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Theodore Roosevelt National Park holds bison roundup in South Unit

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THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK — Native American tribes in North Dakota and around the country will benefit as Theodore Roosevelt National Park reduces the size of its bison herd this week.

Staff at the South Unit of the park are conducting a bison roundup to cull the size of the herd from 500 to about 380 animals.

A majority of the animals will go to supplement herds of various tribes through the InterTribal Buffalo Council, which represents about 60 tribes across 19 states, said Patrick Toomey, range technician for the Rapid City, S.D.-based organization.

“We have a constant need for animals because our tribal herds are being used, they’re being utilized the way they traditionally have been, for food source, for ceremonial purposes,” Toomey said.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe will receive 30 to 40 bison, Toomey said.

The Three Affiliated Tribes are expected to receive five to 10 animals to establish a new bison herd in Twin Buttes, said Tribal Business Council member Cory Spotted Bear. The new herd in the Twin Buttes segment will be in addition to a bison herd in the Mandaree area.

“It’s a livelihood,” Spotted Bear said. “It’s a symbol of bringing local opportunity back to the community of Twin Buttes.”

Other bison will be transported around the country, Toomey said. The partnership with the National Park Service requires the animals to be kept alive for at least a year, he said.

Because Theodore Roosevelt National Park is fenced, officials have to prevent the bison herds from getting too large to ensure there’s enough available forage for the grazing animals, said Blake McCann, wildlife biologist. The target is to keep the herd at about 300 to 500 at the South Unit and less than 300 at the North Unit, he said.

The park held a roundup at the North Unit last year and expects to take next year off, said Eileen Andes, chief of interpretation and public affairs.

This week, park officials are using two helicopters to guide bison toward a corral system at the edge of the park.

“They actually bring them fairly slowly toward the facility so the animals are walking fast, but we don’t want to get them too excited and too agitated,” Andes said.

The bison remain in a fenced-off pasture until they are guided through a series of gates and pens. Each animal is led into a hydraulic squeeze chute, where a veterinarian takes blood samples to verify the bison are disease-free.

Park Service staff also collect hair samples from the tail for genetic testing that is part of an ongoing research project. McCann also determines the age of the animals by looking at their teeth. The yearling and 2-year-olds are candidates for being removed from the herd, McCann said.

Decisions about managing the bison herd are based on research.

“When we manage our bison herd, we use science. Our decisions aren’t made arbitrarily,” Andes said.

About 25 people participated Monday, with each person assigned to a different task to keep the bison moving through efficiently.

“We want to keep things as quiet and low-key as absolutely possible because it’s for our safety and also the safety of the animals,” Andes said.

(Reach Amy Dalrymple at 701-250-8267 or Amy.Dalrymple@bismarcktribune.com)

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