Bison not always visible but sight lines improving
Sep. 19—Q: We are retired and so much enjoy driving around, and especially driving to see the buffalo at Minneopa. It seems it has become a wasted trip and a waste of $7. You can not see anything because of the tall weeds they never mow along the drive. It really is such a treat to see these majestic animals when we do see them — which isn’t often.
A: Stand-in Ask Us Guy knows that one person’s “weeds” are another person’s native plants.
Minneopa Park Manager Craig Beckman suspects the writer was referring to sumac and plum when talking about weeds. The park staff has been aggressively removing those in recent years. While both are native to Minnesota, they are very invasive. “But there are goldenrods and other plants that obstruct views, but goldenrods are one of the last pollinators and we’d never mow them.”
Beckman suspects the writer maybe hasn’t been to the bison range recently to see a lot more progress that’s been made on mowing and removing sumac and plum.
“If they come out now, they’d be impressed with the view on our west end. Our crews spent 40 hours mowing sumac and plum to open it up around the bur oaks so there’s much better sight lines now.”
He said Google Street View photos — where Google Earth vehicles drive down roads taking 360-degree photos — show how much the range has been cleaned of sumac, plums, cedars and other brush in recent years, making it more of a natural prairie. One photo was taken in 2015 and another in 2021. “When you compare what it looked like between those years, there’s a huge difference.”
But even with a lot more brush cleared, there will always be spots where the bison will be hidden from view from the road. “If they can’t see them (from their vehicles), we encourage people to walk around the trail outside the fence if they are able to do so.”
Beckman said the range is big and the bison go where they want, even if it doesn’t create a Kodak moment for people driving through.
“The bison have 333 acres to roam out there so it’s not at all like a zoo setting. They have free will to be wherever they want. And the terrain can hide them. About a quarter of the way back there’s a rock berm there, so even if we take out sumac, you wouldn’t be able to see them there.”
Some might wonder why the park didn’t put that section of gravel road atop that berm to command better views for motorists, but Beckman said that couldn’t happen.
A gravel road wouldn’t stay put on top of the rock base and there are the archeological artifacts to consider. The range was extensively studied by archeologists before the bison were released in 2015 and a lot of mostly small shards of interest were found and mapped.
The area was long a gathering area for Native Americans.
“There are a lot of archeological artifacts out there, and we aren’t allowed to disturb them.”
The herd continues to grow, with 13 calves added this year for a total of 45 bison. But it’s two steps forward and one step back when building the herd because the park sends males to other bison range facilities when they are about 18 months old, an age where they would soon begin breeding. That’s to prevent inbreeding in the herd.
“For whatever reason a lot of babies have been male so we’ll be sending some out,” Beckman said.
The park doesn’t remove any younger males that were born this spring because they do better over their first winter when they stay with their moms.
Tim Krohn is Stand-in Ask Us guy this week. You can contact Ask Us at The Free Press, 418 S. Second St., Mankato, MN 56001. Call Mark Fischenich at 344-6321 or email your question to [email protected]; put Ask Us in the subject line.