Mother and calf bison at Blue Mounds State Park (DNR photo)
A new generation of bison are restoring some of the lost grandeur of Minnesota's prairie at Blue Mounds State Park. Up to 25 calves are expected at the park this spring, and they are already being born.
Large parts of Minnesota were covered in vast prairie before European settlement. That prairie was covered in bison. Thirty to 60 million of the animals once roamed North America, but then the prairie was tilled, and the bison hunted to near extinction.
The big animals were first brought to Blue Mounds in 1961, and the herd has been growing ever since. The Minnesota Zoo partners with the park to manage the herd and provide animals for an exhibit at the zoo.
The park's population is notable because many of the animals are genetically pure. Bison have been raised alongside cattle, and bred with them, for many generations. Less than one percent of bison in the world today are thought to have pure DNA.
The bison roam on about 530 acres of prairie at the park, where their grazing is an important part of the ecosystem. Visitors can watch them from a viewing platform -- but bring binoculars because they might be grazing remote parts of their pasture.
Bison calves are being born almost every day, park managers report, and that should continue through early June.
Video of last year's annual bison roundup at the park: