Texas' historic bison herd has more roaming room

Published on Saturday, 23 August 2014 23:28 - Written by

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AMARILLO, Texas (AP) — The state's historic bison herd just got more room to roam in a West Texas park.

About 100 bison descended from the Southern Plains herd now have access to 10,000 acres in Caprock Canyons State Park. Park staff last week opened the acres up to the animals that are members of the Official Texas State Bison Herd.

The expansion is a big step in a program that started widening the animals' access starting in 2010.

The herd is now wandering on prairie its ancestors used before hunting nearly wiped them out.

In 2003, media tycoon Ted Turner donated three bulls to help the herd, which had gone through more than a century of inbreeding that threatened its survival. At the time, the herd had dwindled to 53.

The bison had to be coaxed onto their expanded range by feed trucks, park superintendent Donald Beard told the Amarillo Globe-News ( ).

"And when they saw the bison metal cutouts, they took off running to them," he said of an art installation in the park. "When they figured out they weren't really bison, they moved on."

The animals eventually settled into an area of about 200 acres.

"They've been there for three days," Beard said. "I was told that's what they'd do."

The Texas herd was started in the 1870s with five bison calves captured by Charles Goodnight, one of the most prosperous cattlemen in the American West, with more than 1 million acres of ranch land and 100,000 head of cattle at his peak.

His wife urged him to save the bison, also known as buffalos, because hunters were killing them by the hundreds of thousands for their hides and meat and to crush American Indian tribes who depended on the animals for food and clothing.

The herd was donated to the state in 1997 and moved to 330 acres of the state park, which was once part of Goodnight's JA Ranch between Lubbock and Amarillo.

When the Transcontinental Railroad was built across the United States in the 1800s, the bison — which are believed to have numbered in the tens of millions — were split into what was known as the Northern and the Southern herds.

Information from: Amarillo Globe-News,

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