Researchers found that the isolated population of 350 disease-free American plains bison are direct descendants of 20 bison relocated to the area in the 1940s from Yellowstone National Park.
The joint study was conducted by scientists from Utah State and Texas A&M universities. The results of the work were published in the Wednesday issue of “PLOS ONE,” a peer-reviewed open access scientific journal.
“When I say ‘pure’ I mean bison that have not been contaminated with cattle genes,” said professor Johan du Toit of Utah State University’s Department of Wildland Resources. “Most of the bison that are around today, particularly those on private land, are hybrids.”
“We’ve got a very, very special case in that the Henry Mountains bison is actually in fact the only population of bison in existence which is now both genetically pure and is free of the disease brucellosis and is free-ranging on public land co-mingling with cattle and is legally hunted,” du Toit said. “So, we have this very unique population which is one of a kind. It’s a large credit to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, the Bureau of Land Management, and the local Henry Mountains Grazing Association. Over the years, they worked together to conserve this resource.”
The herd’s size is managed through hunting, which started in 1950 and has been held almost annually since 1960. In that time, the coveted once-in-a-lifetime hunts have removed more than 1,600 bison from the herd.