The U.S. Forest Service’s Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, the National Forest Foundation (NFF), and other partners and volunteers welcomed in the arrival of 27 American bison at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie on the morning of October 23.
“We are proud to be a part of bringing these iconic animals to their natural environment in Illinois and appreciative of the partnerships that made this possible,” said Mary Mitsos, interim NFF president.
The first bison to arrive at Midewin came from Colorado Oct. 14. Four bison bulls were transferred to Midewin by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, located at the National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins, Colo. The bulls, one 2-year-old and three 3-year-olds, will help grow the herd at Midewin.
On Oct. 20, 23 bison cows arrived at the Prairie from the Buffalo Country Buffalo Ranch in Gann Valley, South Dakota.
“Once the bison arrived at Midewin, they were kept in a secluded area inside the new bison corral. Midewin staff monitored them for a few days as they settled into their new home. On Oct. 23, they were released into one of four pastures, located near State Route 53 and the Iron Bridge Trailhead area,” said Wade Spang, Prairie Supervisor.
While a large public event is being planned for spring 2016, Midewin staff understands that people are very eager to see the bison.
The bison may now be visible to the public. However, due to the vast size of the pasture system and the rolling topography, spotting bison depends where they choose to spend their time. Visitors may or may not see the animals on any given day because of the herd’s location.
“Midewin staff and a trained group of volunteers are available to discuss the bison introduction project with visitors at our Welcome Center and the Iron Bridge Trailhead area,” said Wendy Tresouthick, Midewin environmental education specialist. Information and maps will be available at both locations.
Visitors are encouraged to begin their visit to Midewin at the Welcome Center located between Wilmington and Elwood along State Route 53. The Welcome Center is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday, and will be open Saturday and Sunday starting Oct. 24 through Nov. 1 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. After Nov. 1, the Welcome Center will be closed until spring.
The Iron Bridge Trailhead, located 2.9 miles north of the Welcome Center, is the main access point to the bison area. A staffed information station will be open between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays starting Oct. 24 through Nov. 8. Visitors may also touch a bison hide and skull, borrow binoculars for viewing bison, and experience other hands-on learning opportunities at this location.
A self-guided trail leads visitors from the information station to the bison pasture fence line, where you might see bison grazing. Be aware that depending on your route, you may have to hike or bike one to 2 miles in an effort to view the bison.
Organized groups or families may also borrow one of Midewin’s “bison boxes” full of educational materials. The box also includes Midewin artifacts, pictures and information suitable for teachers or youth leaders to conduct a self-led educational hike on the Prairie.
Part of the on-going prairie restoration at Midewin includes introducing American bison to graze on an experimental basis on approximately 1,200 acres of fenced pasture located within the Prairie’s 19,000 total acres. In keeping with the Midewin Prairie Plan, the experiment will provide information on how bison improve the diversity of native vegetation on restored prairies, compared to similar prairie restoration sites without bison. Midewin staff will also monitor how bison grazing on restored prairie provides suitable habitat for a suite of grassland birds. The bison introduction effort is a partnership between the National Forest Foundation, Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and other local and regional organizations.
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