A new bison herd arrived in Northwest Indiana over the weekend with a unique role – as conservation assistants.
A livestock semi trailer from South Dakota pulled into the The Nature Conservancy’s Kankakee Sands project along U.S. 41 before dawn Saturday, backed into a newly fenced field, and opened the gates.
Over the next 30 minutes, the bison made their way out of the truck, disappearing into the tall grass of an 1100-acre prairie restoration. Land steward Tony Capizzo says these large vegetarian creatures aren’t just for show.
“These bison are being brought to Indiana as a conservation tool. Bison are selective in their diets. They focus in on grasses and sedges - they tend to leave the forbs, the wildflowers alone. So you have our 23 individuals that are out there, selectively grazing all the time. Influencing the prairie as a result,” Capizzo says.
Capizzo says the conservancy hopes by thinning the predominately tall grasses the bison will help improve plant diversity and wildlife.
“Prairies that are dominated by tall grass are great for a certain suite of species. Things like Henslow’s sparrows, dickcissels, as far as birds go. What we’d like to do is increase the abundance of some of those other birds - things like upland sandpipers and northern harriers,” Capizzo says.
Special parking and viewing areas have been created and are open from 7 a.m. to dusk.