Editor’s Note: A warm welcome back to one of our favorite perennial contributors, Wendy Wilson (Summer of Salt 2012 & 2013). As life on the Island unfolds over the seasons, we’ll be watching for posts from Wendy about the wildlife, water, science, nature, and activities of Great Salt Lake – through the eyes of a naturalist! Read her biography here.
Two of the most exciting weekends just took place at Antelope Island State Park. For the 28th year, State Park staff and volunteers rounded up the Island’s herd of more than 700 bison. This was the 4th year I’ve participated, and each year is an adventure.
The roundup consists of two parts. The first weekend, 300 riders on horseback find, gather and move the big critters to the corrals on the north end of the island. Early mornings find the ranch a hive of activity as riders saddle and prep their horses for long, hard day of riding. This is an amazingly picturesque time – cowboys, horses, early morning glow on the landscape and the lake in the background. It’s one of my favorite images of the entire day.
Visitors begin lining up early to experience a truly iconic scene. This year it seemed the entire east side road was lined with observers. Which was perfect, because most of the “push” takes place within viewing distance of the road. There is just something stirring about seeing 300 riders on horseback moving a virtually wild herd of 700 American Bison across the wild lands of the Island. Whips crack, voices shout, hooves pound the earth and dust flies as beast and rider push north.
There are few things more raw and real and “American West” than the bison roundup. These are real cowboys and cowgirls moving one of the last and largest herds of free ranging bison across the land.
Once the bison are safely in the corrals they are allowed to rest for a week.
The second weekend is the “working” of the bison. In my opinion, this is the better event for the public to watch. The push is magical, but the working gets you up close and personal to these icons of North America. The purpose of the working is to check each and every animal for health, vaccinate the calves, check females for pregnancy, perform DNA tests and ultimately cull approximately 200 animals from the herd. To do this, dozen of staff and volunteers get right down in with the bison and through a series of gates, pens, and chutes bring the animals one by one to see the vet.
You can imagine the bison don’t necessarily enjoy this process, so again visitors witnessing this event are greeted with shouts, bangs, grunts, snorts and all manner of cacophony. Tours are given to allow visitors a good look and an explanation of what is happening.
I had the opportunity this year to be one of the “crazies” as I like to call them. The “crazies” chase the bison on foot though a set of three lanes as we work to reduce groups into smaller units. Climbing and/or jumping walls much taller than the average Joe is a frequent occurrence with this little job. Most bison are easily motivated to move in the direction they are being chased. However, not all bison go so willingly and turn around to chase the chasers. Adrenaline runs high.
This year’s roundup and working are over. But mark your calendars for the end of October/early November 2015. We’ll be out there again pushing bison across the rugged landscape of Antelope Island.