Challenges to Bison Migration Conservation

I wrote an article about mammal migrations that was published back in 2016 that I had originally written as a paper for my undergrad mammalogy course. The great thing about an education is that is really challenges you to think about the subjects you’re studying in different ways. In this case, it got be thinking about some of the conservation challenges that aren’t automatically floating around in our brains. I’m going to include a little bit of information here from that paper regarding one of those species I’ve had the privilege to photograph: bison.

“Mammal migration between seasonal ranges can consist of relatively short distance migrations of a single individual as well as massive migrations involving thousands of individuals in a population. Understanding the varying migratory habits among species requires detailed information of specific routes and stopover sites. Studying and preserving this behavior is vital but challenging, as both natural and anthropogenic threats exist to migrants. Disjointed management prevents comprehensive solutions from being implemented to protect migratory species in North America. Additional research that takes into consideration all factors of migration and accounts for the uniqueness of animal movement patterns is essential for developing and executing conservation strategies that can prevent further extinction or endangerment of migratory behaviors.”

North America is home to several of the remaining mass migrations, including that of caribou ( Rangifer tarandus ), elk ( Cervus elaphus ), bison ( Bison bison ), and pronghorn ( Antilocapra americana ) (Berger, 2004, p. 320; Harris, et al., 2009, p. 55).  North American Bison undergo a significant annual migration, although 75% of their traditional migratory routes are now gone or imperiled.

North America is home to several of the remaining mass migrations, including that of caribou (Rangifer tarandus), elk (Cervus elaphus), bison (Bison bison), and pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) (Berger, 2004, p. 320; Harris, et al., 2009, p. 55). North American Bison undergo a significant annual migration, although 75% of their traditional migratory routes are now gone or imperiled.

“Protecting the migratory routes for North American mammals is vital. Although under-researched, the connection between ungulate migrations and ecosystems suggests that ungulate grazing can have a great impact on ecosystems (Bolger, Newmark, Morrison, & Doak, 2007, p. 63). This makes the protection of ungulate migrations valuable for the ecosystems they inhabit and travel through.”

This is very important! It’s something I’m lucky enough to see first hand at Nachusa Grasslands because I only live about an hour away. This amazing preserve has reintroduced bison to Illinois. And although they’re kept in (very large) corrals so they’re unable to migrate, the impact they’re having on the prairie is substantial. Researchers are learning a lot from their reintroduction!

“Some of the most significant threats to North American populations include livestock, agriculture, fencing, roads, and other anthropogenic barriers that prevent or limit access to forage or water along migratory routes (Harris, et al., 2009, p. 55; Bolger, et al., 2007, p. 63).”

Krey, C. (2016). "Challenges to Mammal Migratory Route Conservation in North America." Inquiries Journal/Student Pulse8(02). Retrieved from http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/a?id=1355