A Golden Anniversary


The bison herd at the Nature Center reaches an important milestone.
The original herd sire of the Nature Center’s bison herd upon reaching maturity in 1975. FWNC&R Archive Photo.

The Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge is preparing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of an auspicious event in Nature Center history: the arrival of bison on the Refuge. On November 9, 1973, three bison, following a long trip from the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma, were released into what is now known as the East Pasture.

Exhibiting bison at the Nature Center was a recommendation of the 1972 Master Development Plan developed by the National Audubon Society at the request of then Fort Worth Park and Recreation Director Charles Campbell. The plan actually called for a combination of bison and elk to be exhibited, but elk were considered too difficult to confine and manage.

The Wichita Mountain bison herd was formed in 1907, when 15 bison were selected from the New York Zoological Society’s herd and shipped by train to the then Wichita National Forest and Game Preserve in southwest Oklahoma. This was part of an effort to establish a “National Bison Herd” of Southern Plains bison that could supply other appropriate reserves within the bison’s historic range.

The three bison from Wichita Mountains, a bull and two cows, were all purported to be 2.5 years old. One of the cows gave birth to the Refuge herd’s first calf, a heifer, on May 21, 1974, and so began the formation of the herd that we see today.

The Nature Center’s first calf nursing in summer 1974. FWNC&R Archive Photo.

The saga of the Nature Center’s bison herd is long and convoluted, better relayed as a conversation than in a newsletter item, but suffice to say, the past fifty years have seen the birth of more than 100 calves, a parade of at least six herd sires (dominant bulls), the addition of four pastures, the illegal shooting of a herd sire, and a transfer of ownership from the City of Fort Worth to the Friends of the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge to better facilitate management. That’s not even mentioning the crazy vet visits and wild roundups! Have I ever told you about the time we had a bison jump into the bed of a Chevy S10 pickup?

Bison anniversary activities begin on Saturday, November 4 (which happens to be National Bison Day, honoring our national mammal) and run through the big day, Thursday, November 9. Be sure to check out the latest copy of Phenology to see program dates and times.

By Rob Denkhaus, Manager, Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge

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