HomeNewsThe Uneasy Way forward for Catalina Island's Wild Bison | Science

The Uneasy Way forward for Catalina Island’s Wild Bison | Science



A male bison atop an arid hillside on Santa Catalina Island in California.
Alex Krowiak

In 1924, throughout Hollywood’s first golden age, 14 American bison arrived on Santa Catalina Island, 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles. The animals have been to look in two motion pictures being filmed on the island, The Vanishing American and The Thundering Herd, each tailored from Zane Gray novels. Alas, the animals didn’t make it into the previous, and we don’t know in the event that they performed an element within the latter—the footage vanished way back. However the bison remained, and a few of their progeny lastly made it to the large display, in Stanley Kramer’s 1971 Bless the Beasts & Youngsters. Descendants of the founding beasts nonetheless have star energy­, serving to appeal to tons of of 1000’s of tourists yearly, however maybe their most salient position over the a long time is to bedevil conservationists.

­At this time, the herd presents advantages and challenges for native ecology. Guests take bison excursions, get pleasure from bison burgers (produced from mainland meat) and quaff “buffalo milk” cocktails (that includes Kahlúa, vodka, half-and-half, crème de cacao and crème de banana—and no bison milk). Such tourism helps fund the nonprofit Catalina Island Conservancy (CIC), which controls 88 p.c of the island and works to revive and shield native flora.

At its peak, within the Nineteen Eighties, the herd numbered 550, however considerations concerning the animals’ well being and ecological affect led the CIC to ship bison off the island frequently. A 2003 examine discovered the bison have been nonetheless disturbing native flora: Their shaggy coats carry crops that have been imported, comparable to fennel, to locations they wouldn’t in any other case attain, disrupting endemic species like St. Catherine’s lace. The examine additionally discovered the bison have been smaller and fewer fertile than their mainland counterparts, partly from persistent drought. In 2009, the CIC launched a contraception program for cows, quite than delivery them off the island. (Throughout droughts, the CIC locations water troughs for the animals.)

But inhabitants management efforts might have gone too far. By 2020, the herd was all the way down to 100; no calves had been born since 2013, and the CIC scaled again its contraception program in 2015. Earlier than Covid-19, the group had deliberate to import two pregnant females so as to add genetic range, reigniting the controversy concerning the herd’s well being and its affect on the land. Calvin Duncan, a former CIC biologist, says a rise in droughts threatens the bison, however he believes they are going to reproduce once more when circumstances enhance. Juanita Constible, a consulting biologist on the 2003 examine, says relocating the herd might imperil the island: With out bison grazing, wildfire depth might enhance, because the grass, unmunched, provides gas.

Evicting the herd would additionally harm island residents—4,000 or so in all—a lot of whom depend on bison tourism. “Wildlife administration is not only concerning the wildlife—it’s additionally concerning the human context,” Constible says.



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