WILMINGTON — More than two dozen bison have arrived in Illinois from Colorado and South Dakota and are making a new home on the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie south of Joliet.
The U.S. Forest Service and National Forest Foundation brought the bison to the prairie with hopes of restoring its landscape and attracting more grassland birds. The bison came to Illinois separately.
Four bulls arrived on Oct. 14 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in Fort Collins, Colo. They originally are from Yellowstone National Park. About two dozen cows came on Tuesday from a private ranch in Gann Valley, South Dakota.
They were kept in a small corral at first to let Midewin staff monitor them and to let the bison get used to their new environment. All were released Friday into the 19,000-acre prairie, of which they’ll have access to 1,200 acres divided into four pastures enclosed with fencing.
“They were hesitant at first, but they have adapted well,” said Kelly Gutknecht, Midewin’s range management specialist and bison handler.
Duane Lammers, a National Forest Foundation bison expert, selected the bison for Midewin. Many of the cows arrived pregnant and between 18 and 20 calves are expected to be born in the spring, he said. The prairie can handle about 100 bison, he said.
“This will be an excellent conservation herd,” he said.
The public can view the bison with a hike or bike of 1 to 2 miles from Midewin’s Iron Bridge Trailhead. The public can’t enter pastures for safety reasons.
Craig Barrett, chairman of the National Forest Foundation, said it is good to see the bison back home.
“It reminds you of what it used to be like when 60 to 80 million roamed the central Plains,” he said.
There also are bison at Nachusa Grasslands near Franklin Grove west of Chicago. That herd came last October from Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota.