Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Natural Resource Management

First Advisor

Jonathan A. Jenks


bison, corridor movements, diet selection


Bison (Bison bison), the largest mammalian species in North America, historically numbering in the tens of millions (Roe 1970, McHugh 1972, Dary 1989, Shaw 1995), was nearly extirpated at the turn of the 19th century (Knapp et al. 1999; Gates et al. 2010). At the time, estimates of less than 1,000 bison remaining in North America are widely accepted (Hornaday 1889; Seton 1927; Gates et al. 2010). The decline of bison includes factors such as disease (Flores 1991; Isenberg 2000), sport hunting (Danz 1997; Dary 1989; Hewitt 1919; Isenberg 2000; McHugh 1972), and unofficially funded commercial hunting by the U.S. government (Hornaday 1889; Mayer and Roth 1958; Isenberg 2000). As bison populations started to decrease, private citizens were the catalysts in conserving bison in the early 1900’s (Gates et al. 2010); since, at the time, laws protecting bison were minimal (Danz 1997). Protection for bison was first implemented in 1877 in Canada (Gates et al. 2001). The U.S. followed shortly thereafter, in 1894, when President Cleveland signed the National Park Protective Act (Lacey Act). The Lacey Act protected bison and imposed jail sentences or fines on anyone found guilty of killing bison in Yellowstone National Park, where the last free ranging bison were located (Boyd and Gates 2006). Furthermore, conservation efforts by state, federal, non-government organization (NGO), and private herdsmen have reestablished populations across North America. As a result, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture recently reported 162,110 bison on 2,584 farms (USDA 2012), whereas, Canada reported 125,142 bison on 1,211 farms (Statistics Canada 2011). Of those, about 31,000 individuals (7.4%) are part of conservation herds, operated by state, federal, or an NGO agency (Gates et al. 2010). Today, private stakeholders manage approximately 92% of the bison, with a common belief that management is primarily economically driven for profit, in contrast to the conservation focus of state, federal, and NGO managed herds (Hudson and Frank 1987). Therefore, private organizations are not considered conservation herds, even if the primary management goal is conservation oriented (Gates et al. 2010). Contrary to this misconception, the Olson’s Conservation Bison Ranches manages for conservation by following the “Bison Conservation Management: Guidelines for Herd Managers” (Lammers et al. 2013). The basis of our research was to evaluate the efficacy of this manual for managing bison in private herds from a conservation standpoint. The projects main objectives were to 1) calculate forage availability and determine bison diet composition to understand forage selection (Chapter 1), 2) calculate biomass production and estimate carrying capacity of bison (Chapter 1), 3) calculate bison neonatal survival and determine cause-specific mortality (Chapter 2), and 4) examine corridor movements of bison in aspen-dominated forests (Chapter 3).

Library of Congress Subject Headings

American bison -- Ecology -- Manitoba.

American bison -- Monitoring -- Manitoba.

American bison -- Manitoba -- Management.

American bison -- Food -- Manitoba.

Corridors (Ecology)


Includes bibliographical references



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University


Copyright © 2016 Joshua L. Leonard