Away from the Grind

Bison at Soapstone Prairie

by Roger Ludwig

Ten genetically pure bison will be returned to the grasslands of Soapstone Prairie and Red Mountain Open Space on November 1, 2015.

The release of the bison, known as the Laramie Foothills Conservation Herd, is a joint project of the City of Fort Collins, Larimer County, Colorado State University and the US Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Inspection Service. 

The goal, established in the Soapstone 2007 management plan, is to restore the prairie to as nearly a natural state as possible while allowing recreation and ranching. The CSU Warner College of Natural Resources will study how bison contribute to the ecosystem as they graze, fertilize and aerate the soil. They will be comparing the areas grazed by bison to those grazed by cattle.

Justin Scharton, Environmental Planner for the City of Fort Collins and the head of the bison project explained that “In contrast to cattle, bison will typically travel further from water, graze both desirable and less desirable grass species, and are hardier than cattle and can thrive in less ideal conditions.”

This project continues the re-wilding efforts that led to the restoration of black-footed ferrets to the eastern section of Soapstone in 2014.

Recreational use

Recreation trails will remain open to hiking and mountain biking. According to Zoe Shark, Natural Areas Community Relations Manager, “The first three miles of the Cheyenne Rim trail has been rerouted to provide a better view of the pasture and to provide a single track experience.” 

For the safety of visitors and to contain the bison a 1,000 acre pasture has been fenced. Shark added that “it is south and west of the Soapstone Prairie entrance gate, viewable from the road that approaches the Natural Area.” 

Soapstone, a popular area for hiking and mountain biking, is along the Wyoming border adjacent to Cheyenne’s Belvoir Ranch property.

Bison Genetics

Genetically the bison, according to the Fort Collins web site, are pure Yellowstone National Park animals. Many bison across the country have interbred with cattle.

Because Yellowstone bison cannot be relocated due to concerns about brucellosis transmission, reproductive technology has been utilized. “Genetically pure and brucellosis-free embryos are implanted into brucellosis free (but not genetically pure) bison mothers. Thus the genetics of the Yellowstone herd are no longer restricted to that area.”

Welcome Home Ceremony

Several events are planned for the Sunday, November 1 reintroduction.

10 a.m. – noon – Ceremony: See bison and enjoy family-friendly activities; remarks and project presentations will be at 11 a.m. National Wildlife Research Center, 4101 LaPorte Ave., CSU Foothills Campus, Fort Collins. Free, no registration required.

12:15- 5 p.m. – Field Trip: Visit the bison pasture to see the release. Includes free roundtrip bus ride from National Wildlife Research Center and a two-mile, moderate hike to a viewing point. No personal vehicles are allowed due to parking limitations. Registration is currently full but you may join the waitlist at www.naturetracker.fcgov.com 

5:30 p.m. – Celebration: Toast the bison with a Prairie Thunder Imperial Brown Ale at Pateros Creek Brewery, 242 N.College Ave. Beer proceeds support the bison project. No registration required.

If you go…

To travel to Soapstone Prairie from Cheyenne go south on I-25 to exit 288, Buckeye Road. Go west on Buckeye until it dead ends at Rawhide Flats Road (CR 15). Turn right and continue until you enter the open space and reach the parking lots. Entrance is free. Toilet facilities are available but there is no drinking water. Trail maps are typically available near the parking area showing the fifty plus miles of hiking and biking paths. Dogs are not allowed. 

For more information about Soapstone see www.fcgov.com/naturalareas/finder/soapstone.

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