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Bison roundup draws crowd, profits

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MOIESE — While the National Bison Range has not changed in size since its creation in 1908, the herd grows by 60 to 80 animals each spring with the birth of calves.

Because the range can only comfortably support between 250 and 325 bison, the range removes 50 to 95 surplus animals from the herd during the annual bison roundup. These bison are either sold at auction to private rangers or donated. 

The annual bison roundup’s primary purpose is to better understand the genetics, health and size of the bison population in order to better manage the herd. However, due to the nature of the work and the subject matter, the roundup has become a yearly educational opportunity for school children.

Outdoor recreation planner Pat Jamieson said nearly 1,100 students and teachers attended the two-day event last week. Participating schools included Polson, Ronan, Victor, Arlee, Charlo, two groups from Idaho and several from Missoula and Kalispell.

“They learn about the refuge and bison in general; they get to see the roundup itself and learn why we’re doing it,” Jamieson said. “This year, we had an area away from the crowd where they put a bison skeleton together to learn about bison biology. We also had a big banner from the regional office with the life-sized wingspans of everything from a hummingbird to a Carolina Condor so the kids could see their wing spans as compared to the birds.”

Jamieson said the majority of children were fourth and fifth-graders. Several preschools and high schools attended as well. 

Lead wildlife biologist at the range, Brendan Moynahan, said he’d been working in Alaska for a time, and this was only his second month working with the National Bison Range. Even so, Myonahan was quick to praise the work of fellow employees.  

“These guys are the pros; it’s a tight operation,” he said. “They know what they’re doing. No bison hurt and no people hurt this year ... It’s pretty spectacular; it’s an amazing thing.”

Surprisingly sturdy catwalks erected above and between several of the pens offered a birds-eye-view of the proceedings. Like a well-oiled machine, workers gently pushed the bison through the maze of corrals and steel walls until they eventually ran head long into waiting trailers owned by private ranchers. 

A total of 60 animals were either sold at auction to private ranches or donated to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Eighteen yearling males and 15 yearling females netted the range $51,280. In all, 45 bison were successfully auctioned off to the tune of $70,360, with an additional 15 donated to the CSKT. 

After the last of the bison had been loaded and the dangerous work was done, all employees seemed to breath a cautious sigh of relief as they shook each others’ hands.

As the sun rose over the catwalks and waiting bison herd, Brent Woodger smiled, looked over the range and said, “Not bad.”

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