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Forty bison will soon have new home

BULLFROG — Forty bison will soon have a new home in northeastern Utah.

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Division of Wildlife Resources Conservation Officer Ben Riley unhooks a bagged bison.

Photo by Brent Stettler

The Division of Wildlife Resources captured the bison on Jan. 15 and Jan. 16 on the Henry Mountains in southeastern Utah.

Many Utahns don't realize that a free-ranging herd of bison occupies 240 square miles of open country on the northwest side of Lake Powell.

Bison in the Henry Mountains

The Henry Mountains herd began in 1941, when the Utah Department of Fish and Game trucked three bulls and 15 cows from Yellowstone National Park to the Henry Mountains. That small herd of 18 animals has grown to more than 300 bison today. The herd continues to provide Utah's sportsmen with a unique hunting opportunity.

The bison that were captured on the Henry Mountains on Jan. 15 and 16 will join about 50 bison that already occupy the Book Cliffs in east-central Utah. This herd was established in 2008 and 2009 with 14 animals donated from the Ute Tribe and an additional 30 bison coming from the Henry Mountains. Calves have been born since then, which has added even more animals to the herd.

The 40 bison, which will be released in the Book Cliffs on Jan. 20, will bolster Utah's newest bison herd.

An aerial rodeo

Capturing and moving a buffalo is extremely risky. To try and minimize the danger, the DWR decided to capture only calves, cows and yearling bulls. These animals weigh between 300 and 800 pounds.

Leading Edge Aviation, a company that specializes in capturing wildlife, was contracted to accomplish the aerial rodeo work!

Capturing the bison

The DWR developed a capture plan that involved the use of two aircraft a fixed wing aircraft with DWR spotters in it, and a helicopter capture craft operated by Leading Edge Aviation. The spotters kept track of the bison herd from the air, while the capture craft concentrated entirely on the rodeo show.

Once the spotters spotted the bison, they let the capture crew know where the animals were. The helicopter then closed in and singled out one bison. That animal was cut out from the herd, and a net from a specially designed rifle was fired over it.

Once the net landed on the animal, the net entangled the bison and it dropped to the ground. At that point, crewmen called "muggers" jumped from the chopper and blindfolded and hobbled the immobilized animal.

The muggers then rolled the animal into a carry bag. Within seconds of rolling the bison into the bag, the chopper dropped a cable to the muggers, and they attached the cable to the bag. The helicopter then slung the bison through the air to a crew waiting on the ground.

The ground crew consisted of DWR personnel. The crew was positioned about 10 air miles from the capture location, on one of only a few roads that access the southeast portion of the Henry Mountains. (Known as the Burr Trail, this secondary road connects Bullfrog with Escalante.)

The ground crew's job was to transfer the slung bison into a waiting horse trailer. Before placing the bison in the trailer, the crew performed health checks and drew blood samples for laboratory testing.

After the horse trailer was fully loaded with bison, the captured animals were driven to Antelope Island State Park. They'll stay in quarantine at the park until blood tests certify that they are free of disease.

After an "all clear!" from the state veterinarian, the bison will finish their trip to the Book Cliffs on Jan. 25.

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