Study: Bison don’t compete much with cattle for grass


by Laura Lundquist, Bozeman Daily Chronicle


On Monday, Utah State University researchers published a study showing ranchers should be more worried about competition from rabbits rather than bison. And even though the study looks at southern Utah, the findings have implications for bison in Montana.

Ecologist Dustin Ranglack led a team that studied how cattle, bison and rabbits, mainly jackrabbits, foraged on the grasses of the Henry Mountains in southern Utah.

A herd of 300 to 400 wild bison is allowed to roam the public land of the Henry Mountains.

But like much of the West, the public land contains grazing allotments, and the permit holders increasingly contend that bison are competing with their cattle for grass.

The number of complaints jumped during the drought period of 2007 to 2012.

“When comparing southern Utah and Montana, a Montanan would wonder how a cattle rancher could stay in business because Utah is really sparsely vegetated,” Ranglack said. “If you are going to see any competition, you’re going to see it there.”

Ranglack surveyed the 21 Henry Mountains ranchers on their observations and assumptions about what was going on. The 12 who responded own 70 percent of the allotment acreage in the area.

Not surprisingly, the ranchers believed that bison were high-level competitors for grass except in the winter. They didn’t consider bison to be too aggressive or a problem when it came to water.

Rabbits didn’t really factor into the equation for the ranchers. But they should have.

Ranglack and his team set up 40 test plots in cattle allotments where bison were known to feed. Some weren’t fenced at all, some were fenced to exclude cattle and bison but not rabbits, and some had fencing that kept all mammals out.

Over two years, Ranglack found that cattle consumed about half of the grass while bison ate about 13 percent.

But rabbits ate more than a third of the vegetation.

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Source:  Bozeman Daily Chronicle

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