By Jim Hagerty
Illinois is now home to the first public bison herd in almost 200 years.
Friday, Oct. 3, 20 American bison, commonly known as buffalo, arrived at Nachusa Grasslands in Franklin Grove, Illinois. The animals were transported from Wind Cave National Park in Hot Springs, South Dakota, where a founding herd is being maintained.
For now, the bison will be corralled at Nachusa until they acclimate to the 500-acre grassland area. Once that happens, their trap pasture will be increased by 1,000 acres. That’s when officials say the real change to the landscape will begin and the benefits start to show.
“Once bison are reintroduced, we expect to see changes on the prairie, from which animals and insects flourish to which plant populations decline,” said Nachusa Grasslands Project Director Bill Kleiman.
With bison present, their grazing prevents invasive plants from overtaking native plants and flowers. This allows prairie bugs, birds and critters to remain and welcomes absent wildlife back to Nachusa.
Approximately 20 more bison will be introduced in coming weeks. Next year, Nachusa will open viewing areas for the public to observe the herd. For now, chance sightings can be recorded off Lowden Road.
Each bison is microchipped. Some wear GPS collars so officials can also monitor their progress and keep track of age, weight and grazing habits.
More than 30 million bison once roamed North America. By the late 1800s, hunting and urban development culled the population to a few hundred. Today, there are approximately 500,000 in North America. Half are in Canada and half in the United States. Conservationists, private breeders and the parks system have helped the 1,200-pound animals make a comeback.
Nachusa Grasslands is at 8772 S. Lowden Road, Franklin Grove, about 40 miles from Rockford.
From the Oct. 29-Nov. 4, 2014, issue