What is Birth Synchrony in American Bison?

What is Birth Synchrony in American Bison?

Most buffalo calves in a herd are born during a period of 3 or 4 weeks. Here the red-gold color of all calves reveals their age. These are within 3 months of birth, soon changing to darker color of mothers. National Park Service photo.

Birth Synchrony refers to the short period of time in the spring during which most buffalo calves are born. Typically, the main birthing season occurs within three or four weeks in spring, even though bulls may run with the cows all year around.

In the long history of Buffalo evolving on the plains of North America, birth synchrony is considered an adaptation that insures that most calves are born at the time they are most likely to survive. This applies to Plains Buffalo and probably even more acutely to Wood buffalo of the far north.

Because of long cold winters, the window of time for optimal survival of buffalo calves is especially short in the far north reaches of Canada where Wood buffalo live on the open range. Often pregnant cows come through winter in a semi-starved condition.

Then almost suddenly grass greens up. It’s the birthing season. Winter semi-starvation gives way to spring’s tender and nutritious plant growth.

This provides the best food of the year for mothers and their young calves. Milk production is at an all-time high soon after mothers give birth.

Best milk of the year is available when grass greens-up. Both mother and calf eat well. Credit Tobiason, NPS.

Birth Timing Relates to Seasonal Changes

Scientists who study birth synchrony in buffalo find evidence that the timing of giving birth is strongly related to seasonal changes in their food supply and quality. The timing of birth is important in survival.

Yet the mothers generally get bred during warm fall days. Who knows when spring green-up will occur? And it varies widely year to year.

Almost immediately after birth the newborn calf can run with the herd.

Another factor in the tightness of Birth Synchrony may be the presence of large predators such as wolves. In areas where wolves threaten buffalo herds with big, ruthless packs—as was the case for all buffalo thousands of years ago—it is much safer for a calf to be one of many other calves in the middle of a herd.

August and September are the months when mating occurs for the American Bison. The gestation period is about 285 days long—or around 9.5 months.

Mothers usually give birth to a single calf that will nurse for about a year if she continues to have milk—or until the next calf is born. They may give birth to twins and even triplets, but it is difficult for most buffalo mothers to bond with and feed more than one calf.

At about 3 months old the buffalo calf grows a hump, tiny horn nubbins appear and he begins changing to a darker color like his mom. NPS.

Bison heifers are considered mature and can be bred at 2 or 3 years old. With good management in commercial herds today, cows can live 30 years or more and raise a calf every year.

Males reach maturity about age 3 but do not usually breed until about 6 years old—when they have grown large enough to compete with other bulls. This may depend on how many mature bulls are in the herd.

Pennsylvania State Extension recommends at least one bison bull for 10 to 15 cows. In today’s ranch herds, young bison bulls between 18 and 36 months of age are often sold for meat, byproducts and breeding stock.

Having too many mature bulls in the herd results in more fighting for supremacy. Younger and smaller bulls usually decline to fight and walk away. NPS.

This cuts down on having too many bulls in the herd and excessive fighting during rut. In open range situations, such as in northern Canada more young bulls may remain with the herds.

How Birth Synchrony Works

There are distinct advantages when most calves are born during an optimal window of time.

For instance, calving of American bison was studied at the National Bison Range, Montana, in 1982. Approximately 80% of the calves were born within three weeks–the last week of April and first 2 weeks of May.

Thus in a herd of 100 cows, most of which raise a calf every year—as in well-managed commercial herds today with good grazing conditions and safety from predators—nearly 80 calves might be born during the last week of April and the first 2 weeks of May.

Another 5 calves might be born earlier and 15 later, perhaps dragging out until the end of July. Although in some cases the last calf delays until September or even December.

During that time at the Bison Range, cow-calf pairs grouped together with other cow-calf pairs rather than with cows without calves.

Was this banding together a natural defense against predators, even though there may no longer be viscous wolves in the vicinity at all? Well fed, the powerful bison mothers were well prepared to fight off attacking bands of wolves and coyotes.

However, scientists say climatic factors appear to be the best explanation of birth synchrony in bison.

By four months of age black hair shows up on head and legs of bison calves and they take on their mothers’ dark coloring. Hump rises between the shoulder blades.

Parturition: The Process of Birth

Parturition means the process of giving birth—also known as labor. It signals the procedure of delivery after the completion of pregnancy. The developed calf is born with the release of cortisol.

During parturition the cervix dilates and relaxes. Along with cortisol, oxytocin and estrogen hormones are released to begin the milk production and the process of birth.

The uterus contracts to push the fetus toward the cervix and continues until the fetus comes down the birth canal.

After parturition, the uterus releases the placenta and it passes out immediately after the calf is born.

The afterbirth or placenta passes out right after the calf is born. He’s soon up looking for milk and gaining strength in his running legs. NPS.

The first milk is called colostrum and lactation begins. This milk contains antibodies, which is required for newborns to protect them against infectious diseases.

Are Baby Buffalo Hiders or Followers?

Buffalo calves are “precocial”—in other words, they’re fully developed and able to run shortly after birth, able to follow their mothers and the rest of the herd basically right away.

This “follower” strategy—which contrasts with hoofed mammals such as elk and deer whose young initially hide under cover —makes sense for bison and many other open-country ungulates, given how exposed their offspring are.

Some smaller grassland grazers, however—including mule deer and the pronghorn antelope that share the American plains with bison—are “hiders” as newborns.

In American Bison: A Natural History, zoologist Dale Lott noted that infant bison usually take no longer than seven or eight minutes to stand up.

Bison calves are born fully developed and able to run shortly after birth. They are ‘followers’ that stick with mothers and run in the herd, rather than hiding behind in the grass like baby deer.

In that narrow window of relative helplessness, however, a freshly delivered baby buffalo certainly makes a tempting target for a coyote or wolf. But as recent Yellowstone incidents demonstrate, the presence of a horned, half-ton mother is usually enough to thwart predators.

Bison cows often isolate themselves to give birth, but once the calf is able to move, the pair rejoins the herd. A newborn moving about within the group is already that much less vulnerable than if they are hiding in the grass.

Mother stays close to newborn, as she grazes in the sagebrush.

In Wood Buffalo National Park on the boreal border of Alberta and Northwest Territories, wolves—a much more formidable potential bison predator than a coyote—selectively target bison herds with calves in early summer, but youngsters often escape by fleeing within or in front of the herd, or are saved by an active, belligerent defense from both cows and bulls.

National Parks in Northern US

During a five-year study in Badlands National Park, SD researchers recorded the onset of parturition by Plains Bison between April 3 and 7, with a median birth date of May 2–8.

In Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota, they reported the first births of bison on April 4–7, peaking in late April or early May; although varying among years, the mean length of the birth season, which they defined as period over which 80% of births occurred—was 53.7 ± 10.2 days.

In mountains and badlands, calving is often monitored by aerial count from airplane or heliocopter.

In Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, predicted parturition has varied widely among years and herds, with the onset occurring from March 31 to April 12 and April 10–27 for the Northern and Central herds, respectively.

The median date of parturition for these herds differed by 16 days (May 6 and May 22), indicating variation in the timing of births even among closely adjacent populations.

In all these populations of Plains Bison, the length of the birthing season varied annually, but largely began in early April and concluded by mid- to late June.

A few calves were born abnormally late, including into September for most studied populations of Plains Bison, and, in exceptional cases, into November in Wind Cave and Yellowstone national parks.

Canada—The Yukon

The birthing season for ungulates (which are primarily large mammals with hooves such as bison, elk, moose and caribou) living at high latitudes is short. In northern North America, birth for most of these occurs within four weeks, beginning in mid-May, peaking in late May, and tapering off by mid-June, according to research in 1998.

Where the environment is distinctly seasonal, there is strong selection toward synchrony or grouping for births—both within and between species—likely in response to a short growing season and, perhaps also the pressure of large predators.

Births outside this “birth pulse” is of interest because it aids in better understanding the stretching out in the timing of births. Alternatively, it may reveal a faulty adaptation if survival or fitness is compromised for early or late born animals.

The timing of parturition in high-latitude populations of Bison is not well studied—and much of the documentation was done in aerial surveys at some distance since these are free-ranging buffalo in the mountains.

Timing of births in the far north is not well studied with free-ranging buffalo in the mountains. Much of it is done with aerial surveys and photography.

But previous observations have indicated that births do not start until mid-May and largely end in late June or early July, similar to those of other far northern grass-eaters.

In three high-latitude Bison populations in northwestern Canada, the onset of parturition (births) occurred as early as late March and early April—5–6 weeks earlier than previously observed—and two isolated cases of late births occurred in mid-November and mid-December.

These observations suggest that the onset of the birth process in high-latitude Bison can be earlier than previously known, and late births, while apparently rare, may occur.

Determining whether this signals a substantial, lasting shift in the timing and, possibly, synchrony of parturition in high-latitude populations of Bison will require further monitoring of early-born calves.

Most data on the timing of parturition of Bison are from populations at lower latitudes.

Free-ranging Wood Buffalo in Far North

Unfortunately, similar field data are not available for birth dates of free-ranging Wood Bison, which occur at high latitudes, where seasonal constraints are more pronounced.

Geographic variation in the timing of Bison births has been postulated, with the onset of parturition and median birth date later and synchronicity, or tightness of births greater in northern than in southern populations.

For mountain sheep one study found a strong link between latitude and the onset of birth, with later dates of first births in more northern populations.

Similarly, for Wood Bison, the onset of first births in Wood Buffalo National Park, Alberta and Northwest Territories, was reported as May 10 and 12. This was more than a month later than observed for Plains Bison in the US.

Anecdotal observations from field surveys in northwestern Canada over the past 16 years show that early births by Wood Bison largely occur at about the same time as that for Caribou and Moose.

However, it may start earlier, such as early May, and end later, in late June. This suggests that spring green-up of forage also strongly influences the timing of calving by Bison at high latitudes.

Births outside this period have not been observed.

Allen T. Rutberg writes in Journal of Mammalogy, August 24, 1984, “We document recent observations of unusually early- or late-born Bison calves from three reintroduced populations in northwestern Canada.

“Our observations were from the Aishihik population in southwestern Yukon, Canada and the Nahanni and Nordquist populations, which occur at the nexus of the Northwest Territories, Yukon, and British Columbia, Canada, all located between 59°N and 61°N.

“These populations were monitored irregularly by wildlife management agency personnel during the parturition period. We used the description of coat color changes in Bison calves to crudely estimate the parturition date of those born late.

Early-born Calves

“On April 4, 2013, we observed a calf from the Nahanni population, which was assumed born the previous day. In 2015 and 2016, we observed Bison calves from the Aishihik population, presumably born in early April, with the earliest calf seen on April 4, 2016.

“Further, in the first week of April 2016 and 2017, lactating females that had recently been suckled were observed in the Aishihik population.

“Based on a physical examination of the uterine tract of two lactating Bison shot during April 4–6, 2016, these females may have recently given birth.

“For a lactating female shot on April 5, 2017, the predicted birth date was possibly mid-March, based on measurements of the uterus. We note, however, that lactation itself is not unequivocal evidence that the female recently gave birth, as she may have been suckling her calf from the previous year.”

Late-born Calves

March 17, 2005

Reddish-brown calf in a group of 11 Bison near Haines Junction, Yukon Aishihik, noticeably smaller than other calves in the area. We estimated that the calf was probably 10–13 weeks old when observed and, thus, likely born in mid-December.

January 7, 2012

Small calf with a reddish coat in a group of 26 Bison near Liard River, Nordquist British Columbia, about 30–40% the size of seven other calves in the group. Based on descriptions of size and coloration and photographs, we estimate that the calf was probably 8–10 weeks old when observed and, thus, was born in early to mid-November.

Bison born late were rarely recorded; however, we documented two instances from two populations in northwestern Canada. These calves were substantially smaller than other calves observed, and pelage color also differed. Based on descriptions of size and coloration and photographs, we estimate that these calves were born in mid-December and early to mid-November.

Shifting Dates of Birth Synchrony

“Our observations provide evidence of parturition in early April, and possibly as early as late March, in at least two high-latitude populations of Wood Bison—5–6 weeks earlier than reported from Wood Buffalo National Park and earlier observations for the Aishihik and Nahanni populations by wildlife management agency biologists and conservation officers.

“It is uncertain whether the earlier onset of parturition has occurred previously and gone unnoticed or if there has been a shift in the date of first births in recent years.

“We believe that the latter is more plausible, given that observations of Bison in late March and April by wildlife management agency personnel, Bison hunters, and local residents have not included any reports of calves born earlier than May before 2013.

“Detailed studies of the timing of parturition in Plains Bison in more southern and other ungulates, such as wild sheep provide evidence of annual variation that may exceed 2 to 3 weeks.

Young calves join the traffic jam on Yellowstone highways, keeping right up with their mothers. Photo credit Daniel Kleiman.

“Moreover, the onset of parturition in Bison at Yellowstone National Park has shifted from late March to mid-April over 55 years from 1941 to 1997, demonstrating that changes in the timing of parturition for Bison can occur over longer time scales.

“Whether the early births we observed indicates a shift in the timing of parturition in Bison from the Aishihik population is unknown. Showing this would require further monitoring for early-born calves

“Although the onset of parturition in southern populations of Plains Bison normally occurs around early April to match the food availability, early births in the Aishihik and Nahanni populations have occurred while temperatures were below freezing at night and patches of snow persisted on the ground, indicating a mismatch between early births and spring green-up of forage resources.

“Generally, calves born earlier in the season may have an advantage over their cohorts that may last their lifetimes, but those born early in suboptimal conditions, possibly because their mothers were in poor body condition, may not have an advantage. In the latter case, the prognosis for their survival is poor.

“Similarly, the fate of late-born Bison is unknown. However, the late-born calves observed had survived the critical neonatal period (the first month after being born) during early winter at high latitudes, indicating that they may survive the rest of the winter.

Early calves. Only a few ‘red dogs’—as forest rangers call them—arrive early in the herd.

“In other instances of late-born calves, it has been assumed that the mother was in poor physical condition during the peak of conception and bred later in the season when her body stores had increased. However, the fate of these early- and late-born Bison is unknown.

“In conclusion, our observations are of scientific interest because they provide new information on apparently extreme birth dates for high-latitude Bison, and they demonstrate some flexibility in the onset of parturition in these populations.

“It appears that parturition at high latitudes may begin in late March and, in exceptional cases, extend into December. Overall, however, the timing of parturition for Bison appears to be largely synchronous with spring green-up, albeit with a wider range of dates than for other ungulates in the region.”

Hmm. That’s interesting. As the resident of a northern state, I’m wondering. People who live here know well that spring green-up doesn’t always arrive at the appointed hour or date.

Hard winters sometimes hit—and bring a late spring. An easy winter might mean an early spring. Or quite the opposite.

In the Yukon weather might be even more extreme and unpredictable. So is there some leeway on how many gestation days occur? When spring comes early does gestation speed up to less than 9.5 months? And hard winters with late springs drag births out longer?

Someday will researchers link dates of first green-up with Birth Synchrony and tell us about the weather when Buffalo declare an early spring? Or a late one?

Studies of the timing of births in Plains Bison in more southern latitudes and other ungulates, such as wild sheep, provide evidence of annual variation of more than 2 or 3 weeks from one year to the next. Depending on what? 

Definitions

Birth Synchrony: The short period of time in the spring during which most buffalo calves are

born. Considered an evolutionary adaptation that insures most calves are born at the time they are most likely to survive.

Parturition: The process of giving birth—also known as labor.
Colostrum: The mother’s first milk after giving birth—contains antibodies that protect

against infectious diseases.

Precocial: Means buffalo calves are born fully developed and able to follow their mothers and

the rest of the herd almost immediately after birth. They need only 7 or 8 minutes to

stand up.

Ungulates: Primarily large mammals with hooves (split or not-split) such as bison, elk, deer,

moose and horses.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Saving Orphan Buffalo Calves

Saving Orphan Buffalo Calves

Feeding an orphan calf is an emergency situation. It has to be done “right now!” And it is a time commitment.

So it’s a good idea to be prepared.

Calving season has arrived and so have many new buffalo babies. It’s an exciting time of the year when new calves are welcomed to the world.

Fortunately for you who are buffalo ranchers there are usually few problems associated with calving.

Happy scenario for both calf and mother.

However, it may happen that a calf is abandoned—perhaps the weakest of a set of twins—or the mother cow dies, or for some other reason a calf must be removed from the pasture and raised by hand.

Buster—an orphan well cared for by his family. Buster grew up on the ranch and was able to stay in the breeding herd for awhile, although “he was a bit of a loner,” said Randy. Credit Randy Miller.

Miller has been a leader in the Bison Association of Nebraska for many years. He has been in the bison business since 1995.

Randy’s daughter Megan Olesiak works in the Miller buffalo ranch company at NebraskaBison.com. They have a second herd, Miller Bison at Elkhead Ranch, just over the line in Missouri.

Buster lies down. “Experienced producers like to keep the calves a little hungry at each feeding.” Fewer digestive upsets. They can be weaned from milk at 3 to 4 months. Photo RM.

Megan told me, “You need to be careful when you make a pet of a bison bull calf. They grow up.

“One time when I was a child—we were just getting started with bison. I was sitting in the pickup with the window open. We had a pet bull and he put his head in for a treat.

“And then he lifted his head and took the door off!”

Four Generations of Bison

The McFarlands southwest of Hettinger have long experience rescuing bison calves. Steve patiently corners a young calf that’s ready and able to put up a fight, even though he knows he’s getting a milk bottle. Video credit Roxann McFarland.

My almost neighbors Steve and Roxann McFarland have had about 3 or 4 orphan calves in the 20 years they’ve been raising buffalo southwest of Hettinger.

“Some others may have been born as twins and the coyotes got one of them before we did,” Steve says.

“Each bottle calf we’ve raised has had its own personality. Some learn quickly to follow a bottle, some have been pretty stubborn.”

Actually Steve grew up with buffalo as his father, grandfather and great-grandfather raised buffalo on their South Dakota ranch before he was even born.

As a 4th generation bison rancher Steve grew up helping with bison and bottle calves. It was his great-grandfather who first bought 3 or 4 bison heifers and a bull, just to try them out with his cattle herd. His grandfather Roy improved the herd and so did his father Eugene.

Their daughter Ashley showed her bison calf as a 4-H project at our Adams County Fair a few years ago—under a new class called “Exotics.” Her’s was the only exhibit in the event that year.

Good for Ashley! She’s a pioneer!

Even as a long-term 4-H leader I have never heard of this before except in Canada—where I think Alberta has a 4-H project called “Raising Bison.” Don’t know if they have a booklet for 4-Hers to study.

I’ve seen a photo of one and have written for information, but so far have been unable to find any.

Steve says her calf was apparently a twin born around the first of May and found abandoned. Raised as a bottle calf, they helped Ashley halter break him and she showed him in August at our 4-H fair.

Roxann, Steve’s wife, says a bottle calf seems to get attached to one particular person—perhaps it imprints on whoever feeds it. Often that person is her.

“One calf got so lonesome whenever no one was with him,” she says. “In fact when he was alone he wore all the hair off his head, rubbing it along a plank in his pen.

“We tried a goat for companionship—he was full grown and we thought he could hold his own. But the little bull chased him right out of the pen.

 

Happy bison calf is healthy, bright, alert and curious. Some advise keeping orphan calves in the barn until they can follow a milk bottle, then bringing them outside to enjoy the sun and grass and get some fresh air. Not leaving them out overnight though until they are older.

 “We put him back in—and soon he was outside again. Then we got another baby buffalo. First time we had 2 together,” Roxann recalls.

“They bonded and hung together—Oscar and Gus, both bull calves–always stayed together even after they grew much bigger. We sold them to a bison feeder.

“They were too dangerous to keep.

“The new owner said as long as he had them, the two bulls always insisted on being close together.”

Feeding Tips

Here are feeding tips from Gerald Hauer, Bison Production Specialist, Bison Centre of Excellence, in Leduc, Alberta, from his article “Feeding Orphans,” as reprinted from “The Tracker,” volume 4, Issue 5, June 2000, in Bison Producers of Alberta.

He begins with the importance of colostrum—the mother’s first milk:

“Calves are born with no resistance to bacteria and viruses and must absorb antibodies from their mother’s first milk or colostrum to be able to fight off disease. There are high levels of antibodies in colostrum and the calf’s intestines have the ability to absorb these antibodies from the inside of the gut into the bloodstream for the first few hours of life.

“The intestine loses this ability within 4-12 hours after birth so it is very important that the calf receives its colostrum within this time period. Always give colostrum for the first few feedings.

“Cattle colostrum or commercial dried colostrum replacers can be used as a substitute for real bison colostrum which is hard to obtain.

It takes time to bottle feed bum calves, but economists say it’s well worth the care it demands.

 “Often surrogate mothers are not readily available so artificial rearing is the only option. What to feed is a common question. Bison calves have been raised successfully on cow’s milk, cow milk replacer, sheep and goat milk replacer and goat’s milk.

“There is now a commercially available bison milk replacer made by Brown’s Feeds. Sheep milk replacer is frequently used because it closely resembles the composition of bison milk.

Note: Two recommended feeds for bison babies are Bison Milk Replacer from Browns Feed https://www.hibrow.ca/browns-feed and BisonGro from Zukudla http://www.zukudla.com/milk-replacers-bisongro

“Once the calf has a good start with colostrum, it is time to feed milk or milk replacer. Some people have had good success by finding a nurse mother for their orphans. A recent article in the ‘Smoke Signals’ outlined one producer’s success with using a highland cattle cow as a surrogate mother for his bison orphans.

“If you are considering using goats to raise your calves I would recommend having them tested for malignant catarrhal fever and Johne’s disease.

“One experienced producer uses real sheep milk available from one of the few sheep dairies in the province. She reports that there are fewer digestive problems with the real sheep’s milk and is worth the extra cost.

“It would be a good idea to pasteurize the sheep milk to decrease the chance of introducing MCF virus into your calves.

Feeding Frequency

“How often should they be fed? Frequent feedings of small amounts will decrease the chances of digestive upsets. Bison calves are usually fed 4 times daily for the first few weeks and this is gradually decreased to 2 times daily by two months of age,” writes Gerald Hauer

“How much to feed depends on the size of the calf. As a rule the calf should be a little hungry at the end of each feeding. If they are allowed to drink their fill they will be prone to digestive upsets and diarrhea.

Orphan calf enjoys a back rub when finished with his bottle. RM.

 “Experienced producers like to keep the calves a little hungry at each feeding. Most calves require about 10-20% of their body weight in milk each day. This works out to about 500-800 mL per feeding for bison calves.

“As the calves get older and the feedings become less frequent the volumes fed at each feeding can be increased.

“Once the calves are few weeks old it is a good idea to introduce them to some grain and hay or grass so they can nibble on some solid feed. By the time they are a few months old they should be eating a significant amount of feed.

“Calves can be weaned from milk at 3-4 months of age and put onto a good quality diet.

“Other tips to help keep your calves healthy are as follows: 

  1. Wash the bottles and nipples after each feeding to decrease the bacterial buildup. Good hygiene can prevent problems associated with contamination of your equipment.
  2. Allow access to soil so calves can lick it as this may provide some nutrients.
  3. Salt and minerals should also be available.
  4. Build a pen that allows lots of room for exercise.
  5. Try not to keep one calf by itself. Provide another calf to keep it company.

“Raising an orphan bison is a lot of work. Before undertaking the job you should become familiar with the husbandry that is required. “

For more information Hauer recommends the following “Bison Breeder’s Handbook, National Bison Association; Bringing Up Baby,” by Peter Haase, Smoke Signals, April 2000. www.bisoncentre.com › feeding-orphans

Imprinting and Sucking

 “The Journal of Buffalo Science,” published in Canada says it is important that mother and calf are able to bond immediately at birth. In the article “Imprinting, Sucking and Allosucking Behaviors in Buffalo Calves,” 2018, 7 (Lifescience Global), Patricia Mora-Medina, from the University of Mexico (UNAM), Fabio Napolitaano, U of Basilicata, Italy et al write:

“From the perspective of the [buffalo] offspring, recognizing their parents is essential for their welfare and survival, since the dams feed only their own young.

“This learning process, defined as imprinting, occurs in a sensitive period under the control of oestrogens and oxytocin, which are abundantly produced at parturition (birth).

“After a few hours the level of these hormones lowers and dams become unable to develop appropriate maternal behavior toward the newborn calves.”

“The amniotic fluid that covers the newborn is attractive to the mother and while licking they learn its specific odor thus promoting the mother–young bond. Lack of amniotic fluid may cause rejection of the newborn.

“The most important aspect of the birth process is that calves must quickly locate the udder and begin to suck their mothers’ milk. Suckling and the maternal care for calves allow them to survive and grow.

“As the calf passes through the birth canal during parturition it generates cervical-vaginal stimulation that activates the hypothalamus and releases oxytocin, a hormone that acts upon the cow’s olfactory bulb. This, in turn, enables the secretion of dopamine, which initiates the sensitive period during which the dam identifies her own calf.”

After giving birth, says this source, the mother stands up and begins to lick and smell her newborn calf. In buffalo (and dairy and beef cattle) this stimulates various activities in the calf, including the respiratory center, breathing, circulation, urination and defecation.

The newborn buffalo calf raises its head and adopts a ventral-sternal posture, followed by hesitant attempts to stand on all fours, first extending the thoracic extremities, then the pelvic ones. These movements allow the calf to reach the mammary gland and begin feeding. Other behaviors include vocalizing to attract the mother’s attention as part of the calf’s survival strategy.

Given all this, say these researchers, it is essential that the buffalo mother-calf bond develops from the moment of birth and through the immediate postpartum period.

Practices like early separation and artificial rearing generate stress in both buffalo cows and calves

“In the context of these behavioral changes, the sex of the neonate seems to play a role, as female calves show faster development than male calves.”

Mixed Blessing: Triplet Buffalo Calves

Triplets arrived at the Buffalo Horn Ranch in Alberta, the first ever reported—a mixed blessing. Photo used by permission, Peter Haase, Buffalo Horn Ranch © 1999.

 “This spring we were triply blessed with a set of triplet bison calves, reported Peter Haase, of the Buffalo Horn Ranch, Alberta, Canada, in April 1999.

“Actually, it was something of a mixed blessing getting three heifer calves and then being confined to the ranch with the numerous feedings. We have some experience working with abandoned calves over the years with mixed results. One of our foundation cows is bottle raised.”

“With the publicity, our babies also became poster girls for ‘Brown’s Bison Milk Replacer,’ a new product becoming commercially available. We were fortunate in that many experienced bison producers gave us advice on how to raise these girls properly.

“A bison cow normally only has enough milk for one calf, so both are compromised when it comes to competing for the limited milk that mom is able to offer. Often one calf won’t get quite enough and will begin to fall behind, while its sibling grows stronger.

“It may take only a few hours or it might take a few weeks, but the usual scenario is that one calf is left behind as a meal for the predators. In the confined pastures of a ranch, the likelihood of a cow raising twins is perhaps somewhat higher than in the wild.

Recently Peter told me that the mother was named Nakimu—and hers were the first ever reported bison triplets—all female. They were named Moon Beam, Moon Shine and Moon Shadow.

“We watched these closely. The first day the mother walked away from Moon Beam—we took her. The next day she walked away from Moon Shine. She raised Moon Shadow. The other two were bottle fed.

“The last of the bottle raised calves died in 2021 of natural causes. This is after the mother having and raising 18 calves, never missing a year until her last year.  The other bottle raised sister died in 2016 and her sister, raised by the cow, died at age 10. In fact Nakimu had 2 sets of twins besides the triplets.

“The birth of the first recorded bison triplets gave us a great deal of publicity in numerous newspapers, magazines and on two national television networks.

“From our research, we have found that most abandoned calves are twins. Are twins more common today? I don’t know, I suspect that we are discovering more twins for a couple of reasons aside from there being more bison.

“Firstly, we producers are checking our herds more closely than before, so perhaps we discover the twins before the coyotes do. Secondly, we are more careful with the bison’s nutrition and health care and this too might contribute to more twins.

“We had a situation with our second calf ever being born. This calf was born at night and in the confusion of 60 heifers, the heifer calf bonded with a young cow who already had a two-week old calf.

“The new mother was frantic looking for her calf and the other cow was running around with two calves. After about 30 hours she didn’t want anything to do with this calf and abandoned it.

“We grabbed her calf at that point, gave colostrum and bottle raised her for three weeks before she died of Navel Ill. The colostrum we gave was too late and did nothing for her immune system.

“The mother of this abandoned calf found another heifer calving about the time that we grabbed her calf. She bonded with the new calf and this calf sucked on his ‘twin’ mothers all summer.

“The lesson here is that the calf must have colostrum in the first 6 to 12 hours or its chances of survival are slim.

“Another note here, we have a five-year-old bottle-raised cow that we purchased as a calf. One thing she really lacks is mothering ability.

“She never licks off her calf, nor does she look out for it very well. Fortunately, she has had two very persistent calves who have done very well despite the shortcomings of their mother. There is more to being a mother bison than instinct, there must be something learned as well.”

Good mothering. Buffalo mothers are naturally protective of one calf. Sometimes a twin gets neglected. Bitterroot Bison, MT, Michael Gallacher Photo.

Carrington Bison Research attempts Alarming Rescue

Bison Research conducted at the Carrington Research Extension Center, North Dakota State University for a few years, published a report in 2001 on “Managing Very Young Bison Calves,” by Vern Anderson, Dale Burr, Tim Schroeder, Chris Kubal and Eric Bock.

The researchers worked frantically for many weeks trying to keep 69 bison calves of all ages alive. They concluded:

“It appears the success rate is very low when caring for orphan bison calves under the age of 4 weeks unless significant individual attention can be given to each calf. 

“These animals are simply too dependent on mother’s milk and cannot be acclimated to milk replacer and starter feeds as a group. 

For their research the Carrington Center accepted a donation of 69 bison calves ranging in age from two days to two months, delivered on June 4, 2001. Their mothers had been managed as feeder heifers and were scheduled for market. Some had been bred accidentally.

“At the time in 2001 there was virtually no nutritional information or guidelines on the care of baby bison prior to weaning,” says Dr Vern Anderson.

“Consultation with a number of experienced bison producers suggested we had a major challenge on our hands.”

Turned out they did indeed! It was a desperate situation for the researchers. All of them working every available minute to save all those calves.

It probably couldn’t be done with the manpower available. But they met the challenge as best they could.

First they separated the 16 youngest and smallest and kept them in a small fenced area, while the older calves moved to a one-acre grass pasture.

“Catching these youngest animals, even in a small pen, proved to be a challenge. At the young age of the calves, they were fast and strong and fought being handled. Roping calves caused severe stress from chasing with some choking and shock resulting when calves were caught.

They refused to suck from a bottle. None of the calves adapted to that even after several days.  None of these younger calves survived to the end of their first month. The experience turned out to be very stressful for handlers and calves.

“Handling (catching, ear-tagging, drenching, bottle-feeding) any age of orphan calf is very stressful,” says their report.

“Most of the 16 simply starved to death. They were unwilling to nurse or fought the tube at every opportunity and did not learn to eat the dry feeds.”

Food was a problem for the older calves, too. The researchers kept changing the rations. The calves seemed to prefer barley malt pellets—which were low in protein and calories.
Barley pellets were then mixed with com, peas and wheat middlings to increase the nutrient density. Then the barley was withdrawn.

“Some commercially available, very palatable, high-protein, high-energy feeds were offered in three pans inside the pen. Two pans were used for milk replacer and fresh water was available in two others. A high quality grass hay bale was also available.

Finally on June 27, a specially formulated baby bison feed was introduced, developed by Heartland Feeds (Hubbard) at Bismarck, ND for use in this study. This new formula was more nutrient dense than the commercial starter feeds with higher protein (24%), more energy (est. 95% TDN) and less fiber.

It was a fortunate combination of field peas, corn, canola meal, com distillers dried solubles, soybean hulls, dried milk powder, molasses, yeast, fenugreek and highly bio-available vitamins and minerals.

Once they were used to this food it replaced all the commercial starter diets. At last the older calves seemed to bloom and their general health improved. The researchers wrote their opinion that having this nutrition from the start might have reduced stress and increased survival rate.

“Calves this old probably start ruminating and have the ability to survive on more traditional feeds,” they said.

Only 25 of the 69 ultimately survived. But by September 10, they appeared in good health and were transitioned to a conventional grain mix, less nutrient dense and lower in cost, 16% crude protein and approximately 80% TDN. This included corn, peas, soy hulls and wheat midds plus vitamins and minerals, offered with free-choice alfalfa hay.

Unfortunately the bottom was already falling out of the bison market by then, and after producing some remarkable pioneer research at the Carrington Station the bison studies came to a halt and were never restored.

Buffalo Handler Learns the Language

Waist deep in wild yellow sweet clover Jim Strand calls over Lucky—a grown-up pet—in the big pasture for a munch of cattle cake. Lucky can’t resist Jim’s relaxed approach and buffalo grunts, but no longer wants to be petted. Photo credit Donna Keller.

Another almost neighbor of mine is Jim Strand who manages the sizeable Blair Johnson herd of about 400 cows, southeast of Hettinger a few miles into South Dakota, where he’s had 8 or so orphans over the past 25 years.

Jim feeds lamb milk replacer because it is richer than cows’ milk. He also feeds at least 3 times a day. The last calf he had took to the bottle right away when born.

The mother of another died when the calf was about 3 weeks old and wouldn’t take the bottle, so Jim put him in with some feeders and he did just fine. I think he spends plenty of relaxed time with them.

Usually bum calves get attached to one person. Jim says he grunts like a buffalo to them and they seem to respond.

One time a friend needed to catch a rather wild buffalo calf and Jim went to help. “I’d grunt to him and he’d come a little closer. I kept coaxing and he came right up to me. I grabbed his foot and held him.

If I get one in a pen, I can usually coax, grunt and corner them.”

One pet they had was Lucky. He enjoyed being petted and talked to—the first year he stayed in the yard close to the family.

“He’s still in the herd. Now that he’s grown he still comes up when I’m around, but he doesn’t want you to pet him.”

Another pet was given him from a family in Bemidji, Minnesota. Raised there on a bottle. She got too big for them before she reached a year old, so they gave Jim a call.

Her name was LaBelle. She comes right up to him in the pasture and will take cake from his hand.

“She had a calf as a 2-year old—that’s unusual,” says Jim. “And she’s had a calf every year since—6 calves in a row.”

Favored cow LaBelle enjoys a back rub. She has raised 6 calves in a row—at only age 8. Credit DK.

Twins-More Work, Well Worth the Effort

When twins are born, it is worth the extra management effort to save both calves, Dr Roy Lewis, a veterinarian, told producers in the March 12, 2018 issue of Grainews.ca in Canada, writing on “Problems and Benefits of Twin Calves.”

“In my practice, I often hear producers complaining about twins,” he wrote. “Mainly because often the focus is on the problems they can present.

“About 8% of most common beef breeds will produce twins and it is also quite common among bison.

“Economics show there is value in making the extra effort to save the extra calf.

“Research on a twinner population over the last 10 years in the U.S. found there to be a definite economic benefit with twins. So it is important to look at both the positive and negative aspects hat come with these double deliveries.

“Some mothers accept and care for twins, as did this cow of a client,” said Dr Lewis. “But be alert for one calf failing to thrive and jump in when problems develop.” Photo credit Roy Lewis, DVM.

 “There is no doubt twins can be a positive if they both arrive alive, are the same sex and you have an extra cow to foster one of the calves.

“But we all know the opposite—twins coming malpresented, then you finally get them out (with or without veterinary assistance). Both are dead and the cow doesn’t clean and becomes a problem to rebreed.

“Dystocias (birth difficulties) from fetal malpresentation are the biggest reason twins have a lower survival at birth.

“When one ponders the combinations of all the legs and two heads coming backwards and forwards, it is no wonder mixups occur.

“If we can minimize the bad scenario and come up with more positives, twins would be welcome. Keep in mind they will always require more care, attention and management skills.

“It’s important to watch the cows and calves closely and jump in when problems develop,” he writes.

An Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice, Dr. Lewis has served as a part-time technical services veterinarian for Merck Animal Health. He is involved in planning the International Bison Convention to be held in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, July 12-15, 2022.

Dr Lewis served on the committee updating the National Canadian “Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Bison.” That publication which was released in 2001 and updated in 2017 tries to discourage making pets of bison.

“Bison should not be raised as pets,” the Canadian Code states bluntly. “Producers opting to rear orphans should refrain from playing with calves. Bunting behavior should be discouraged at all costs.

“Adult bison that have played with humans as calves may become dangerous. Orphaned bison must not be used for breeding under any circumstances. Castration and dehorning is strongly recommended for orphans. Orphans may be able to be reintroduced into a feeding program.”

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Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Bison of Yellowstone Park and Brucellosis

Bison of Yellowstone Park and Brucellosis

During Yellowstone’s early days, people still hunted buffalo in the park for trophies. That changed radically in 1894 when Army soldiers in Yellowstone Park captured bison poacher Edgar Howell and posed with eight of the confiscated bison heads. Only 23 original bison remained in Yellowstone in 1916 when park managers began some of the nation’s first efforts to save the endangered species.

Brucelosis has a devastating effect on cattle, in that infected cows abort their first calf, and sometimes the infection stays in the system for years. The disease also infects Bison and elk.

 European cattle initially brought the bacteria Brucella abortus to the new world. The disease especially spread through dairy cattle, but wild bison and elk in the Greater Yellowstone Area became infected with the disease before the 1930s.

The  brucellosis vaccines available today are considered only 65% effective for cattle and even less so for bison and elk.

It’s complicated. And because they are live vaccines, they can bring the infection itself.

Heifer calves need to be vaccinated before the age of 12 months. Otherwise, if any are pregnant at the time of vaccination, they may abort and potentially spread the disease to herd mates or even people getting in contact with the aborted fetus and placenta.

Yellowstone Park herd looks on as one buffalo enjoys a dust bath undisturbed. Others await their turn.

There is hope of better vaccines to come, but it may be quite a long time.

New vaccines are under development at several University research labs, according to The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which is in charge. Their website on brucellosis states:

“Unfortunately, we lack not only a proper treatment but also a reliable diagnosis.

“Adequate and timely diagnosis of brucellosis is necessary to control and treat the disease in the best way. Different serological and molecular methods are used for the screening of the disease. However, each test has some drawbacks in one way or another.

“Vaccination is an effective strategy to prevent the spread of brucellosis and is in practice worldwide.

Bulls spar off during rutting season. But most confrontations are brief and end in quick retreat for the smaller, younger bull. NPS

 “However, there is demand for the development of new vaccines that are safer and more effective.

“With rising interest of the scientific community in brucellosis, a significant improvement in diagnosis and treatment is expected. We are also in need of a broad-spectrum vaccine against Brucella for complete eradication of the disease worldwide.

“APHIS continues to support brucellosis research at universities and is also working with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service to further study RB51 vaccine, and to develop alternative brucellosis vaccines that would be more effective in wild bison and elk herds.

 “Current vaccines are about 65 percent effective. It is unlikely that new vaccines would protect 100 percent of vaccinated animals. However, new vaccines may provide additional protection for the animals and help reduce the incidence of the disease within the herds.

“APHIS is also involved in studying the brucellosis disease agent—how it is transmitted and shed by infected animals into the environment.“

“It took a huge effort in eradicating this disease from cattle in the United States. But as of March 1, 2002, nearly all states have achieved brucellosis-free status with no known infection.

“The only known focus of Brucella abortus infection left in the nation is in bison and elk in the Greater Yellowstone Area. However, this has been a tremendous problem for ranchers in nearby areas of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.”

Until all brucellosis is wiped out—there will continue to be great problems and controversy in the Yellowstone Park area.

Cow with young calf grazing in downed timber clearing in Yellowstone Park.

How does Brucellosis Infect?

Brucellosis is primarily spread within and among bison, elk and cattle during calving season when susceptible animals ingest Brucella bacteria from birthing materials (amniotic fluids, fetus, placenta) or the newborn calf.

Mother elk clean up most of it when they calve outside the park, and scavengers consume most of what remains. But perhaps not all. A secondary mode of infection is through the milk when actively infected females nurse their calves.

Females are often infected with Brucella bacteria at a young age, but do not shed the bacteria until they become reproductively active at around age 3, when conditions become favorable for bacteria to multiply and spread in the reproductive tract during the last months of pregnancy.

At that time, the bacteria can rapidly increase in cells of the placenta and induce abortions, still births, and premature live births in some animals.

Some females appear to recover and clear the bacteria from their bodies after this initial pregnancy, but others retain the infection and can become infectious during additional pregnancies.

Infected male bison shed Brucella bacteria in semen, but do not infect females during breeding because of the fluids in the vagina that are fatal to the bacteria.

In addition, bison and elk are more vulnerable to infection when their immune defenses are weakened, as during winter starvation. Risk comes primarily in February through June when most brucellosis-induced abortions occur.

In background steam rises from hot spots. Warm geyser keeps open water for drinking in the creek, no matter how frigid the day.

Brucellosis in Humans

In humans, brucellosis–also known as Bang’s disease—is called undulant fever, human brucellosis or Malta fever. It is world-wide in distribution.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association infections may spread to humans through cuts or bruised skin or infected milk. It evidently does not affect the meat, which may be eaten.

People with undulant fever may suffer weakness, headache, painful joints, loss of weight and appetite, alternating chills and fever, profuse sweating, sleeplessness and numbness of arms and legs. It is seldom fatal, but can become chronic or long-lasting and weaken resistance to other diseases.

More than $3.5 billion has been spent since 1934 to eradicate brucellosis from cattle in the United States.

My husband Bert was part of this program, spending his first summer after college graduation in 1953—before continuing his Veterinary Medicine studies—testing North Dakota cattle herds for brucellosis.

During that time he was diagnosed with undulant fever. But although it stayed in his system long-term from that experience, he was generally able to ignore his symptoms.

Bert was most saddened though, by infected cattle herds that had to be condemned. It was the only way of eradicating the disease.

Shedding winter hair in rag-tag patches, one at a time. For a hairy bull it can take a month or two—or all summer.

Low Point in Buffalo Numbers

The lowest point of buffalo numbers in Yellowstone Park was probably around the turn of the century.

In 1916 the original bison were counted at only 23 head. That’s when park managers began their first efforts to save bison as an endangered species.

Many people today, researchers as well as others, seem to believe these were Mountain or Woods buffalo and they are calling today’s Yellowstone Park buffalo a hybrid of the two subspecies—Wood buffalo and Plains buffalo.

I very much doubt whether that can be true.

Apparently, those bison were counted in the summertime, and likely included a few calves and young animals. So they’d have had relatively few fertile cows and I doubt that they would have birthed many calves.

Also the Wood bison probably would not interbreed widely, since they tend to be shy and scattered.  

 In fact, those early herds as well as those introduced could have been simply the wilder Plains buffalo that had found remote mountain canyons to hide from relentless hide hunters—as surviving bison did throughout the west.

Is it really logical to assume that the two—Wood and Plains bison—interbred widely to form a new hybrid subspecies?

 Possible, of course, but probably wishful thinking on someone’s part.

Good swimmers, sometimes YP bison get caught in the ice in springtime.

Soon Excess Numbers Needed Culling

Since 1932 the buffalo in Yellowstone Park have been periodically culled to keep the totals down to a reasonable number for good grazing and to balance the needs of other grazing wildlife.

Eventually the YP bison numbers were targeted at around 3,000 in the Park, although they often reached nearly 6,000 before culling.

After 1960 the culling operation became better organized. As many bison as possible were herded by two coordinating helicopters into one of two traps—the Crystal trap at Lamar in the northeast quarter and Nez Perce trap on the Firehole River nearly 35 miles farther southwest.

By the winters of 1964-65 and 1965-66 squeeze chutes handled most of these trapped bison and they were either sorted for release or trucked to a local slaughterhouse, according to Margaret Mary Meagher, Research Biologist of the National Park Service, author of “The Bison of Yellowstone National Park,” 1973.

Most were aged by Department of Agriculture veterinarians and weighed. Also 47% of the animals removed from the park were examined for pregnancy, abnormalities, and evidence of injury or disease other than brucellosis.

Selected for butchering were bison with brucellosis suspected as well as those with abnormalities and injuries. The meat from healthy animals was packaged, frozen and delivered to Native tribes.

However, reproductive tracts were not examined, because about half of removed bison were brucellosis suspects.

Department of Agriculture veterinarians advised staff against such exams of reproductive organs, where the Brucella organism localizes, to avoid contamination of slaughterhouse premises and exposure of personnel to the disease.

All animals were permanently metal ear tagged and marked with temporary backtags, which were visible even from an airplane.

Fertility control along with culling is being considered in limiting the bison population in Yellowstone. For example, one type of contraceptive vaccine being investigated for possible use in bison would form antibodies that block sperm from fertilizing eggs. Another prevents follicle growth and ovulation.

However, available methods fail to be affordable, very effective, reversible or easily delivered to wild bison and elk that are spread across the vast landscape that is Yellowstone Park.

Further, they would likely have unintended consequences—such as altering the behavior and physiology of wild bison by changing the herd’s age structure.

USDA is charged with eradicating brucellosis from the United States and also remains committed to maintaining a viable and free-roaming bison herd in Yellowstone National Park.

(For more information on attempts to solve this problem, see “Part 1—InterTribal Buffalo Council Restores Herds—and More,” and “Part 2—ITBC, 30 years—Yellowstone Bison Dilemma,” blogs by Francie M Berg, Dec 29, 2020 and Jan 12, 2021. One solution has been quarantining young Yellowstone Park bison that test negative for brucellosis, raising them fenced away from the herds for as many as 5 to 8 years, while annually testing and finally allowing them to join specific tribal herds under strong fences.)

A New Plan gets Underway

A long-term plan for moving ahead with these issues is being made. The new plan includes both ranching and tribal interests at the table.

Of course, it’s difficult. The time for inviting public comments ended the last of February 2022.

Indian tribes today are insisting on what they see as their rights. Mostly they want to stop the butchering of excess bison in Yellowstone Park. They also do not want the bison altered in any way.

Instead, they’d like to bring the excess animals into their own buffalo herds. Many revere the Yellowstone Buffalo for their history as the last wild bison in America.

Indeed some tribes can point to treaties in which they were promised they could hunt and be in control of these areas “as long as the sun shines” or basically forever.

Certain tribes are allowed to hunt bison as they come out of the Park. Many environmentalists and others agree that is only right.

Cattle ranchers in the area are appalled by the idea of free-ranging elk and bison—which are both frankly considered to be about 50% infected with brucellosis—grazing the same ranges outside the Park in the Yellowstone area, even if at different seasons.

So far they’ve been able to get the Montana Legislature to agree with their rule: “To not allow live bison to leave the Park. Period.”

Thus no cattle have been reported as brucellosis infected by bison to date. No cattle are inside the Park and no bison are outside.

The wild elk are a different story. They are free to wander where they wish. Many elk leave the Park for better foraging when the snow gets too deep in the higher mountains.

There have been reports of vaccinated cattle infected with brucellosis from elk.

The experts point to the winter of 1996-97 when, with the Yellowstone Park herd at record levels, the limited forage in the Park was covered with record levels of ice and snow. Large numbers of bison moved outside the park looking for food.

Exiting the Park that winter were 1,079 bison that were then shot or sent to slaughter. An additional 1,300 or more bison starved to death inside the park because they could not paw their way through the ice.

There is a belief that bison need an area at the lower altitude outside the Park for grazing in tough winters.

“Research efforts are also underway to develop a safe and effective vaccine delivery system so that bison can be vaccinated remotely, as opposed to only hand injection,” according to the APHIS plan.

“In addition, APHIS has a veterinarian with wildlife management training and experience stationed in Montana, to function as a liaison among involved government agencies.

“APHIS is confident that, as more activity is generated on this issue, this liaison position will become increasingly important in ensuring that all involved parties are informed and that APHIS’ involvement is coordinated.

A tourist taunts an unpredictable bull who can turn on a dime and run faster and longer than he can—although he probably doesn’t know that.

 Can Brucellosis be eradicated from Yellowstone wildlife?

 “Yes,” replies APHIS to its own question.

“APHIS officials are confident, based on experience in other public and private bison and elk herds and on other successful disease eradication programs, that use of a combination of disease-eradication and herd-management measures will lead to the successful elimination of brucellosis from bison and elk in the Yellowstone ecosystem.”

Wow! They sound pretty confident—but it’s clear this will not happen soon.

 “Currently the best alternative for wildlife and livestock managers is to suppress the probability of Brucella abortus transmission by maintaining separation between bison, elk, and cattle during the period from February through June when calves are born and bedgrounds are being infected,” say USDA officials.

 The new plan for how this might be accomplished will soon be announced—and you can be sure we will report it to you in our blog.

_____________________________________________________________

NEXT: Saving Orphan Buffalo Calves

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Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Part2-Yellowstone Park in Winter

Part2-Yellowstone Park in Winter

Buffalo travel through snow in wintertime in Yellowstone Park. Courtesy National Park Service.

Yellowstone National Park is a special place, and winter is a wonderful time to experience just how special it is. When winter snows descend on the park, many of the normal recreational opportunities are no longer available.

Visitors have unparalleled opportunities to observe wildlife in an intact ecosystem, explore geothermal areas that contain about half the world’s active geysers, and view geologic wonders like the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

The seasonal change in winter provides new recreational opportunities to emerge: skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and riding a snowcoach.

Not all roads are open to cars. However, you can drive into the park through the North Entrance at Mammoth year-round.

The winter season of services, tours, activities, and ranger programs typically spans from mid-December to mid-March.

At Mammoth, you can take self-guiding tours of Fort Yellowstone and the Mammoth Terraces, join a guided walk or tour, cross-country ski, snowshoe, skate, rent a hot tub, watch wildlife, attend ranger programs and visit the Albright Visitor Center.

Visitors in snowcoach on skis drives past bison feeding in deep snow in pine trees. Photo NPS, by Jim Peaco.

Visitors may legally soak in the Gardner River where hot thermal water mixes with cool river water. You can also arrange for over-snow tours to Norris Geyser Basin, Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

From Mammoth, you can drive past Blacktail Plateau, through Lamar Valley and on to Cooke City, Montana.

You may see bison, elk, wolves, coyotes, eagles and other wildlife along the way.

You can also stop to cross-country ski or snowshoe a number of trails along this road. The interior of the park is open to various over-snow vehicles.

Tours can be arranged through the park concessioner or operators at the various gates.

The interior of the park is open to various over-snow vehicles.

You can also stay at Old Faithful Snow Lodge, from which you can walk, snowshoe, or ski around the geyser basin, take shuttles to cross-country ski trails.

Winter Activities in Yellowstone

Or join a tour to other parts of the park such as West Thumb, Hayden Valley and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

Bighorn Ram makes his way through underbrush near Tower Junction. NPS.

Average winter highs are 20 to 30ºF (–6 to –1ºC). During warm spells, sunny days can be much higher, such as 60 degrees or more for several days.

Average lows are 0 to 9ºF (–17 to –13ºC). However, the record low—which struck in the midst of the depression on Feb 9, 1933—was 66° below 0 F (–54°C) at Riverside Ranger Station, near the West Entrance.

On this anniversary year Yellowstone Park will participate in the 15th Biennial Scientific Conference on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem hosted by Montana State University, the Wyoming Governor’s Hospitality and Tourism Conference and the University of Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park 150 Anniversary Symposium.

The park is also grateful to Wind River (Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes) and other Tribal Nations for planning a multi-tribal gathering on the Wind River Reservation later in the year. 

Though fewer in winter, some Forest Rangers live in the Park year around and are always ready to answer visitor questions. About 4,000 employees work in Yellowstone Park each year. NPS.

This year Yellowstone will open 40 new employee housing units throughout the park along with groundbreakings on projects totaling more than $125 million funded through the Great American Outdoors Act.

These projects include two of the largest historic preservation projects in the country and a range of transportation projects that will address aging infrastructure.

This year will also mark the reopening of Tower Fall to Chittenden Road (near Dunraven Pass), a $28 million road improvement project completed over the past two years.

Wondering what to do on your visit to a snow-covered Yellowstone? The forest rangers of Yellowstone have plenty of ideas!

Take advantage of that white blanket of snow to zip through Yellowstone on a different form of transportation.

Winter in the park provides opportunities to take in the steaming geyser basins and wildlife via snowshoes, cross country skis, snowmobiles and snowcoaches.

The park sees between 2.8 and 3.1 million visitors annually, with most people visiting between June and August.

So if you can skirt those three summer months, or at least visit the less crowded areas at that time, you’ll find more relaxed, less congested roads and facilities.

Yellowstone is a big park with lots of room in the backcountry.

Buffalo feed in an area free of snow in Upper Geyser Basin in February 2015. Photo NPS, Sacha Charny.

Yellowstone Park annouonces that due to COVID-19, it does not currently have large events planned. However, this may change as the year progresses.

The Park advises prospective visitors to check the website: go.nps.gov/Yellowstone150 and follow #Yellowstone150 frequently in 2022 to stay current on commemoration information. (NPS / Jacob W. Frank, Jan 12, 2022; Contact: Morgan Warthin, (307) 344-2015)

Where to Stay in Winter

Many of Yellowstone’s hotels and cabins, including the famous Old Faithful Inn, are only open during the summer season. However, there are a couple of options for lodging during the winter inside the park.

Pending public health guidance: The Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins, winter tours, and the Obsidian Dining Room, will be open from December 16, 2021, through March 6, 2022.

The Mammoth Hotel and Cabins, winter tours and the Mammoth Hotel Dining Room, will be open December 15, 2021 to March 7, 2022.

Buffalo follow each other keeping to narrow trail through deep snow as they brush it aside to feed on the grasses far below near Tower. NPS, JPeaco.

It is often easier to stay just outside the park, avoiding traffic and enjoying area accommodations such as on Hebgen Lake. There is also a premiere RV park in Yellowstone, just outside the West Entrance.

What to Wear in Winter at Yellowstone

Winter weather in Yellowstone can be severe, but when you’re dressed appropriately it’s fun to brave the cold.

One of the most important tips to attire in this environment: Wear layers—especially if you’re going to be moving around skiing, snowshoeing or hiking.

Your layering lineup should include a windproof, hooded outer layer and base layers, like wool or synthetic long underwear-esque items for both your upper and lower body.

Avoid cotton jeans and sweatshirts if you plan to be active; these items lack wicking ability leaving you wet and cold.

Choose thick socks and boots when hiking over well-trodden areas and add gaiters to the mix if you’ll be wandering through knee-deep snow.

Hats are a must since you lose most of your heat from your head, and don’t forget the gloves/mittens to keep those fingers warm.

Pro tip: Disposable hand-warmers stuffed into mittens can be a treat for those who get cold easily or have poor circulation to their hands.

One thing many people forget when adventuring outside in snowy conditions: sun protection. High-altitude sunlight reflecting off of snow is even more intense than at lower elevations, so be sure to pack the sunglasses and lather sunscreen onto any exposed skin to avoid sunburn.

Be Aware of Soundscapes

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has many sounds with important ecological functions for reproduction and survival. They form a soundscape.

Sounds in the quiet of winter may be heard at great distances—so listen, if only to the silence of winter.

Greater Yellowstone’s soundscape is the aggregate of all the sounds within the park, including those inaudible to the human ear.

Grizzly Bear protects a buffalo carcass in Yellowstone River as Bison walk single file through pine trees along shore above. NPS JPeaco .

Some sounds are critical for animals to locate a mate or food, or to avoid predators.

Other sounds, such as those produced by weather, water, and geothermal activity, may be a consequence rather than a driver of ecological processes.

Human-caused sounds can mask the natural soundscape. In and near developed areas human-caused sounds that mask the natural soundscape relied upon by wildlife and enjoyed by park visitors are, to some extent, unavoidable.

The National Park Service’s goal is to protect or restore natural soundscapes where possible and minimize human-caused sounds—while recognizing that they are generally more appropriate in and near developed areas.

The potential for frequent and pervasive high-decibel noise from over-snow vehicles has made the winter soundscape an issue of particular concern in Yellowstone.

Management of the park’s winter soundscape is important because over-snow vehicles are allowed on roads in much of the park.

The quality of Greater Yellowstone’s soundscape therefore depends on where and how often non-natural sounds are present as well as their levels.

Yellowstone’s Abundant Wildlife

Visitors have unparalleled opportunities within Yellowstone’s 2.2 million acres to explore geothermal areas that contain about half the world’s active geysers, view geologic wonders like the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River and observe wildlife in an intact ecosystem.

Yellowstone National Park is not only a geologic wonder, but also home to abundant wildlife. As a wildlife preserve, visitors flock to this region to see animals in their native habitats.

In winter a close observer can expect to see a great many of these animals and birds:

  • Bison/Buffalo, of course
    Roaming wild throughout the park, Yellowstone is home to approximately 3,500 magnificent bison—a number that sometimes reaches 5,000 or 6,000 with a couple years’ calf crop. These massive animals are approximately 2,000 pounds and commonly frequent the Hayden and Lamar Valleys. 
  • Bald Eagles – Dotting the shores of Yellowstone’s rivers and lakes, bald eagles are commonly sighted as they look for their next fish-filled meal. Adult eagles are 30 to 45 inches in height.

    Bald Eagle feeds on lake trout he speared with his beak in the shallows of Lewis Lake. NPS JPeaco.

  • Bighorn sheep – Roaming the hills and mountains throughout Yellowstone, these sheep weigh 200 to 300 pounds, ranging in color from dark brown to light brown, have curved horns and a white behind. 
  • Black Bears – Common sightings are between March and November. Visitors need to remember to maintain space and to never approach wild animals, especially bears. 
  • Coyotes – Some of the largest coyotes in the U.S. live in the park, weighing 30 to 40 pounds. Smaller than wolves, coyotes live an average of six years. 
  • Elk – In the summertime with calves, Yellowstone is home to 25,000 elk. Elk weigh 500 to 700 pounds and are commonly sighted in the Mammoth region in meadows and large fields. 
  • Grey Wolves – Reintroduced to Yellowstone Park in 1995, this area is now home to more than 325 gray wolves. Lamar Valley is commonly frequented by wolves. 
  • Grizzly Bears – The best time for visitors to obtain a glimpse of a grizzly bear is between March and November. Grizzly bears are commonly sighted and rangers have information about areas that are safer for long-distance viewing. 
  • Moose – Second in Yellowstone to bison, moose weigh 1,000 pounds and are seven feet in height. The males’ feature telltale cupped antlers that make for outstanding photos. 
  • Mule Deer – These large deer can jump at a moment’s notice. Formerly known as blacktail deer, mule deer are distinguished by a black-tipped tail and oversized ears. Yellowstone is also home to white-tailed deer and pronghorn antelope. 
  • Trumpeter Swans – The world’s heaviest airborne bird, swans weigh 23 to 30 pounds and are distinguished by their white bodies and long, graceful necks. 
  • Badgers – Seldom seen, but common within the park, badgers often dig dens and live in holes, searching out their prey. 
  • Foxes – Distant and cautious, these animals can be spotted in Lamar Valley and on Specimen Ridge. 
  • Mountain Lions – Only 20 to 35 mountain lions inhabit the park. Weighing 100 to 160 pounds, mountain lions are a member of the cat family. 
  • Otters – Social and playful, otters are found along rivers and lakes, including Trout and Yellowstone Lakes. 
  • Small Mammals – Yellowstone is home to ground squirrels, chipmunks, red squirrels, marmots, northern flying squirrels, porcupines, beavers, muskrats, pocket gophers, voles and mice.

Buffalo in Winter

Buffalo are much more than America’s largest land mammal—they are culturally ingrained in our history and embody the strong and resilient characteristics of the American people.

 Now our National Mammal.

 While Bison are by no means the only active animals in winter in Yellowstone, we can almost guarantee you’ll see Buffalo anywhere along the roads where travelling is easier in deep snow.

Some of them hang out in the geothermal areas of Yellowstone. They especially seem to enjoy the warmth of the many geothermal areas. Buffalo like to get warmed up in winter too, just like we do.

Buffalo seem to enjoy the warmth of geothermal areas in winter. NPS.

Winter can sometimes be a challenge for bison, but these hardy animals are built to survive.

They might not be moving fast. In fact will likely be at least temporarily slowed down—with huge heads buried deeply in snow as they eat green grass.

Every year when mid-winter arrives, snow can blanket the northern Great Plains, temperatures can drop well below zero and the winds can howl unmercifully, and yet bison remain alive and well on the hostile landscape.

Indeed, the rangers tell us bison have evolved digestive, physiological, and behavioral strategies that allow them to survive some of the harshest weather in North America.

During the cold winter season, bison develop thick, woolly coats that help protect them from freezing temperatures and harsh winds.

It is said that a bison’s winter coat is so thick and provides insulation so effective that when snow accumulates on its coat, it will not melt from the heat of the bison’s skin.

Their skin also thickens in response to cold temperatures and fatty deposits appear to insulate the animal. This is important because during winter storms, bison will actually turn toward the storm, hunker down, and wait for it to pass.

With thick coats and creating a low profile, bison can survive the same storm that would kill many domestic livestock.

Bison also have the ability use their large head and massive neck and shoulder muscles as snow plows to forage in snow as deep as four feet!

But what is perhaps most impressive is how eating grass allows them to have enough energy to survive the winters.

Think about it: in winter, a big, hearty stew full of meat and potatoes sounds appetizing to many people. We crave those large, filling meals to keep us warm in the middle of winter.

Could you imagine eating only stalks of celery after skiing or working in zero degree weather all day?

Well that is almost exactly what bison do, and they have adapted to efficiently find nourishment from low quality forage that allows them to battle blizzards, minus 40 degree temperatures and 50 mile an hour winds.

Under cold stress, bison have developed the adaptation to minimize nutritional needs and slow their metabolism to conserve energy. Metabolism is a term used to describe the process by which our bodies convert food into energy.

People say bison during the winter are time minimizers rather than energy maximizers. In other words, bison cannot merely eat more food and more often to compensate for the low nutritional forage they eat.

Instead, they slow down their metabolism, the amount of time they spending foraging, and the amount of food they consume—in order to conserve energy. Bison also have the ability to generate internal body heat through digestion.

Bison slow down their metabolism in winter to conserve energy. They also have the ability of generae internal body head during digestion. Here feeding in deep snow on Swan Lake Flat. NPS, Neal Herbert.

Forage is retained longer in their gut—due to the increase of indigestible plant material found in the winter—which allows them to eat less but still receive the nutrition they require.

Without these adaptations, surviving the freezing temperatures and blizzard storms would not be possible.

Pregnant female bison lose a substantial amount of body mass over the winter. Pregnant bison will mobilize fat reserves during late gestation periods to meet increasing nutritional demands.

How Yellowstone Wildlife Adapts to Winter Chill

Forest rangers tell us how wildlife adapt to the sometimes harsh winters of Yellowstone.

Behavioral

  • Red squirrels and beavers cache food before winter begins.
  • Some birds roost with their heads tucked into their back feathers to conserve heat.
  • Deer mice huddle together to stay warm.
  • Bison, deer and elk sometimes follow each other through deep snow to save energy.
  • Small mammals find insulation, protection from predators, and easier travel by living beneath the snow.
  • Grouse roost overnight by burrowing into snow for insulation.
  • Bison, elk, geese and other animals find food and warmth in hydrothermal areas.

Buffalo cross boardwalk ahead of visitors and find winter warmth at Fountain Paint Pots. JPeaco.

Morphological and Physical

  • Mammals molt their fur in late spring to early summer. Incoming guard hairs are longer and protect the underfur. Additional underfur grows each fall and consists of short, thick, often wavy hairs designed to trap air. A sebaceous (oil) gland, adjacent to each hair canal, secretes oil to waterproof the fur. Mammals have muscular control of their fur, fluffing it up to trap air when they are cold and sleeking it down to remove air when they are warm.
  • River otters’ fur has long guard hairs with interlocking spikes that protect the underfur, which is extremely wavy and dense to trap insulating air. Oil secreted from sebaceous glands prevents water from contacting the otters’ skin. After emerging from water, they replace air in their fur by rolling in the snow and shaking their wet fur.
  • Snowshoe hares, white-tailed jackrabbits, long-tailed weasels, and short-tailed weasels turn white for winter. White provides camouflage but may have evolved primarily to keep these animals insulated as hollow white hairs contain air instead of pigment.
  • Snowshoe hares have large feet to spread their weight over the snow; martens and lynx grow additional fur between their toes to give them effectively larger feet.
  • Moose have special joints that allow them to swing their legs over snow rather than push through snow as elk do.
  • Chickadees’ half-inch-thick layer of feathers keeps them up to 100 degrees warmer than the ambient temperature.

Biochemical and Physiological

  • Mammals and waterfowl exhibit counter-current heat exchange in their limbs that enables them to stand in cold water: cold temperatures cause surface blood vessels to constrict, shunting blood into deeper veins that lie close to arteries. Cooled blood returning from extremities is warmed by arterial blood traveling towards the extremities, conserving heat.
  • At night, chickadees’ body temperature drops from 108°F to 88°F (42–31°C), which lessens the sharp gradient between the temperature of their bodies and the external temperature. This leads to a 23% decrease in the amount of fat burned each night.
  • Chorus frogs tolerate freezing by becoming severely diabetic in response to cold temperatures and the formation of ice within their bodies. The liver quickly converts glycogen to glucose, which enters the blood stream and serves as an antifreeze. Within eight hours, blood sugar rises 200-fold. When a frog’s internal ice content reaches 60–65%, the frog’s heart and breathing stop. Within one hour of thawing, the frog’s heart resumes beating.

Bison travel single file along road where snow recently has been plowed. NPS Jacob Frank.

Our Elk Hunt

On one memorable trip to Yellowstone Park—actually in the dead of winter—my sister Jeanie and I spent a week there. Just outside the park, hunting elk with our Dad one Christmas vacation when we were in high school.

We drove our stock truck the 340 miles or so from our ranch in eastern Montana to the north border of Yellowstone so we could take along our most-trusty saddle-horse Buck to drag out the elk.

We’d also have space to haul him and the elk carcasses we planned to bring home.

We lived that week in 1948 in a snug canvas tent pitched just outside the Park fence near a trickling creek not far from Gardiner.

First thing, Jeanie and I had to shovel the deep snow away, so it didn’t thaw under our tent. Then Dad carried in a wood-burning stove with a stovepipe to poke out the top.

On the Firing Line

From Dad’s hunting friends we’d heard a lot about the Famous Firing Line. Not really a place you want to be.

The Firing Line was a place where hunters spaced themselves before daylight between the Park fence and herds of elk which came out of the park to feed during the night.
When shooting started at daybreak the elk tried to run back into Yellowstone Park where they knew they’d be safe.

It was all too easy for hunters to get trapped between the fence, the rifles and frantic elk.

Every morning Jeanie and I ate breakfast hot cakes Dad made on our small stove—at the crack of dawn. Then we fixed a sack lunch for each of us and climbed the big mountain above us.

As we climbed we checked the prospects: How many elk came out of the park during the night before to eat in wooded side draws?

Bull Elk rests in snow near Blacktail Ponds. NPS Jacob Frank

Might they be still outside the Yellowstone Park fence, out of sight in the draws and legal to shoot?

It was 1948 and we learned to shush along through deep snow in long-tailed, old-fashioned snow shoes and carry our heavy 30.06 war surplus rifles (borrowed from hunting friends) into the deepest parts of the mountain and back.

It took all day and we were exhausted as we fell onto our bedrolls at dusk. A long story, but between the three of us we did shoot and bring home two big elk—and Buck, too.

We found out what the ‘Firing Line’ meant. Not a good thing, but a mind-bending adventure for sure!

April Snow Plowing

Bison grazes at dusk along creek in Hayden Valley. NPS.

Most of the park is now closed for a couple weeks in April to plow the roads in preparation for the summer season.

In 2022, road opening dates for the summer season have not been announced.

For reference, in 2020, the roads opened on these dates: April 17 (West Entrance), May 1 (East Entrance), May 8 (South Entrance) and May 22 (Tower Fall to Canyon and the Beartooth Highway to the Northeast Entrance). Road openings are pending weather conditions.

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NEXT:
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Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Visiting Yellowstone Park in Winter-Part 1

Visiting Yellowstone Park in Winter-Part 1

Gardiner: Considered the original entrance to Yellowstone, Gardiner, Montana, at Mammoth is home to the historic Roosevelt Arch, which was dedicated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. This entrance is open year around. Credit National Park Service.

As remarkable as Yellowstone National Park and Greater Yellowstone are during the rest of the year, in winter the park is a magical place.

Steam and boiling water erupt from natural cauldrons in the park’s ice-covered surface, snow-dusted bison exhale vaporous breaths as they lumber through drifts of white, foxes and coyotes paw and pounce in their search for prey in the deep snow, and gray wolves bay beneath the frozen moon.

Yellowstone in winter also is a place of vulnerability. Wildlife endure extremes of cold, wind and the absence of ready food. Their tracks through deep snow tell of tenacious struggles through the long winter. Park conditions in this most severe of seasons become critical to the mortality of wildlife and even to survival of park species.

No wonder the park is so popular in this magical, vulnerable season with those who have enjoyed its charms.

It is often said among park staff who live in Yellowstone that winter is their favorite season. Many park visitors who try a winter trip to Yellowstone come back for more.

Snowmobiles and other traffic pass bison traveling along side of West Entrance Road in Yellowstone Park. NPS Jim Peaco.

Oldest National Park in World turns 150

This winter, on March first, 2022, marks Yellowstone National Park’s 150th birthday. It’s the oldest national park on the planet and a World Heritage Site.

Signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant, America’s first national park was set aside on March 1, 1872, to preserve and protect the scenery, cultural heritage, wildlife, geologic and ecological systems and processes in their natural condition ‘for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.’

Within Yellowstone’s 2.2 million acres, visitors have unparalleled opportunities to observe wildlife in an intact ecosystem, explore geothermal areas that contain about half the world’s active geysers, and view geologic wonders like the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

Yellowstone is as wondrous as it is complex. The park is at the heart of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, where nature and culture abound.

This might be a good year for you to experience Yellowstone Park again, beginning with a stunning winter visit—or even for the first time, if you’ve never been here.

Afterwards consider returning for the early spring Native American celebrations at Mammoth and to enjoy the lush flowers and wildlife of changing seasons—Spring, Summer and Fall in Yellowstone—Wow!.

As a native Montanan I’ve visited Yellowstone Park many times, the first time at age 6.

Well do I remember the terror of my first drive to the top of Beartooth Pass above Red Lodge—as a child of the plains. Sudden switchbacks plunged into deep canyons out the back-seat car window on a narrow road with drouping shoulders that fell away without railings into horrifying drop-offs.

I never thought we’d make it out alive, but when we finally reached the top we were delighted to jump out and throw snowballs with our whole family.

Many times through the ensuing years we hiked with forest rangers or sat on logs around a forest service campfire while they filled our ears with amazing stories and facts of wildlife, mountain adventures—and occasionally a tale of outrageous tourist behavior, and its fatal consequences.

Forest Service Rangers are always ready to answer tourist questions. About 4,000 employees work in Yellowstone Park each year. We hiked with knowledgeable Forest Rangers who told us amazing stories of wildlife, sat around their campfires on logs while they shared tales of adventure—and sometimes of reckless tourists with serious and even fatal consequences. JPeaco.

We always left the campfire with a dim flashlight it seemed and some great never-to-be-forgotten memories.

My sister Anne who lived in Helena with little children often took them to the geysers and geothermic lakes—but only with stern cautions for her own three little girls to stay on designated trails and out of the hot water.

At the same time she had plenty of anxiety for other children allowed to run freely up and down the boardwalks, pushing on each other, teasing and testing boiling thermal pools—and their parents’ patience.

Hank Heasler, the park’s principal geologist provides a warning, which he says is often ignored.

“Geothermal attractions are one of the most dangerous natural features in Yellowstone, but I don’t sense that awareness in either visitors or employees,” he says.

No, Anne didn’t sense awareness in those parents, either, as they casually hiked along, laughing and snapping photos of their children’s daring escapades.

The National Park Service publishes warnings, posts signs and maintains boardwalks where people can walk to get close to popular geyser fields.

Morning Glory pool—and a host of other hot springs—glow with colorful deposits of gold, green and blue. In Yellowstone’s geyser basins are 10,000 or more geysers, mudpots, steamvents and hot springs. Yellowsones’ geothermal areas contain about half the world’s active geysers—more than exist anywhere else in the world today. NPS.

Yet every year, rangers say they rescue one or two visitors, frequently small children, who fall from boardwalks or wander off designated paths and punch their feet through thin earthen crust into boiling water.

They remind us that Yellowstone protects 10,000 or so geysers, mudpots, steamvents, and hot springs. People who got too close have been suffering burns since the first explorations of the region.

Later from her winter home in Phillipsburg during the 1970s and 1980s Anne took her college-age girls skiing in Yellowstone Park for Christmas vacation when they were in the upper grades and college.

Alhough Old Faithful lodge might be open for Christmas, she said the rooms available at that time were scarce, but filled with beds for kids.

Cross-country skiing was on your own.

Often they’d ski right through big herds of buffalo feeding deep in the snow, sweeping their heads back and forth to uncover the grass. NPS.

They’d drive to a likely spot, snap on the skis and take off—ski to their hearts content—and return to the lodge before early winter darkness hit.

Often they’d ski right through big herds of buffalo wedged knee-deep in snow, sweeping their heads back and forth to clear the grass, which was still green under the snow.

The buffalo watched them with big eyes, but without moving as the young people skied past.

At the outskirts of the herd were always a coyote or two, ever watchful for a struggling buffalo or two that might not make it till spring.

Now, instead of two or three coyotes, are the newly reintroduced wolves hunting in family packs. Mostly they kill old or sick bison at the outskirts of the herd.

olves surround a lone buffalo in Pelican Valley. Reintroduced in Yellowstone in 1995, wolves have increased in numbers and hunt in significant family Packs. Herds of bison are well defended—armed with heavy slashing horns—but aging bulls who travel alone and newborn calves are often victims. NPS.

Yellowstone serves as the core of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, one of the largest nearly intact natural ecosystems remaining on the planet.

Yellowstone has the most active, diverse, and intact collections of combined geothermal features with over 10,000 hydrothermal sites and half the world’s active geysers.

The park is also rich in cultural and historical resources with 25 sites, landmarks and districts on the National Register of Historic Places.

Many Native American Tribes have traditional connections to the land and its resources. Located as it is where the Great Plains, Great Basin and Columbia Plateau converge, the Park saw lots of traffic for over 10,000 years before Yellowstone became a national park.

It was a place where Native Americans came to hunt, fish, gather plants, quarry obsidian and use thermal waters for religious and medicinal purposes.

“Yellowstone’s 150th anniversary is an important moment in time for the world,” says Superintendent Cam Sholly.

“It’s an opportunity for us to reflect on the lessons of the past while focusing our efforts to strengthen Yellowstone and our many partnerships for the future.

“I applaud and share the vision of Secretary Haaland and Director Sams on our responsibility to more fully engage with Tribal Nations to honor and learn from their ancestral and modern connections to Yellowstone.”

Tribal history goes back 10,000 years or more in the Park. Tribes will join in celebrating Yellowstone Tribal Heritage Center project— including a tepee village near Mammoth.

Beginning on March 1, the park will host and participate in a wide range of activities to commemorate the 150th.

The park has already conducted substantial outreach to Native American Tribes, inviting them to participate directly in this anniversary.

Multiple Tribal Nations will be present throughout the summer at Old Faithful as part of the Yellowstone Tribal Heritage Center project.

Tribes are also coordinating with Yellowstone staff to install a large teepee village in the park near the Roosevelt Arch at Mammoth in August. There tribal members will interact directly with visitors about their cultures and heritage.
Thus, Native American history in Yellowstone Park goes back 10,000 years or more.

Exploring ‘Colter’s Hell’

The history of white explorers in the park spans less than three centuries, but is quite dramatic.

The first white man to see and describe what is now Yellowstone National Park was J ohn Colter , in 1807.

Known as the original ‘Mountain Man’—American trapper and explorer—Colter went to the area alone to find fur trading partners for Manuel Lisa among the Native Americans.

He traveled over 500 miles to explore and establish trade with the Crow nation.

When he told people about the geysers, geothermal lakes and mud pots that bubbled, spurted and erupted into the air, no one believed him. They called it ‘Colter’s Hell.’

As the first white man in Yellowstone, John Colter probably saw scenes like these bison in Lower Geyser Basin in winter. People called it “Colter’s Hell,” and did not believe him. NPS photo credit Jacob Frank.

Colter began his mountain adventures traveling with the Meriweather Lewis and William Clark party to the Pacific Ocean. A young man from Virginia with skills in the deep woods, he proved to be a trusted hunter and route finder for the expedition from 1803 to 1806.

On their return trip they met two trappers heading up the Missouri River in search of beaver furs. Lewis and Clark released Colter to lead them back to the region they had just explored.

Over the course of that winter, he explored the region that later became Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

He arrived back in Lisa’s fort in March or April 1808. Not only had Colter traveled hundreds of miles, much of the time unguided, he did it in the coldest part of winter.

On one occasion he was captured by warring tribes, disarmed, stripped naked and forced to run for his life—pursued by a large group of young warriors.

A fast runner, after several miles the nude and freezing Colter was exhausted and bleeding from his nose but was far ahead of most of the warriors with only one still close behind.

He managed to overcome the lone man, took his blanket for warmth and continued running ahead of the rest until he reached the Madison River, where he hid inside a beaver dam. After dark he climbed out and walked for eleven days, 200 miles, to a trader’s fort on the Little Big Horn.

In 1810, after discovering that two of his partners had been killed by hostile tribes, Colter decided to leave the wilderness for good, and returned to St. Louis. He’d been away from civilization for almost six years.

Around that time he visited with William Clark and provided valuable information of his explorations since they had last met. From this, Clark created a map which, despite certain discrepancies, was the most comprehensive map produced of the region for the next 75 years.

Colter married, had a son and purchased a farm near Miller’s Landing, Missouri, now New Haven. During the War of 1812, he enlisted and fought with Nathan ‘s Rangers but died the next year.

Known as the original ‘Mountain Man’—American trapper and explorer—Colter was born in 1775 and died in 1813 while still a young man.

Colter is best remembered for the explorations he made during the winter of 1807–1808, when he became the first known person of European descent to enter the region which later became Yellowstone National Park and was first to see the Teton Mountain Range

A Bison Hazing We Will Go!

You may like taking part in bison hazing on horseback at the end of winter.

 No, this isn’t your standard fraternity hazing, but in the wild is defined as simply herding or pushing an animal. Of course, it doesn’t physically harm the animal. It’s designed to keep roaming buffalo in their regional zones.

This annual hazing simply helps round up buffalo that have migrated outside of their native Yellowstone National Park habitats and return them to their traditional calving grounds before baby season arrives, which is typically every May or June.

This year has proved challenging, as the Montana Department of Livestock has reported a larger number of migrating bison within Zone 3, also known as the Western Management Area. This zone’s boundaries are defined as running along the South Fork of the Madison River, going around the western area of Horse Butte, heading north into Red Canyon and then returning south back into Yellowstone National Park. In fact, reports show that 40 buffalo migrated very close to Idaho’s border.

When the going gets tough and the horseback riders run into difficulty hazing the buffalo, a helicopter may be called in to help. It simply help aid human ability to further round up the returning head prior to their birthing season. Last year the deadline to have the bison returned to the park was May 15, just in time for the closed gates to reopen and welcome spring.

Bison are an interesting species. In fact, they are the largest terrestrial mammals in all of North America. Once dominating the grasslands of the U.S., estimates show that approximately 40 million bison once freely roamed our lands. However, by 1900, this number had dramatically plummeted, with just over 1,000 bison remaining.

Unfortunately, bison can only travel at a meager 30 miles per hour, which made them a hardy food source for Native Americans and white settlers.

While some bison were slaughtered for food, some were just killed for the ‘sport of it.’

Tragically, bison were killed in large numbers to simply make way for farmlands as people migrated west.

Fortunately for the remaining bison, environmental conservationists in the 1900s began breeding this species on protected lands, helping bring them back from the brink of extinction.

Adult bison live approximately 20 years in Yellowstone Park and begin giving birth when they are approximately three years of age, with males procreating at six years. (They often live much longer and calve every year on private ranches, without the large natural predators of the Park.)

Bison prefer savannas, open plains and grasslands and have a strictly herbivore diet. Constantly on the move, these massive animals are over six feet tall and weigh between 900 to 2,000 pounds.

The winter months are hard on this species, especially during unusually cold winters where grasslands are lacking and snow gets crusted. Yet buffalo have evolved to survive in this country—and most of them do.

Find your Way in Winter Wonderland

Ever walked through a winter wonderland? Visit Yellowstone National Park between November and March and you’ll likely get your chance.

 Covered in a blanket of white, the terrain looks as quiet and peaceful as it feels. Add in landscapes of steaming geysers for an ethereal feel and you’ve got a recipe for a great vacation!

Just be sure that you’re prepared. Here are some tips and dates from the Park Rangers to keep in mind.

Roads inside Yellowstone close to wheeled traffic on Nov. 8, 2021, except for the road between the North and Northeast entrances, which remain open year-round.

However, since the Beartooth Highway which leads to the East Entrance is also seasonally closed, the only way to enter the park in a vehicle during the winter season is through the North Entrance at Gardiner, Montana.

Beartooth Highway Outside of the Park at the East Entrance: Beartooth Highway (US 212, Red Lodge, Mont, to Cooke City, Mont. ) closes Oct. 12, 2021, and reopens in early May. Note: The summit of Beartooth—the only entrance from Red Lodge—is where you can throw snowballs beside the road in shirtsleeves in early June. Such fun!

A SnowCoach stops on highway for visitors to view Bison in winter at Gibbon Meadows, at a hot springs. NPS, Diane Renkin.

Road Openings to Over-Snow Travel: The park opens for winter recreation and over-snow travel in mid-December for the 2021-2022 winter. Roads will open to over-snow travel by snowmobile and snowcoach at 8 a.m. on December 15, 2021:

  • West Entrance to Old Faithful
  • Mammoth to Old Faithful
  • Canyon to Norris
  • Canyon to Yellowstone Lake
  • Old Faithful to West Thumb
  • South Entrance to Yellowstone Lake
  • Yellowstone Lake to Lake Butte Overlook
  • East Entrance to Lake Butte Overlook (Sylvan Pass)

Road Closings to Over-Snow Travel
The winter recreation season closes in March. Here are the spring 2022 closure dates. Roads will close to over-snow travel by snowmobile and snowcoach at 9 p.m. on the following dates:

  • March 6, 2022: Mammoth Hot Springs to Norris
  • March 8, 2022: Norris to Madison and Norris to Canyon Village
  • March 13, 2022: Canyon Village to Fishing Bridge
  • March 15, 2022: All remaining groomed roads

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NEXT: PART 2-Yellowstone Park in Winter
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Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Canadian Bison Discover Ancient Petroglyphs

Canadian Bison Discover Ancient Petroglyphs

Eleven buffalo arrived at Wanuskewin Heritage Park in 2019. Eight months later they uncovered a petroglyph carved by human hands a thousand years ago in the paddock where they water. Photo credit Wanuskewin Heritage Park.

Bison reintroduced to Wanuskewin Heritage Park on the outskirts of Saskatoon in 2019 have uncovered—with their hooves—four 1,000-year-old rock carvings, evidence of their own history in the area, according to Diane Selkirk writing recently in the Smithsonian Magazine. (Nov 24, 2021)

The rocks were discovered by Chief Archaeologist Ernest Walker, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan.

He remembers the exact date the discovery happened—Aug 16, 2020.

Walker immediately told Wanuskewin CEO Darlene Brander about the discovery.

“(Walker) knocked on the door and he knocked in a way that I knew something was up,” Brander recalls.

“He came in and said that, ‘We found it, we found rock art.’

“My eyes got kind of big,” Brander said.

Months before, they had been talking about what Wanuskewin really needed or would like to have. And that conversation led to one thing, she said.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we had rock art?”

Walker himself was stunned by the discovery.

He listed the other artifacts that have been discovered around Wanuskewin: bison jumps, tipi rings, buried campsites, projectile points, bones, bone and stone tools, charcoal, potsherds, seeds gaming pieces, personal adornments and the most northerly medicine wheel found on the plains.

The first boulder was carved with parallel lines. “They’re a glimpse into somebody’s hopes and dreams,” said Ernie Walker who first identified the petroglyph. Credit WHP.

“What we didn’t have was rock art, and all of a sudden we’re in the rock art business.”

Both Ernie Walker and Darlene Brander made sure the next steps followed protocol and ceremony, which included consulting elders.

Rocks Fulfill an Indigenous Prophecy

The elders of the Wahpeton Dakota Nation had long prophesized that the return of Plains buffalo to their ancestral lands would portend a welcome turn of events for Canada’s First Nation peoples.

What they did not predict was that it would take just eight months after the buffalo’s arrival for this prophesy to come true.

“The elders used to tell us ‘When the bison come back, that’s when there’ll be a good change in our history,’ ” says Wahpeton Dakota Elder Cy Standing.

“We’ve been down a long time. But it feels like we are starting the way up.”

The elders called the rocks “grandfathers.”

After some discussion with them, Brander said the elders granted Wanuskewin permission to move some of them onto the site ‘so that we could share them with the world.’

She said elders and knowledge keepers were surprised and thoughtful about the discovery.

“There are no manuals that come with the petroglyphs, so really it lends itself to contemplation and thinking about spirituality and the role in culture within the different cultures within the Indigenous communities,” Brander explained.

“To see the elders experiencing that was really special.”

Indigenous peoples have a complicated relationship with traditional archaeologists.

Excavations have often been compromised by strangers who arrive, dig into important places without permission and steal sacred objects.

Days after the first discovery, Walker and his team found three more petroglyphs and the stone knife used to make the carvings. He says he thinks these discoveries are a sign the buffalo “are happy to be here.” WHP.

But after being offered a role in Wanuskewin’s development and management, the elders saw this as an opportunity to reclaim their history for their children—and share it with non-Indigenous people.

“When you come here, you can feel the energy,” says Cy Standing.

He had joined the team with Wanuskewin’s first elders and recalls attending sweat-lodge ceremonies and other events during the park’s development.

“We asked for direction and guidance [from the ancestors],” he said.

The park, which ‘was a gathering, healing and ceremonial place,’ had the potential to reconnect Indigenous people with each other, their culture, the land and the bison.

“Bison [are] very sacred to us, and in our stories we call them our brothers,” adds Standing.

The stone knife used to carve the newly discovered petroglyphs was found buried nearby, 10 centimetres below the surface. WHP.

Everything about Wanuskewin centers on the plains bison.

But for the park’s first 35 years, the animals only existed in oral history and as bones and artifacts recovered from the park’s 19 pre–European contact archaeological sites in the area.

Then in 2019, as part of a $40 million dollar expansion, six female calves were brought in from Grasslands National Park to help establish the buffalo herd at Wanuskewin, as well as four pregnant females and a mature bull from Yellowstone National Park.

Only months after the 11 buffalo arrived—after almost 40 years of human-led archaeological excavations—the bison unearthed the park’s first petroglyphs.

“We’d found the detritus of everyday living: broken stone tools and debris from the manufacture of stone tools. Things like that,” Walker says.

“But [we] didn’t find ideas. [We] didn’t find emotions. The petroglyphs brought that. They’re that other dimension. … They’re a glimpse into somebody’s hopes and dreams.”

Staff invited park elders in to see the petroglyphs and offer advice on spiritual guidance and a management plan for the boulders.

Though the First Nations believe that all rocks are sacred and shouldn’t be moved, in this case, the elders felt that moving the boulders to protect them and to share them with the world would be acceptable, says Standing.

In Indigenous culture, the hoofprint tradition revolves around the feminine, fertility and renewal.

Pointing to a little tailed spirit figure in the center of the ribstone, as the first stone was called, Walker says the surface of the rock acts like a curtain or a screen between the physical and supernatural.

He adds, “The little figure’s tail is going into the crack in the rock. It’s meant to portray a passage from this world to the supernatural world.”

Like Walker, Standing acknowledges the fortuitous nature of the bison’s discovery of the petroglyphs.

Cy Standing says the petroglyphs help tell Native people—and especially children—about the good life they had when there were great herds of buffalo running free. He suggests that knowing this can help them move ahead. WHP.

 “You know, we don’t really know our history. We have oral history,” he says, “but all the books were written after contact. [The petroglyphs] show us more.

He wants people to understand that the petroglyphs come from thousands of years ago, when the Native people were living well and cared for themselves and their tribe without outside help.

“We had a good life. Our children need to know that so they can go forward.”

Walker’s Discovery in the Paddock

Archaeologist Ernie Walker and bison manager Craig Thoms made the find last summer while visiting the park.

They were out feeding the bison at the paddock. Standing near a wallow—a bare spot where the buffalo give themselves dust baths—about 800 meters west of the Wanuskewin building.

Walker looked down at the ground where the bison had been rolling and noticed a grooved rock protruding through the dirt, according to Laura Woodward, reporting on CTV News Saskatoon, Nov. 19, 2021.  

“I just happened to look down at my feet and there was a boulder protruding, partly protruding, through the ground and it had a kind of strange groove over the top of it,” Walker recalled.

He said at the time he thought the groove may have just been damage. Assuming the cut was from tool damage, he brushed away the dirt, only to expose another groove and then another.

“They were all parallel, all symmetrical,” he says.

Walker brushed at the grooves.

Carvings on the petroglyphs are dated at between 300 and 1,800 years ago, with a probable age of around 1,000 years old. WHP.

 “I was trying not to have a heart attack because I hadn’t expected it,” Walker told reporters at the rock unveiling.

“It was at that point I realized this [was] actually what is known as a petroglyph. This was intentionally carved.”

“The interesting thing is the bison were the ones that actually partially uncovered it because we’re in their paddock, where they water. They have to pass through this paddock going from one pasture to another.

“So they do spend quite a bit of time there. They will wallow. They will give themselves dust baths, and they had denuded most of the vegetation.

“They were responsible for showing us these buried boulders,” Walker added.

“They’re just very happy to be here.”

The ribstone is currently on display at the park’s interpretive center.

The park received a letter from the Saskatchewan Archaeological Society—after submitting their findings—which attests that the carvings on the rocks are indeed the result of cultural modification.

“The placement and alignment of the carved images could not be created any other way,” executive director of the Archaeological Society Tomasin Playford wrote.

Brander said this was an extra layer of verification that supported Walker’s expertise.

She said this kind of support is really important for the park’s UNESCO World Heritage designation.

The park was named to the tentative list in 2017 and is still awaiting official designation.

She said that if it was anyone else who came across the rock the day Walker did, they may have just walked on by.

Brander calls the petroglyphs the final piece that makes Wanuskewin unique in the world.

Some of the petroglyphs they found were large boulders; others smaller rocks. WHP.

Walker says the carving resembles the bones of a bison and represents fertility.

He believes Indigenous people carved the rock more than a thousand years ago.

He had surveyed the area in the 1980s and didn’t find anything. Not until the bison themselves brought it to the surface.

“They uncovered it, just with their normal activity,” Walker says.

Is this a sign the buffalo like living here?

Walker thinks so.

“I like to think it’s their message that they’re happy to be here.”

Days after the first ribstone discovery, Walker and his team found three more petroglyphs.

To their surprise, they also found the tool used to make the carvings. A stone knife was found adjacent to it about 10 centimetres below the surface.

“This is a stone tool, no question. It had been used and re-sharpened.

 “When I measured the width of the cutting edge of the stone knife, it’s the same width as the grooves on the rock,” Walker said.

“This is tremendously significant and very unusual,” Walker says of finding the knife.

The archaeologist says it is rare to find the carving tool.

“You never get that,” he says.

“Whoever did that, left it there or misplaced it, probably over a thousand years ago. I like to think it’s their business card. They left their business card here.”

“It’s significant and monumental,” Brander says.

The petroglyphs and carving tool are secured in glass, on display in the park’s building.

Petroglyphs are carvings, engravings or incisions into a rock, Walker explained.

He said rock art can be found around the world and in the northern plains. There are about nine different styles.

Walker said the four petroglyphs found are carved in the hoofprint tradition, most common in southern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.

It’s called hoofprint because instead of engraving a whole bison onto a rock, which would take a lot of work, Indigenous Peoples engraved just the split hooves, Walker said.

“So it’s very metaphorical. Those hooves represent a bison.”

From ethnographic information, Walker said there are three things involved with the hoofprint tradition: femaleness, fertility, and renewal.

“And it has to do with bison. It’s about the sacred relationship between females and bison.”

From the spot where the petroglyphs were found, it’s a straight, 380 yards across the Saskatchewan grassland to the edge of some of the steepest cliffs that line the park’s Opimihaw Creek valley.

Formed about 7,000 years ago—after the recession of the Wisconsin glacier—the 130- to 160-foot drop from the edge of the surrounding prairie to the valley bottom was identified by nomadic Indigenous peoples as an ideal buffalo jump once used in hunting.

The site attracted almost every pre–European contact group in the region.

For thousands of years, Blackfoot, Cree, Ojibwa, Assiniboine, Nakota and Dakota people following the migrating bison found food and shelter at the fertile confluence of the South Saskatchewan River and Opimihaw Creek.

They left behind ample evidence of habitation and—after Europeans and Métis arrived in the region as part of the fur trade in the 1860s—metal implements such as gun cartridges and a strike light.

“Everybody was here at some point,” says Walker of the site’s almost continuous, 6,000-year occupation.

Then came Treaty Six, an 1876 agreement between the English crown and Indigenous representatives that opened up the land for white settlement by promising every Indigenous family of five one square mile of land.

After its passage, First Nations people were, ‘of course . . . moved off to reserves’ away from their traditional nomadic migration routes, Walker adds.

Around that same time, hunting decimated the bison population, leaving no wild bison in Canada by 1888, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.

With the bison and people gone, the land that now forms the park became a small, private ranch and homestead owned by white settlers.

These new residents first received a sign that the property was home to something special in the 1930s, when a medicine wheel, a healing landmark consisting of a central stone cairn and an outer ring of rocks, as well as multiple smaller cairns, was rediscovered.

Bison Return after More than 100 years

It has been nearly 150 years since Plains bison have grazed on the land where Wanuskewin Heritage Park now stands.

The buffalo brought in from Grasslands National Park and Yellowstone National Park involved a partnership—between Parks Canada, Wanuskewin and Yellowstone National Park in the US.

All the buffalo have pure Plains bison genes and will replicate the species that once roamed the Prairies, according to Kyle Benning of the local Global News on Jan 17, 2020.

“Bison almost became extinct. There were less than 1,000 animals in the late 1800s. They’ve come back, but of course, there are questions of genetic purity and all these sorts of things,” said Walker.

Wanuskewin said the grasslands of North America are among the most endangered biomes in the world, and by bringing bison back into the fold, they will be able to restore native grasses and hopefully re-establish the species.

The park’s chief executive officer said bringing in the animals could help in its bid to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site and will help provide world-class programming at the park.

“And the ability to draw people from all over the world to the park. Having a … species like the bison here is just a wonderful opportunity,” Darlene Brander said.

Wanuskewin also received a $5-million donation from the Brownlee Family Foundation which is going towards the conservation effort and making sure the bison thrive.

The park’s leadership said it has been thinking about bringing the animals back to roam the area for decades, but funding and administrative hurdles proved to be difficult.

“I’m sure our elders from the early 1980s, wherever they are, are smiling. We did it. We came through for them 40 years later,” Walker added.

The plan is to eventually have a herd of 50 bison in Wanuskewin Park.

Discovery of Carving Promotes UNESCO Angle

The park’s chief executive officer Darlene Brander said bringing bison to the site could help in its bid to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site and will help provide world-class programming at the park.

Wanuskewin is in the process of getting recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

New baby bison born to a cow from Yellowstone National Park grazes contentedly in a field at Wanuskewin Heritage Park. WHP.

With the rare discovery of the petroglyphs, Brander says Wanuskewin is one step closer to reaching the designation.

“It’s significant and monumental,” Brander says.

She says petroglyphs were the missing puzzle piece in their UNESCO application.

The petroglyphs and carving tool are secured in glass, on display in the park’s building.

Verification of each step is also important for the park’s UNESCO World Heritage designation.

The park was named to the tentative list in 2017 and is still awaiting official recognition.

There are 20 World Heritage sites in Canada. None of them in Saskatchewan.

The first hint that this place was home to something special came in the 1930s, when a medicine wheel, a healing landmark consisting of a central stone cairn and an outer ring of rocks, as well as multiple smaller cairns, was researched.

“The story goes that professors from the University of Saskatchewan used to come out and have tea parties on Sunday afternoons at the medicine wheel,” Walker says.

An archaeological dig in 1946 and another small excavation in 1965 followed, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that the land’s archaeological wealth was recognized and a serendipitous series of events saved the site from being developed into condos.

As Walker and the park’s other founders sought funding and made plans in the early 1980s, they realized that a heritage park focusing on First Nations culture and history needed to include First Nations people in the planning.

Walker reached out to a friend, the late Hilliard McNab, an elder from George Gordon First Nation, for guidance.

“He said, ‘This place wants to tell its story,’” the archaeologist recalls.

McNab helped find other elders who wanted to be involved in the project and the archaeologists reached out to them as well.

Brander says the petroglyphs are the final piece that makes Wanuskewin unique in the world.

Wanuskewin hopes to become a UNESCO World Heritage site by 2025.

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NEXT: Bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

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