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Bison finally reach their new home

BOOK CLIFFS — Forty young bison were released onto the Book Cliffs on May 11, 2010.

Black bear
The first bison out of the trailer waste no time escaping into their new home in the Book Cliffs.

Photo by Ron Stewart

Captured on the Henry Mountains in January, the 40 bison had spent the past four months in the comfy corrals at Antelope Island State Park.

Drivers with the Division of Wildlife Resources had to negotiate high winds and a series of rain, sleet and snow storms to get the bison to the release site on the edge of the roadless area in the Book Cliffs.

When the biologists opened the doors to the trailers, a total of 41 bison jumped out. The 41 animals included the 40 bison captured last January and a bonus animal—a newborn bison calf born on the island.

DWR Biologist Dax Mangus says biologists put the 40 bison in the Antelope Island facility in January while they waited for test results that would confirm the bison were free of disease. "But between the time of the capture and waiting for the test results, a series of big winter storms moved into the Book Cliffs and shut us down," he said.

"A couple of weeks later, we tried punching through with bulldozers. But the storms took care of that attempt as well," Mangus said. "Every time we thought about moving them, a storm rolled in and shut us down."

There were pluses to the setbacks, though: the storms that delayed the release dumped more water on the Book Cliffs than almost any area in Utah.

Located in eastern Utah, the Book Cliffs received more than 150 percent of its average precipitation. The vegetation in the area this spring looks better than it's looked in years.

"In hindsight, the delayed release was probably a blessing," Mangus said on the day the bison were released. "The bison we released today were bigger and had better weight than they had last winter."

The delay also provided the bison with better weather and better range conditions than they would have had in January.

"Who knows what might have happened to them if they had been released just before the biggest winter storm series [in years] rolled in and dropped four feet of snow," Mangus said.

For more information about the bison herd in the Book Cliffs, call the DWR's Northeastern Region office at 435-781-9453.

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