‘Quite A Little Zoo’ – Bison In Wallowas Too

UPDATE MARCH 24, 2011 10:06 A.M.: A RANCHER HAS STEPPED UP TO CLAIM THE BISON, THE EAST OREGONIAN REPORTS

A couple summers ago when the Missus, Son No. 1 and I camped out at Wallowa Lake, a fishing guide told me about an antelope that had come through the region.

OK, this ain’t exactly pronghorn country, I thought, but then again, there are also somewhere around five dozen moose wandering Oregon’s high, wide and relatively unpopulated upper righthand corner.

Then there are, of course, the Imnana and Wenaha wolf packs which, as they grow, are giving the ranching community more and more fits.

And now comes word that there’s a small herd of wild — or at least feral — bison running around the edge of the Eagle Cap Wilderness.

Yeah, bison — buffalo — those great, shaggy beasts from the Old West of yore, nearly shot into extinction, now farmed for lean meat.

“Quite a little zoo, huh?” independent biologist Kendrick Moholt told Richard Cockle of the East Oregonian in a piece that was picked up by the mothership, The Oregonian. “They are successfully calving. They are breeding.”

BEST BISON HABITAT IN WALLOWA COUNTY? WELL ... APPARENTLY IT'S NOT THE BUFFALOESQUE GRAZING LANDS OF THE VALLEY, BUT THE BACKCOUNTRY OF THE MOUNTAINS THEMSELVES. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

It’s unclear exactly where the 25 or so animals came from — so far no rumors of sneakie/greenie biologists illicitly running them out of livestock trailers in the dead of daytime — but apparently, the bison have been around for awhile.

Cockle’s article indicates they may have escaped from a ranch along the Wallowa River eight years ago.

They are private property and considered domestic animals — similar to peacocks and llamas, said Rodger Huffman, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Animal Health and Identification Division.

Bison found grazing on private or public lands without grazing rights are trespassing, Huffman said. That makes for a thorny issue in this case because the herd has no owner.

Nobody appears to be stepping up to claim them either (then again, would I want a half-wild buffalo in my stock trailer and then corral?).

“Bison are not classified as game animals or wildlife, so ODFW has no management authority over them,” says agency spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy in Salem. “In Wallowa County, there are not enough for ODFW to be concerned about their impacts on habitat. One problem we have seen is at some hunting camps in the fall. Some hunters bring horses with them into camp. When everyone leaves camp, the bison will wander in and eat the hay meant for the horses.”

Interesting stuff.

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