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Local Author Speaks About Re-Bisoning The Western LandscapeThe West

Kurt Repanshek-"Re-Bisoning The West"

Park City Resident, Author and Journalist Kurt Repanshek will talk about his new book, “Re-Bisoning the West: Restoring an American Icon to the Landscape.”

Kurt Repanshek has a journalism background with the Associated Press. According to his bio, he’s had plenty of adventures exploring national parks whether climbing, skiing, paddling or hiking. He is the founder and CEO of the National Park Traveler, a non-profit media organization which has evolved to promote preservation and advocacy for the nation’s national parks.

Repanshek’s book explores the efforts to restore the bison conservation herds into western grasslands. The commercial bison population is up to half a million with a small number in conservation. Currently, he says there are 18 federal herds on Park Service, Forest Service and BLM lands.

“Far and away, the bulk of those bison are in commercial production. They’re for meat generation, They’re for hides or skulls or whatnot. Roughly 20,000 are in what is called conservation herds which are intended to preserve bison as a species.”

He says at the end of the 19th century, there were about 500 bison left in the US with just five or six foundational herds, which are the genetic origins of all bison in the US.

“And so the Interior Department and Park Service had been doing, like I said, DNA testing and blood analysis to be able to trace where all their herds came from because if they want to put a new heard say in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, they don't want to take from herds that are closely related. They want to get a good diverse gene pool."

Ranchers in the late 19th century experimented with breeding cattle and bison to develop a sturdier and more manageable livestock herd.

He says if there’s a will to restore the bison, it could be done. He highlights a couple of grasslands that would be preservation opportunities. Bison were named the national animal in 2016 and Repanshek says the national pride of preserving the species is just one consideration for why the herds should be reestablished.

“But bison are a lot healthier for the landscape than cattle or sheep are. They graze differently, they don't graze as hard. They don't hang around riparian areas and churn them up with their hooves as much. They are slightly different in what they choose to eat than cattle and so, a lot of native wildlife do better with bison out there.”

His book starts about 200,000 years ago when the bison first crossed the Bering Land Straight and brings readers to the current day.

He says Utah’s herds located on Antelope Island, the Book Cliff’s and the Henry Mountains descend from the original Yellowstone herds.

Some experts think the testing will show that all the American bison have some number of cattle genes. Repanshek says it’s a concern for the longevity of the species.

“One of the things that makes bison such a hardy animal on the landscape is in the wintertime during the really severe blizzards their metabolism slows down that enables them to survive those harsh incredibly cold winter storms. Cattle don't have that.”

Kurt Repanshek will discuss his book at the Swaner Nature Preserve on Thursday from 6:30 to 8. 


KPCW reporter Carolyn Murray covers Summit and Wasatch County School Districts. She also reports on wildlife and environmental stories, along with breaking news. Carolyn has been in town since the mid ‘80s and raised two daughters in Park City.
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