About 200 bison from the herd at Theodore Roosevelt National Park will go to new homes with American Indian tribes, zoos or museums after a roundup at the park’s South Unit this coming week.
“We do this on a regular basis,” said Eileen Andes, the park’s chief of interpretation and public affairs, adding that the roundup alternates between the park's north and south units. The last roundup was in 2017 at the North Unit.
Bison were reintroduced at the western North Dakota park when it was fenced in the 1950s. The herd of 550 in the South Unit will be reduced to 350 for management purposes. Officials try to keep the North Unit bison population at about 200.
The herd is disease-free, suffers little winterkill and has no predators, Andes said.
“When we get too many, we have to reduce numbers,” she said.
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The roundup will take place Sunday through Friday. The bison can't be sold and will be placed with the assistance of the InterTribal Buffalo Council, an organization of 63 tribes that works to restore buffalo to Indian Country. Tribes use the park bison to start herds or restock existing herds, for ceremonial purposes and for nutrition programs.
Bison leaving the park herd must be tested for brucellosis before they can be shipped. Officials will gather blood and hair samples for genetic and other research purposes. Bison play an important role in the ecosystem, Andes said, and "they’re really pretty special to see out in the park.”
The roundup won’t affect visitor traffic in the park but is not open to the public. Most of the herding will be done by helicopter, which visitors might be able to see at times. The public will not have access to the handling facility.
Several national parks in the U.S. have bison herds. Bison from Badlands National Park in South Dakota were brought to Theodore Roosevelt National Park last year to provide some genetic diversity, Andes said.