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Bison Coming to Utah's Book Cliffs
January 25, 2008.
From the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
In November 2007, the Utah Wildlife Board approved a plan that includes a transplant of 45 bison into Utah's Book Cliffs.
The management plan outlines in detail how the massive animals will be moved from their current range on the Henry Mountains and reintroduced to their native range on public land in the Book Cliffs.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) adhered to Utah's Wildlife Code when preparing the bison management plan and coordinating the transplant.
The first phase of the bison transplant was scheduled to occur in January 2008 but was delayed. Weather conditions and snow depths interfered with access to potential release areas, and the DWR wanted a more comprehensive plan for disease testing. The Uintah County Commission also requested a delay to the transplant project.
A cooperative effort
Although two years were spent on the actual management plan, many people and groups worked together for decades to make the transplant possible.
Sportsmen, ranchers, the DWR, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Nature Conservancy and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation all united to improve and secure wildlife habitat in the region. Ranches were purchased from willing sellers, grazing was leased, livestock distribution was enhanced and thousands of dollars of range improvements were completed (with more planned for the future).
A committee of 16 local stakeholders was formed to help develop the Northern Book Cliffs Bison Management Plan. This committee included a rancher who would be affected by the transplant, sportsmen, and representatives from oil and gas companies, the Ute tribe, the county commissioners, the BLM, the State Institutional and Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) and the DWR.
The cooperative organizations also reached agreements to ensure that the presence of bison would not restrict energy development in the region.
The public input and approval process
Before the Book Cliffs bison plan was approved, it was posted on the DWR's Web site for public comment. It was also presented across the state of Utah to all five Regional Advisory Councils (RACs).
The RACs are citizens' committees that listen to all public and interest group input before voting on wildlife-related issues. After the RAC assesses the public's concerns, its members vote on the issues and send a recommendation to the Utah Wildlife Board.
The Wildlife Board is made up of representatives from across the state. Appointed by the governor, board members give direction and decide policy for the DWR.
All five RACs approved the bison management plan and recommended that the Wildlife Board approve it as well. After reviewing the RAC recommendations and additional public input, the Wildlife Board passed the plan on November 29, 2007.
Bison and the Book Cliffs
Bison are native to the Uinta Basin, including the Book Cliffs. Accounts from early explorers and trappers place them on both the north and south slopes of the Uinta Mountains and in Browns Park. There are images of bison in Native American rock art throughout the Book Cliffs, and many bison skulls have been unearthed in the region.
The DWR expects to begin the bison transplant within the coming year, as soon as disease protocols have been refined and transplant conditions are favorable.
The DWR does not anticipate bison will wander far from release sites or leave the Book Cliffs. Any bison that move to areas outside the bison management plan will be removed by herding, transplanting or hunting.
In the meantime, residents of Grand, Uintah and Duchesne counties can look forward to the day when they host one of the few free-ranging bison herds in North America.
To review the Northern Book Cliffs Bison Management Plan, visit the DWR's Web site at wildlife.utah.gov/hunting.