Grazing Bison under the Mountains
Grazing Bison

It may surprise you that Northern Utah houses one of the purest stocks of American Bison left in the country.

It may also shock you to hear that the entire population of this herd of American Bison is contained on a 42 square mile island called Antelope Island.

Oh, by the way, Antelope Island is in the middle of one of the saltiest lakes in the world.

How did this herd of bison end up on this island? And why is this semi-free range hers still on the island?

There is a simple answer to both of those questions. That answer is: conservation.

In the late 1800’s, much of the native American Bison herd throughout the plains of America were hunted to near extinction. Roughly 40 million American Bison were killed and left to rot for their high-quality pelts.

American Bison Walking
Walking across the road

At one point in world history, the bison had the highest population of any big land animal.

By the end of 1880’s, Bison was exceedingly rare. A rancher from Texas saw this as an opportunity to conserve a small amount of his private herd and barge them onto this secluded island. The original herd consisted of 12 bison, just enough to grow the herd to the largest single bison herd in America by late 1910’s.

The original owner sought to use the herd as a sportsman’s paradise. Since many of the hunters in America had no other way of killing Bison anymore, many jumped at this chance. The popularity of the island increased substantially across the country and caught the eye of many animal rights groups.

By the mid-1920’s the owner decided that the herd was becoming unsustainable. The island’s resources were slowly being depleted so a massive hunt was organized. As much of the country became aware of this, animal rights activists all the way from Boston and New York urged their governors to protest this hunt. Unfortunately, the island was private property and the government could not intervene.

Bison Eating
American Bison grazing

The hunt proceeded and many famous public figures attended the event from across the country.

The entire herd was culled to just a small remnant of the existing population. Since the remaining bison could not be controlled, they were left to their own devices.

Eventually the island was sold off to another private owner. Since the population still had not recovered, the next owner saw that the herd was unsustainable and tried to corral them again. His hope was to place the herd inThis attempt was unsuccessful again.

The new owner tried to get the US Department of Interior to take control of the island in hopes of a new national park but was also unsuccessful. Instead, the island remained in private hands until 1969.

Big Bison
One of the bigger bison

Between 1969 and 1981, the state of Utah purchased large sections of the island.

They eventually became the sole owners and restricted killing the bison to only a few per year.

During the moth of October, Antelope Island invites local community members to participate in corralling the entire herd to check for disease and immunizations. This event is a testament to the community that surrounds the island and how much these animals mean to people.

As of right now, the Antelope Island American Bison herd is one of the largest herds in America.

Playful Bison
An American Bison playing in the dirt

The American Bison is not the only animal on this island.

The pronghorn antelope are animals that the island was named after. Antelope Island is also full of badgers, bobcats, coyote, and bighorn sheep. The wetlands around the island are a major conservation area for hundreds of species of waterfowl.

Billions of brine shrimp fill the waters of the Great Salt Lake. These brine shrimp are a major source of food for some of the most gorgeous birds in the states. The undisturbed nature of this island makes Antelope Island a fantastic birding area.

Next week I will be doing a post on some of the most interesting hikes around Antelope Island and my interview I had with one of the Park’s rangers. Stay tuned for that!

Check out some of the other awesome parks I have been to below!

Arches National Park

Zion National Park