Bringing back the bison

Bison basics: Researchers at the U’s Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve are studying whether bison can help restore oak savanna. This rare and beautiful habitat once covered 10 percent of Minnesota but is now confined to a few protected reserves.

How they’re doing it: In June 2018, Cedar Creek leased 32 male bison and set them free in a 210-acre enclosure at Cedar Creek. The reserve is located north of the Twin Cities in East Bethel and is part of the College of Biological Sciences.

What they’ve learned: The bison are grazing heavily on grasses, but are not trampling or grazing on oak seedlings.

Why it matters: Since 1964, scientists at Cedar Creek have used prescribed burns to replicate fires that were once part of the natural ecosystem. Mature oaks survive the fires, but many seedlings don’t. Researchers hope that after bison eat the grasses, the oak seedlings will have less competition and will grow tall enough to survive the prescribed burns planned for the spring of 2019.

How philanthropy makes a difference: Scientists aren’t the only ones who explore Cedar Creek’s natural riches. Each year, more than 10,000 children, teachers, and other guests visit the site—in some cases with travel expenses covered by donors. To better serve school groups and the general public, the reserve is raising funds for a new Minnesota Ecology Walk that will provide hands-on learning for visitors of all ages.

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