White Bison is a unique treat

A WHITE BISON is unusual. I’ve seen a mounted specimen in a museum in Helena, Mont. I’ve periodically read stories of white bison calves being born and the great celebration that subsequently happened by formal ceremonies of native peoples. So when I happened to see an adult bison bull in an enclosure at a private game farm in Butler County, I had to stop. I made several images of him dutifully recorded on the memory card of my camera. I hope you enjoy this special photo.

BISON, or more commonly referred to by modern man as buffalo, has a long legacy of adaptation and survival on the North American continent. Some estimates peg the population prior to exploration and settlement at the low end of 30 million critters. At the high end is 70 million. Either way, that was a lot of bison on the plains from northern Mexico to Canada. These magnificent animals are large. A bull can weigh up to 2,000 pounds. Female bison tip the scales at 1,000 to 1,200 pounds. Calves weigh 50 to 60 pounds at birth. The normal pelt color at birth is a cinnamon reddish brown. As the calf grows, its color gradually darkens to a darker brown.

The modern day bison is a survivor. They have adapted to many changes in past environments. Archaeological evidence has shown the bison, in one form or another, to have reached Alaska from Eurasia about 300,000 years ago. The oldest bison remains at sites in the lower 48 are dated at 100,000 years. Taxonomists and other scientists have studied bison skeletons from fossilized sites and concluded that the now living bison has two extinct relatives that preceded it, Bison antiques and Bison latifrons. Both species were much larger bodied than our present day living animal. Larger body sizes were an adaptation to much colder environments in post glacial times. A large body size is more efficient at holding body heat.

Bison latifrons was about 40 percent larger than its modern cousin. Its horn cores did not turn sharply upward. Instead they tended to grow straight out from the boss of the skull. An estimate of the tip to tip spread was easily six feet! It also had a thicker hide and thicker hair to help it survive bitter cold. The dorsal spines of its vertebrae were also comparatively taller so that attaching ligaments could help support its monstrous skull. Frozen skeletal specimens in Siberia, Alaska and other arctic sites have preserved lots of evidence of this animal plus many other critters of that time. Through pollen grain analysis, scientists can help create a picture of life at the time. Beside the big bison, wooly mammoths, mastodons, camels, rhinos, ferrets, pikas, snowshoe hares once roamed the grasslands. So to did predators such as the Dire Wolf, American Lion, and giant short-nosed bear. All these animals crossed the land bridge between Siberia and Alaska during ice ages when sea levels were about 300 feet or more lower than today’s levels.

In time, as the earth was coming out of its deep glacial sleep, melt water from those immense glacial ice fields eventually refilled the oceans. The Bering land bridge closed as did other land bridges elsewhere. A naturally warming climate meant changes in vegetation types for large herbivores to eat. The big bison species of B. antiques and B. latifrons did not last against the adaptions needed to continue. The smaller Bison bison did have what it took to be the survivor.

Last week I noted the IZAAK WALTON LEAGUE’s wild game banquet. The date has been moved ahead one day to Tuesday, Feb. 12, 6 p.m. at the auditorium of the Fisher Community Center. So if you have the date of Feb. 13 marked already, cross it out and move it back on calendar space to Feb. 12. Members and guests are welcome. A great assortment of wild game meats and fish will be offered. See you there at the wild game banquet. After the meal, Ed Siems will present a super slide show of his recent trip to Iceland.

Iowa DEER HUNTERS took 5 percent fewer deer, 5,800 to be more exact, during the 2012-13 season. Hunters reported 115,606 deer which represents the seventh straight year of declining deer harvest. The overall deer herd is lower due to management goals being set to reduce deer from its peak numbers of 2005-06. If compared to 2006, deer numbers are now down by 23 percent. Deer hunters purchased 378,447 licenses in 2012. that number is 14,500 less than sold in 2011. “Hunters are doing their part to help manage the deer herd by judiciously using available antlerless tags in counties where the DNR needed to reduce the population, and by working with local land owners to be more selective in other areas,” said Dr. Dale Garner, chief of Wildlife for the department.

Deer hunting is big business in Iowa. Hunt related expenditures have an economic impact of nearly $24 million, paying $15 million in federal taxes and another $15 million in state taxes. Jobs supported by deer hunting are calculated at 2,800 which filters through the economy as $67 million in earnings.

Harvest data will be used to help prepare new trend line data for consideration when the DNR begins the process of discussing hunting seasons for 2013-14. Many more Iowa counties are now at a targeted objective status for deer. Holding the population steady in those areas is accomplished by a combination of strategies including limiting doe tags to numbers the biologists will recommend.

Marshalltown City Urban Deer Hunters took 19 doe deer and one button buck during the special season that just closed on January 27th. There were at least a dozen active archers spread out throughout the city limits areas. Some took one deer, many were able to take two and a few were in the right place to take more than three. If these hunters had the time and inclination, all they had to do was purchase another city deer tag and then try to fill it. All the archers had to undergo training and recertification to be eligible to hunt within the city limits. Throughout Iowa, many other larger cities also have urban deer hunts in effect to help control deer. It is a system that works, is cost effective and is a cooperative biologically based part of wildlife management.

This scribe attended a listening session last week held on the campus of Iowa State University. Five legislators called the meeting as an opportunity to hear about natural resource concerns and issues that should be part of the discussion in the statehouse this session. Lots of input was offered by well spoken participants. Water quality was a big talking point with an emphasis on putting adequate funding behind the enforcement of rules. Wildlife issues came up also including the idea of double fencing at game farms where captive deer and wild deer could be kept separated. The concern here was nose-to nose contact of deer in known CWD disease sites being prevented from contact with wild deer. Trails funding was talked about, as was the economic issues of keeping pace with the real world of cost increases. One spokesman told how Iowa’s landscape has been altered by the tune of 93 percent and even though we claim to feed the world, we import 86 percent of our food. “If another country had come into Iowa and desecrated its natural resources by force the way we have allowed it to happen, we’d be at war with them,” said Randy Edwards, retired trails coordinator. All the comments gave us something to think about. The legislators listened. Time will tell if constructive actions will be taken. Stay tuned.

Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.