The American Buffalo once roamed the lands of North America from as far south as Mexico to the forests of Canada. The great slaughter of buffalo in the nineteenth century decimated populations in an attempt to make life harder for the Native Americans. Now buffalo herds are only wild in secluded populations such as Yellowstone National Park and Buffalo Grasslands National Park. My recent visits to the Great Salt Lake in Utah and a Ranch owned by Ted Turner in Southern New Mexico showed me what once was and what the future could hold.
I believe in the return of the buffalo, because I want to see a total landscape transformation by replacing the flat hoof cattle with the rigid hoof of the American buffalo as it would restore the great ecosystem that North America once held.
As a member of the New Mexico State University Wildlife Society I have had the opportunity to visit Antelope Island located in The Great Salt Lake. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has put buffalo on the Island making it a great place for grass, birds, antelope and food for humans. The Wildlife Department periodically harvests the buffalo for sale to ranchers or people who would like to consume the buffalo. As we explored this Island and learned the history we found out that buffalo were not native to the Island but ranching of the buffalo provides income and ensures that the native flora and fauna were not harmed because buffalos’ hooves don’t compact the soil making it possible for plants to grow. I thought this was an awesome practice adopted by the Wildlife Department because as I hiked around the Island I saw birds hiding in grass that normally would be pummeled by cattle, Antelope that graze on that same grass and a possible glimpse of the American future.
On another Wildlife Society adventure we traveled to Armendaris Ranch owned by the world known Ted Turner, founder of many successful businesses such as Turner Productions and a strong conservationist. The amazing thing about his ranch is that he doesn’t manage it for himself, he manages it for the future of man and wildlife. He has buffalo roaming with prairie dogs and burrowing owls that are valuable parts of grassland ecosystems roaming from Nebraska all the way down to southern New Mexico. Turner’s ranch is also home to some endangered species like the Alpamodo Falcon and the bolson tortoise that were once found in New Mexico deserts but have been extirpated from their original range because of human impact. Antelope Island and Armendaris Ranch are both great examples of how we can provide food for humans and preserve wildlife.
When you are traveling take a look at the landscape around you and every time you see a herd of cattle, look at the compressed dirt caused by their flat hooves and replace them with a galloping herd buffalo and you can almost imagine the tall grass with leaping antelope and soaring falcons, preserving wildlife and man for years to come.