Garric Baker | 09.07.2018

Rounding the bend, weaving the hills, and descending into a valley at Wind Cave National Park, a cool fog falls over a herd of grazing American bison. The beasts amble through the short grasses that remain from the rolling green hills of an earlier season. They grunt and gurgle as the sound of the crisp grass snaps and brushes against the hooves of these thousand-pound animals. The offspring of these bison helped establish herds all across the United States and Canada because they are some of the most genetically pure stock.

Through coordinated efforts of various interested stakeholders and conservation groups, these bison are carefully managed to preserve a wide variety of American Bison DNA. Younger calves are often transported away from the national park and onto other preserves throughout different states to provide different DNA to the herds across the continent. The remaining animals live in their natural habitats and are monitored to ensure that a plethora of strains of DNA populate the herd. Older beasts and excess offspring are culled annually from the herd and sold to private entities. The culling of animals allows preserves like this to maintain a healthy carrying capacity so that the wildlife, bison and other animals, along with the habitat and ecology, can co-exist in a balanced environment. 

Efforts like this have brought the American bison back from a point of near extinction after over hunting and loss of habitat during the late 1800s and early 1900s. However, these conservation efforts can be costly, time consuming, and labor intensive. The herds are worked annually where DNA samples, namely strands of hair from the tails, are logged and recorded to lay the groundwork for the genetic balance.

Places like Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park, and the Black Hills National Forest have even established Bison Adoption programs where guests and visitors can symbolically adopt a bison and contribute to the efforts of the preservation of this American icon of the Wild West. If you would like to adopt a bison, visit their website to make your donation today. A $35 adoption to the Black Hills Parks Association comes with options of a plush bison or a baseball cap. 

For additional information and history on the American bison, NETNebraska has published an inspiring 12-minute video detailing the conservation efforts and continued preservation in "Return of the American Bison."

Be sure to research additional adoption programs nearest you to contribute to the preservation of this American icon for generations to come.


To Howard - Today's herd in Wind Caves NP originated from only 20 bison, some of which were from Yellowstone's herd. In most regards, they are genetically similar. They have higher genetic diversity to other plains bison. A few other areas in North America technically have wild populations of plains bison including Pink Mountain and Prince Albert National Park in Canada and the Henry Mountains in Utah.
Thanks for the article. How are Bison in the locations mentioned here genetically different (or similar) from those in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem? It is my understanding that the Yellowstone Bison are the only 100% genetically pure Bison left in North America? Just wondering - thanks!
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