12/07/2009 10:55 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Homeless Herd: Why Is Ted Turner's Ranch Getting These Wild Bison?

OnEarth logoHow are these buffalo not like the others?

Unlike most buffalo that you've ever seen in your life, in roadside
pens and on farms and ranches (or on your plate if you've ever ordered
a bison burger), these are real bison -- genetically pure and not mixed with cattle DNA.

They're refugees from Yellowstone National Park -- where about 3,300
bison hold the distinction of being the largest genetically pure herd
left in the country, and the only one that has remained continuously

Bison herd

Being wild means they're not particularly good at following human-made
maps and boundaries, and Yellowstone bison frequently wander out of the
park. When they do, they're either forced back in by armed men on
horseback and in helicopters, or slaughtered to make sure they don't
spread a disease to cattle (even though there's no hard evidence of
wild bison ever transmitting the feared disease, known as brucellosis,
to domestic livestock).

But this particular group of Yellowstone bison, currently being held in
a Montana quarantine pen, was spared as part of a scientific study. One
intention of that study was to find them a new home on public land or a
tribal reservation, to help repopulate genetically pure bison
throughout the West.

For a group of bison this special, that's turned out to be a lot harder than you'd think.

Hillary Rosner tells the story of the homeless herd -- and why they're
likely to wind up on Ted Turner's private ranch instead of public land
-- in a new article for NRDC's OnEarth magazine.