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Where the Buffalo Roam

Artists for Conservation

With all the recovery efforts put forth by managing and monitoring the wilds, isn't it great when wildlife does it on their own, setting their own course and thumbing their collective noses at us? It further proves the resilience of wildlife in overcoming obstacles and expanding their territory, or in this case, escaping the human domain.

Recently, a mystery herd of bison was revealed on the northwestern edge of the great basin in the Wallowa Mountains. Almost all of the North American Bison herds are managed and in captivity, whether it be in parks for the public or in ranches for commercial use. Basically, all the buffalo are accounted for. But not so, as a spokesman for the National Bison Association believes these bison are the only independent wild herd in North America.

This herd of about 25 head is free roaming in such a remote place that it is unknown how long they have been free, but it is clear that they are completely wild. According to field biologists, they have been successfully breeding and calving, which means the herd will grow. They are rarely encountered by people, although it is reported that heavy snowfall at higher elevations will cause them to show up in lower pastures. Fences do not apply to the movements of the herd, since a buffalo can leap over a six foot fence, or more often than not, just flatten it.

Their appearance is significant because bison have commercial value and the herd remains unclaimed. Ranchers in the area deny any connection to the animals, and without ownership, the errant buffalo herd remains in legal limbo because they are grazing without grazing rights!

Local landowners report one old bull ejected from the herd that wandered about for awhile, and then vanished into the northern mountains, never to be been seen again. Another encounter found 10 bison foraging near a small band of wild horses at about 5,000 feet in elevation.

In the sprawling wilderness of Wallowa County, Oregon, this rogue buffalo herd seems to mix easily into the populations of immigrant moose, elk, bear, eagles, cougar and two packs of gray wolves. So now the "wild west" has a little more "wild" in it, assuming that humans will let them be.

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Besides the American West, there have been notable wildlife anomalies in the East. According to news reports, a mountain lion was seen last July near Canton, Ohio, and again nearby in the small town of Louisville. Another sighting was claimed in Connecticut, with the lion being traced back to South Dakota!

Wildlife does not sit still, and it will be interesting to see how the urban overlaps play out in the future. After all, peregrine falcons seem quite content nesting in New York City high rises, deer are extra emboldened lately, and coyotes are always nipping at the heels of humanity.

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