Minnesota Bison Conservation Herd Reintroduction: Minneopa State Park

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For complete information, see the park plan amendment.

 
Tell me about the Minnesota Bison Conservation Herd.

A bison herd with high quality genetics managed for the public good is being expanded through a 2012 formal interagency agreement between the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Minnesota Zoological Garden.

The partners are working cooperatively to preserve American plains bison with healthy genetics and conserve other prairie wildlife species native to Minnesota. This is the first herd being managed for conservation in Minnesota.

Currently the herd has approximately 130 bison at three different sites Blue Mounds State Park, Minneopa State Park and the Minnesota Zoo. Eventually the herd will grow to a 500-animal population occupying several locations. Genetic testing of the herd from 2011-2014 found them largely free of any genetic material that would have come from cross-breeding with cattle. This makes them rare among modern bison.

What's the difference between buffalo and bison?

True buffalo are native to only Africa and Asia. Historically and culturally this name was used by early French explorers, who called the North American animals "les boeufs," meaning oxen. The name evolved from "boeufs" to "buffelo" and finally to its present "buffalo," with many variations.

Due to its prevalence in pop culture, the term buffalo will be used by some of the public and should not be considered incorrect—just less descriptive.

The most descriptive name for the animals being managed by the Minnesota Zoo and MNDNR is American plains bison.

How was Minneopa State Park selected as the bison reintroduction site?

We developed a set of criteria to evaluate state parks as potential reintroduction sites. Minneopa State Park was chosen based on the following:

  • Large potential audience, with over 200,000 people living within fifty miles of the park.
  • Potential research partners with nearby academic institutions that host complementary academic programs.
  • Landscape features and existing infrastructure that create bison viewing and interpretive opportunities, including the Seppmann Mill overlook and park road.
  • Existence of sufficient remnant and reconstructed prairie, eliminating the need for prairie restoration prior to reintroduction of bison.
  • Ability of bison to aid prairie management more at Minneopa than at other parks considered, by potentially restricting encroachment of woody species.

Where did the bison come from?

Bison reintroduced to Minneopa State Park will come from the existing herd at Blue Mounds State Park and from the Minnesota Zoo, whose bison also originated from Blue Mounds State Park.

Bison may come from other herds that are also managed for genetic quality—such as National Wildlife Refuges and other state park systems—to increase the diversity of the Minnesota State Park bison.

 

How many bison will live on the prairie at Minneopa State Park?

Based on grass quality and production during the 2012 growing season, we estimate that 30-40 bison can be sustained in the proposed bison range at the park. It will take several years to reach this maximum limit.

 

What was done to prepare for the bison?

  • A year-round water source was established by drilling a well.
  • A fence surrounding the bison range was constructed.
  • Archeologist examined the area to make sure no cultural resources were harmed by construction work. Archeological work will be ongoing at Minneopa State Park as scientists learn more about the people who lived in the park long ago.

What kind of landscape changes will I see at the site?

Bison have been an essential part of Minnesota prairies for millennia. Any activity that increases the health of the prairie will also benefit the bison.

Prairie management already occurring at Minneopa State Park includes the removal of shrubs invading the prairie, such as sumac and cedar trees. Prescribed fires are also frequently used to burn dead plant litter and small woody shrubs, while invigorating the soil for prairie plant growth. These actions will intensify as the site is prepared for fence construction.

How is this project funded?

Capital improvements such as new buildings or structures—and most land acquisitions—are typically funded through state bonding requests.

At Minneopa the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) funded road improvements, wetland restorations to provide water for the bison, and interpretive exhibits.

Other resources are available for interpretation, outreach, and natural resource projects, including revenue from state park operations and Legacy Amendment funds.

Who else is involved with the bison reintroduction?

There is a partnership between the DNR's Division of Parks and Trails and the Minnesota Zoo to work cooperatively on bison conservation. Through this partnership, we are working together on conservation and interpretive efforts for bison and prairie wildlife species native to Minnesota.

The Minnesota Zoo will help manage genetic data about the herd, provide technical assistance regarding bison management, and host several bison onsite at the zoo as part of Minnesota's greater conservation herd.