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America's wild buffalo: a comeback?

May 22, 2010 |  1:12 pm

America's iconic buffalo, some say, have made a comeback. But with more than 400,000 bison in mainly fenced, commercial herds in the U.S. and Canada, they are not the free-roaming breed of yore. But today, an attempt is underway to relaunch wild herds on public and tribal lands in Utah, Colorado and South Dakota.

As wildlife advocates push to restore free-roaming herds, they have been held back by the presence of the cattle disease brucellosis in Yellowstone bison. Billionaire Ted Turner, the largest private landowner in the U.S and the owner of the largest private buffalo herd in the world -- 55,000 bison -- is working with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to nurture a brucellosis-free stock of Yellowstone bison, the only large, genetically pure stock.

Under an experimental program getting underway this spring, Turner is housing a quarantined test group of 87 Yellowstone bison at his ranch near Bozeman. If successful, it could be a landmark step toward repopulating the West with truly wild buffalo, not the bison mixed with cattle genes that are typical of the many fenced herds.

That's still a long way from the days that 30 million bison stormed and thrashed across the Great Plains. Read more in L.A. Times reporter Kim Murphy's account.

Photo: Bison that migrate out of Yellowstone National Park in the winter and spring to seek food and give birth are driven back. Officials say it’s to keep them from infecting livestock with a disease. Critics say it’s about keeping bison off grass meant for cattle. Credit: Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times