They’re getting used to grazing on shortgrass instead of tallgrass, and will soon be searching for places to give birth to their young. A herd of bison is settling in for its first year in a new home at the Raymond Wildlife Area east of Flagstaff.
Last fall, the Arizona Game and Fish Department ushered 46 bison from Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota to northern Arizona. These plains bison are a different genetic lineage from the animals they replaced.
The Game and Fish Commission bought 9,400 acres of deeded land that became the Raymond Wildlife Area in 1942 for pronghorn. The area—now around 15,000 acres—became known as “Buffalo Ranch” after bison were moved down from House Rock Valley on the Arizona Strip.
The House Rock bison had been crossbred with cattle in 1906, and Game and Fish sought the “purer” genetics of the Wind Cave animals. The original herd was legally hunted out to make room for the newcomers.
The massive, shaggy beasts are unpredictable and notorious for their desire to roam. Fences are just a “suggestion” to them. So special fencing has been installed, along with additional water tanks and other habitat improvements. Hunting may be permitted later to keep the herd at 80 to 100 animals.
The Raymond Wildlife Area is closed from May through July for bison calving season. But it’s open the rest of the year—and visitors may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of this new herd.