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One simple reason explains why you do not hear about bison transplants more often. While other wildlife relocations are quite common, moving a 2,000-pound creature with a well-known mean streak requires a special plan and a great need.

Just imagine the logistics of trying to catch and then transport the massive animals that can sprint up to 30 mph. Biologists may as well be trying to move grizzly bears.

State wildlife officials have to pull off such an operation while keeping the safety of the bison and the humans trying to move them a priority.

The logistics recently proved too much as a plan to move 25 bison from southern Utah's Henry Mountains - where the population has exceeded management objectives - to the Book Cliffs in eastern Utah was put on hold for at least a year as biologists hammer out details such as cost, safety and potential disease concerns.

Another good reason bison aren't moved frequently is that not very many of the once-prolific icons of the West are still around. While an estimated 30 million to 75 million bison roamed the continent in the early 1800s, the population declined to fewer than 300 wild animals in North America by 1900.

Efforts to recover the bison of North America proved successful on private and public fronts. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates more than 200,000 bison are found on the continent.

Utah has two public populations of the impressive mammals. The most popular herd resides on Antelope Island on the Great Salt Lake and has been there since private efforts brought the woolly creatures back to the state in 1893. The island herd averages 500 animals and might be the second-most photographed "wild" herd in the country.

Utah's lesser-known population of bison is tucked away on the remote and rugged Henry Mountains between Hanksville and Lake Powell. Division of Wildlife Resources biologists believe the bison on the Henrys are one of only four free-roaming and genetically pure herds on public lands in North America. The other three herds are in Yellowstone National Park, Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota and on Elk Island in Alberta, Canada.

The Henry Mountains herd, which officials estimate at 500 animals, was created in 1941 when the Carbon/Emery Wildlife Federation and the Utah State Department of Fish and Game arranged for 18 bison, including three bulls, to be moved from Yellowstone National Park and released in the Robber's Roost area near the Dirty Devil River on the San Rafael Desert, just south and east of Hanksville. Five more bulls were added to the transplanted population in 1942.

"Some of them dispersed to areas far and wide, but most of them stayed on the east side of [Highway] 95 until 1963 when they moved to the Henry Mountains [on the west side of 95] for good," said Bill Bates, a DWR big-game biologist who oversees the herd.

The herd was around 71 animals by the time the animals settled on the Henry Mountains, where they often frequent elevations above 10,000 feet, and can be found as high as 11,000 feet in the summer.

Biologists have set a population objective of 325 bison on the Henry Mountains for 2012. They will use hunting and transplant efforts to reduce the herd by 175 animals. The numbers will be altered if available forage on the range decreases.

The first transplant under the new management plan was scheduled for this month. Officials had hoped to move up to 25 bison from the Henrys to the Tavaputs Plateau in eastern Utah.

When the transplant does occur, the relocated bison will be the first publicly owned bison on the Book Cliffs, but they won't be alone.

The Ute Tribe Fish and Wildlife Department has been managing a herd of bison on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation on the Tavaputs Plateau since 1993. DWR helped start the herd when 28 animals were moved from the Henry Mountains. The population has been bolstered with bison from other American Indian tribes from Montana and Idaho and animals from Antelope Island and now numbers around 600.

Karen Corts, a wildlife biologist in the big-game enhancement program for the Ute Tribe Fish and Wildlife Department, says the newcomers are likely to mingle with the tribe's herd at some point, but she doesn't anticipate any problems with the transplant.

"Some of our bison are hanging out where the release area is planned, so they may be there to welcome them," she said. "It may be good for the genetics of both herds if they do mingle."

The Ute Tribe is planning to provide up to 20 animals for the public herd on the Book Cliffs during its annual bison roundup in August.

The major concern for the introduction of new animals is the transmission of brucellosis - a livestock disease that can lead to stillbirths and infertility in bison, elk and domestic cattle. The Henry Mountain herd has been brucellosis-free since 1963.

Like the state's herd on the Henrys, the tribe's herd is well over population objectives. Corts said the tribe is considering allowing for more hunting permits and also is looking into some wildlife trades with other tribes.


* BRETT PRETTYMAN can be contacted at or 801-257-8902.

Bison facts

* The herd on the Henry Mountains in southeastern Utah is one of only four free-roaming, genetically pure herds on public land in North America.

* The Antelope Island herd, managed by Utah State Parks, started as a private enterprise in 1893 when William Glassman and John Dooly bought 12 bison from an unknown source.

* Bulls can weigh more than 2,000 pounds and stand 5 to 6 feet tall at the shoulder.

* Bison can sprint up to 30 mph and are considered one of the most dangerous mammals in North America.

* Eighty-one public once-in-a-lifetime bison hunting permits were available in Utah in 2007. They range from $408 for residents on the Henry Mountains to $2,610 for nonresidents to hunt on Antelope Island.

Sources: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Utah State Parks, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources