GTSS, NBA Winter Conference Rescheduled to Rapid City

GTSS, NBA Winter Conference Rescheduled to Rapid City


Meeting in special session in October, the National Bison Association Board of Directors approved committee recommendations to reschedule both the Gold Trophy Show & Sale, and the association’s Winter Conference until February 19 – 20, 2021.

Both events to be held in conjunction with the Dakota Territory Buffalo Association’s annual meeting and sale in Rapid City, SD.

In a unanimous vote, the board determined that the annual GTSS would be held at the Rapid City fairgrounds, in conjunction with DTBA’s performance tested yearling heifer auction. Under the agreement developed by the NBA and DTBA, GTSS animals would be transported to the fairgrounds on February 18th, and judged on February 19th

The NBA event will not include any yearling female entries in order not to conflict with DTBA’s performance-tested Girlz Going Wild yearling heifer sale. Animals from the NBA and DTBA will be housed at the Rapid City fairgrounds, but will be sold through a virtual, live-streamed video auction event. 

The NBA board also agreed to adopt a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the DTBA to hold a two-day conference on February 19 and 20 at the Ramkota hotel in Rapid City.

The abbreviated conference will include virtual streaming for members who want to participate, but who do not want to attend in person.

The MOU specifies how each organization will share in the expenses and revenue from that meeting. The MOU had been recommended for approval by the NBA Winter Conference Planning Committee.

Following discussion on the issue, the board adopted a motion “to move forward with the Winter Conference Committees recommendation, and approve the Memorandum of Understanding, and that the NBA and its leadership implement appropriate steps to protect the health and safety of attendees.”

Look for details on both events to be announced in the coming weeks.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Race with the Buffalo

Race with the Buffalo

As the largest of animals, Buffalo wanted to be chief of all. But the human people disagreed and accepted his challenge in a race. SDT.

Traditional storytellers believe that old stories are best told in the native language and to listeners who understand their culture.

They say an amusing story is “not as funny” in English. Much of the spirit, humor and excitement gets lost in translation.

Often the venerable grandmother with a twinkle in her eye entertained with hilarious tales about coyote tricksters and other mischief.

The following story may have been told just for fun with its twists, turns and surprises, for a giggling circle of attentive children

Many years ago all the animals lived in peace. No one ate anyone else. All the animals were the same color, because they had not yet painted their faces.

Buffalo was the largest of the animals and he was getting hungry.

He wanted to be the chief of all the animals. He wanted to draw strength from all the other animals by eating their flesh. Buffalo wanted to become the grandest of all the animals.

He said he deserved this as the largest and strongest of all.

 But the Human People disagreed. They wanted to pull strength from the other animals and become the most important.

So buffalo challenged the Human People to a race. The winner would become chief of all the animals.

The People said they would accept this challenge, but since buffaloes have four legs and People have only two, the People claimed the right to have another animal run the race in their place.

The buffaloes consented.

The People chose Bird People to represent them in the race. They selected Hummingbird, Meadowlark, Hawk and Magpie.

All the other animals and birds wanted to join the race, too, each of them thinking that just maybe they too had a chance to become chief of all the animals.

All the animals took paint and painted their faces for the race, each according to his or her spiritual vision.

Skunk painted a white stripe on himself as his symbol for the race.

Antelope painted himself the color of the earth. Raccoon painted black circles around his eyes and around his tail. Robin painted herself brown with a red breastplate for the race.

The race was to be held at the edge of the Black Hills at the place known as Buffalo Gap.

The competitors would race from the starting line sticks to the turn-around stick and then back to the starting line.

All the animals, painted according to their vision, lined up between the sticks.

Among the animals were the Bird People—Hummingbird, Meadowlark, Hawk and Magpie—who would run the race with their wings for the Human People, and Runs Slender Buffalo, the fastest runner of all the buffalo.

The cry was given to begin and all the animals and birds burst from the starter stick.

Hummingbird took the lead, ahead of Runs Slender Buffalo, but his wings were so small that he soon fell behind.

As the animals neared the turn around stick, Runs Slender Buffalo took the lead. Then Meadowlark came up beside Runs Slender Buffalo, and the two went along side by side right into the turn. Runs Slender Buffalo wheeled around the stick, her hooves thundering, and she pulled away from Meadowlark, who flew wide to make the turn.

The animals in the lead passed the late runners who were still headed for the stick.

Meadowlark fell behind and cheered on Hawk as he passed her.

Hawk gained on Run Slender Buffalo, and it looked like he might pass her. Her heart was pounding and her legs were tiring. But Hawk’s wings were tiring also, and he soon fell behind.

Runs Slender Buffalo was nearing the finish line as the winner.

It looked like the Buffalo would become eaters of all the animals!

Then, behind the buffalo woman, wings beating steadily, came Magpie. She was not a quick starter, but her wingbeats were hard and true. Her heart was strong. Her eyes did not wander from the finish line.

She never looked back. Her wings were wide and she drove herself forward with beat after beat after beat.

All the other animals had fallen behind. Runs Slender Buffalo looked over at the magpie, but Magpie never looked away from the starting sticks.

With each beat of her wings she moved past Runs Slender Buffalo by no more than the length of her bill.

At the starting sticks, many animals began to line up to watch the finish.

Raccoon, who had fallen out of the race early, had returned to the starting sticks.

Now he stood up between the sticks and put out his little hands for the runners to touch as they passed. He would feel the touch of whoever was in the lead, and turn toward the winner.

Closer and closer came Runs Slender Buffalo and some of the animals feared Raccoon would be trampled.

Magpie gradually flew nearer to the ground so she could brush Raccoon’s little hands as she flew past. Raccoon did not move, but stared straight at the onrushing pair.

Magpie seemed to be pulling ahead. Runs Slender Buffalo leaned forward as she ran to touch Raccoon’s hand with her great nose.

But Magpie’s wingtip touched Raccoon’s little hand and he turned toward her an instant before Runs Slender Buffalo thundered past, surrounded by a great cloud of dust. All the animals waited breathlessly for the dust to settle.

At last, there stood Raccoon with his little hand raised toward the path of Magpie.

The Human People had won the race!

Thus, they became great hunters and chief of all animals. They feasted on buffalo meat while Buffalo wandered the great plains eating grass and chewing their cud.

But the Human People never ate the Hummingbird, Meadowlark, Hawk or Magpie, who had befriended them and won the race for them.

( )

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

Wood Bison Versus Plains Buffalo

Wood Bison Versus Plains Buffalo

Part 2 to come: Wood Bison in Alaska
Part 3 to come: Wood Bison in Canada

Wood Buffalo bulls tend to be taller and more square at the hump than Plains Buffalo. Historically, they lived in the boreal forests of Northern Canada and Alaska where snow is deep and long-lasting. Parks Canada.

Wood Bison are the largest land mammal in North America.

Adult males stand 6 feet tall at the shoulder and measure 10 feet long.

This is about one-third larger than the Plains Buffalo.

The Wood Buffalo are also considerably heavier.

Parks Canada maintains a bison weight database going back to 1956.

During all that time, the records show only one Plains Bison bull that weighed more than a ton (2000 pounds or 909 kg).

At the same time–when fully grown—one-third of the Wood Bison bulls exceeded this weight.

Wood Buffalo females are considerably smaller than bulls, generally weighing around 1,200 pounds.

Wood Bison are about 15 percent heavier than Plains Bison.

Original distribution of Wood Bison during the last 5,000 years (stippled). Based on available zooarcheological and paleontological evidence and oral and written accounts. Parks Canada.

Scientists say the larger size is an adaptation to the more extremely long-lasting and cold climate of the far north.

Historically, Wood Bison range extends through the boreal forests of Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and much of the Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Alaska, as in the above map.

Boreal forests are defined as forests growing in high-latitude environments where freezing temperatures occur for 6 to 8 months and in which trees are capable of reaching a minimum height of 5 m and a canopy cover of 10 percent.

The Wood Bison is often distinguished by his taller, more box-like hump that has its highest point well ahead of his front legs.

Parks Canada suggests this kind of hump has evolved in the Wood Bison to support a more massive muscle structure that helps them sweep their head through deep northern snows to provide more access to the grasses and sedges beneath the snow in a long winter.

By contrast, the highest point of the Plains Bison’s hump is directly above the front legs, with the hump more smoothly rounded.

This accomplishes the same result—as a structure to sweep away snow. However, the snow tends not be as deep, long-lasting and formidable in their usual range as that which hits farther north.

Below are noted distinctions between Wood Buffalo and Plains Buffalo as presented by Parks Canada.

The highest point of the hump is well forward of the front legs on Wood Bison. Cape blends smoothly toward the rear. Parks Canada, used with permission.


  • Highest point of hump well forward of front legs
  • Virtually no chaps on front legs
  • A thin scraggly beard
  • Neck mane short, does not extend much below chest
  • Cape grades smoothly back towards the loins with little if any demarcation
  • Forelock lies forward in long strands over forehead
  • Hair usually darker, especially on head

Smoother, more rounded hump, centered over front legs. More pronounced cape ends at shoulder. Parks Canada.


  • Highest point of hump is directly over the front legs
  • Large thick chaps on front legs
  • Thick pendulous beard
  • Full neck mane extends below the chest
  • Sharply demarcated cape line behind the shoulder
  • Thick bonnet of hair between the horns
  • Cape usually lighter in color
  • About one-third smaller than a Wood Bison

In addition to size and hump distinctions the differences between Wood and Plains Bison can be separated into pelage and structural characteristics.

The Wood Bison is distinguished by darker color, absence of chap hair on the front legs, and a less distinct, but darker cape of the shoulders, hump, and neck region that grades smoothly back onto the loins.

They have a thin pointy beard; shorter and less dense hair on the top of the head, around the horns, and beard. A skimpy neck mane and longer and more heavily haired tail.

Their head is large and triangular, with large shoulders and long dark brown and black hair around head and neck.

Males possess short, thick, black horns that end in an upward curve, while females have thinner, more curved horns.

Wood Bison vocalizations are also different from the sounds made by Plains Bison. And the Wood Bison’s social interactions during the rut tend to be less violent.

Hardy from birth, Wood Bison calves can stand when they are only 30 minutes old and run alongside their mothers within hours of birth.

Plains Bison tend to have hair character which is lighter, larger and more obvious—with more variation in color. A yellow-ochre cape spreads over the shoulders and ends with noticeable separation in texture and color.

They grow a thick bonnet of hair between the horns, covering the lower horns, and a full neck mane extending below the chest.

The Plains Bison sport a full beard and large chaps on the front legs, and the tail is short and thin.

For their part, the National Park Service in the United States offered these 2 sketches in a Bison Bellows feature in April 2018.

Wood Buffalo sketch reveals differences with Plains Buffalo. Courtesy van Zyll de Jong et al. NPS.

Wood Buffalo

  • Highest point of hump forward of front legs
  • More abrupt change of contour along back
  • Tail longer and more heavily haired
  • Penis sheath tuft shorter and thinner
  • Horns clear of hair cover
  • Hair on forehead lower and longer
  • Neck region longer than in Plains Bison
  • Absence of chaps

Plains Buffalo sketch shows more long hair cover in front parts of animal. Courtesy van Zyll de Jong et al. NPS

Plains Buffalo

  • Highest point of hump over front legs
  • Declining back slope
  • Tail shorter and thinner
  • Penis sheath tuft longer and thicker
  • Horn often covered by dense hairs
  • Yellow-ochre cape
  • Sharp separation from cape in texture and color
  • Chaps (skirt)
  • Larger beard

Two Subspecies Recognized

Wood Buffalo prefer boreal forests of Canada. They are largest land mammal in North America. Parks Canada.

Modern American buffalo are identified in 2 subspecies well suited to their respective environments.

The prolific Plains Buffalo grazed throughout the open country and the shy Wood Buffalo clustered in small groups in forest and mountain terrain, especially favoring the far north.

Under scientific classification, the American Plains Buffalo is listed as genus Bison, species bison bison, and subspecies Bison bison bison.

The Wood Buffalo is Bison bison athabascae, named for an Indian word, a lake.

“Athabascae” recognizes the Cree native name for the large Lake Athabasca and surrounding watershed in Canada. Athap-ask-a-w means grass or reeds here and there.

Interestingly, early scientists of the 19th century marked these differences and gave the two subspecies their scientific names.

It was thought that Wood Buffalo were “the finest specimens of their species, superior in pelage, size, and vigor to those of the Plains whose descendants today exist in our parks.”

Then came a time of debate. Many argued the differences were not genetic, but simply a function of the environment where they live.

However, a large-scale study in the early 1990s analyzed Canadian data and found the two subspecies maintain their respective traits regardless of where they live and what they eat.

More recent research at the University of Alberta reveals genetic differences, thus supporting those early scientists. Sufficient difference was found between Wood Bison and Plains Bison, it was thought, to warrant two different subspecies names.

Yet scientists have discussed through the years whether the two subspecies are simply ecotypes.

In other words, if Wood Bison were placed in Plains Bison habitat, or vice versa, might they eventually assume the traits of typical Bison there, simply due to environmental pressures?

 Subspecies Still Questioned

Science, of course, is always open to revision.

Not all scientists agree with the subspecies designation.

One who disagrees is Matthew Cronin, University of Alaska Fairbanks professor of animal genetics. He is based at the Matanuska Experiment Farm in Palmer.

In 2013, Dr. Cronin and colleagues studied 65 Wood Bison from 3 herds and 136 Plains Bison from 9 herds in Alaska, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, New York, Alberta and the Northwest Territories, along with a database of differing cattle breeds.

The Cronin findings are published in the online May 10, 2013 issue of the Journal of Heredity.

Cronin pointed out that the term subspecies denotes a formal category and that evolutionary history is a primary criterion for subspecies designation.

For instance, European cattle and tropical cattle have separate origins, are genetically distinct and thus have a scientifically supported subspecies designation, he says.

“This creates a paradox for biologists because subspecies can be designated by one author, rejected by another and still others reject the entire subspecies ranking.”

He contends that Wood and Plains Bison originally had ranges adjacent to each other, rather than separate origins.

Therefore they should be considered differing geographic populations, not subspecies.

He notes that some Plains Bison are more genetically different from each other than they are from Wood Bison.

Despite Cronin’s evidence, Parks Canada and conservation groups in Alaska operate under the guideline that Wood Bison are a distinct and separate subspecies and ideally, should not be hybridized with Plains Bison.

Spokesperson Cathy Rezabek says that US Fish and Wildlife contends the two groups of bison are separate.

“We based our finding on the scientific information available, which indicated that there has been historical physical separation in their ranges, as well as behavioral and physical differences and genetic differences. “

“Worth preserving whether or not they are formally recognized as a subspecies.” At Elk Island Park the two subspecies are kept separate.

In this light, bison conservationists agree on several things, she noted:

1) Multiple morphological and genetic characteristics distinguish Plains Bison from Wood Bison;

2) Wood Bison and Plains Bison continue to be morphologically and genetically distinct, despite some historic forced hybridization; and thus

3) Wood Bison constitute a subspecies of bison, and therefore, should be managed on a par with Plains Bison.

An eminent Canadian wildlife biologist once observed that “debating taxonomy does not absolve humans of the responsibility to protect intra-specific diversity as the raw material of evolution.”

Another suggests that the Wood Bison population is in a class by itself, “Worth preserving whether or not they are formally recognized as a subspecies.”

Therefore, park authorities keep separate the two subspecies to retain their natural traits.

Francie M Berg

Author of the Buffalo Tales &Trails blog

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