention. further erodes genetic diversity [Berger and Cunningham l994j. Bottle— necks and chance events not only lower genetic variability but also limit the evolutionary potential of bison to adapt to changing conditions because natural selection is inhibited by the loss of rare alleles {Berger and Cunningham 1994). Much more genetic information remains to be collected and analyzed by conservation biologists and geneticists from exisling hi5- torie and prehistoric records. The healthiest policy to follow as more is learned about genetic variation in bison, according to Trinity University biologist Karen Chambers {1993), is to manage bison herds by avoiding any incidences of nonrandom selection. The compulsion to tinker through selec- tive breeding means that, for each attribute selected, another trait is inescap— ably lost in the genetic makeup of bison. Bison also have spiritual, aesthetic, cultural, and ecological benefits. For example. bison have been identified by scientists as a keystone species. one that has a critical effect on the ecosystem [Keeler Zflflfll. This fact is significant for bison management practices because humans who breed animals cannot hope to improve upon four billion years ol‘ evolutionary adaptation, that is, nature‘s genetic engineering. “Wherever we compromise this native ability to function. we correspondingly will reduce both produc- tion potential and the long—term health of the ecosystems that support it" Works and Capels 1993:3913). Conflicting Human Values about Land-Use Practices A central tenet of modern humanistic scholarship, according to histo- rian William Cronon {1995:35}, “is that everything we humans do. . . exists in a etinlettl that is historical1 geographical and culturally particular, and cannot be understood apart from that context.“ Plains people mode] well that central tenet, as evidenced in their responses iit focus group discussions {Harwood Group 1996} and in public comments on the Northern Great Plains Grasslands Management Plan {USDA 1993}. I examined these two venues because they offer special insight into conflicting human values associated with life in rural areas of the Great Plains. llt't Great Plains Research Vol. ll hie. 1. mill For a brief time in Ute 1990s a unique organization. the Great Plains Partnership. held the promise of affecting the future of the Great Plains in positive ways. Unfortunately. the organization failed. according to a staff biologist- because of lack of funding. competing priorities. failure to recog- nize the diversity of the western states. and the inherent complexities of the problems being faced [Kirby 2000'. personal communication}. One of the outcomes from the Great Plains Partnership was a eitiaens‘ report on ecosys- tenis management. based on a series of focus group discussions in eight communities in the Great Plains. This report. “A Way of Life" {Harwood Group 1996}. reports four key findings that emerged. First. ecosystems are seen as intimately connected to the lives of Plains citizens through personal health. livelihoods. values. and the next genera— tion. Second. ecosystem management perpleses them because many land— use practices te.g.. chemical applications to crops) threaten their healdt and water supplies. yet dieir way of life depends on these practices. Third, their ecosystem management practices focus on maintaining a way of life, but they believe they are no longer in control of their Future. as evidenced by an eroding ec onomie base. Finally. ecosystem management, they believe. ought to be based on the simple ethical code of individual rights and responsibili- ties (ilarwood Group 199d}- Great Plains citizens in these focus groups seemed to have what was called an intuitive sense for how land-use praetictts and the natural elements affect their lives. On an operational level. however. most seemed uncertain about how to address the paradox of maintaining a way of life without depleting the resources needed to maintain that life. Indeed. they admitted to seldom talking about those ecosystem management tensions. Under— standahly. it is a threatening topic when theyr know from the outset that their way of life is at risk: yet. not talking about...
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