Bison begin grazing at Pleasant Valley Conservation Area in Woodstock

McHenry County Conservation District says animals will help manage prairie in ‘natural’ and ‘beneficial’ way for wildlife

Six bison are getting used to their new home at Pleasant Valley Conservation Area in Woodstock after being placed there in mid-December, the McHenry County Conservation District said.

The MCCD leases 180 acres of pastureland at the conservation area to Ruhter Bison LLC, a family-owned bison farm in Murdock, a small town south of Champaign. Ruhter Bison’s lease runs for 15 years.

Having bison at Pleasant Valley will help the conservation district manage the prairie in a “far more natural and beneficial way for wildlife,” said Brad Woodson, manager of natural resources for the MCCD.

Grazers help keep the balance of habitat structure and species composition of the prairie, Woodson said.

Along with prescribed burns and cutting brush, “it’s another tool in the toolbox for habitat restoration,” said Wendy Kummerer, marketing director for the MCCD. “Really, they’re doing the restoration work for us.”

Bison at Pleasant Valley are inside an electric fence in a new oak savanna pasture, Kummerer said.

When the bison were first released, they ran along the fence line and checked out the perimeter of their new environment, Kummerer said.

“They’re so chill,” she said. “They’re just hanging out.”

Because the bison are not being raised for breeding, they won’t get aggressive, she said.

The MCCD’s next steps are to install amenities to allow the public to have quarterly or seasonal viewings of the bison, Kummerer said.

At this time, the area with bison is closed to the public so they can have time to establish a home territory and not become stressed, Woodson said.

No supplemental food will have to be given to the bison. Kummerer said they just graze on the land, and Pleasant Valley has a watering hole for them to drink from.

Grassland bison grazing is something the MCCD has wanted to do for years. An opportunity opened to do so when the previous tenant of the Pleasant Valley land decided not to renew its farm lease. Through the MCCD’s farm lease program, more than 400 tenants lease land from the conversation district, Kummerer said.

As part of the lease, approved by the MDDC’s Board of Trustees in February, Ruhter had to make a lot of improvements to the land, such as putting in new fencing and water lines, Kummerer said.

Woodson said the value of having bison goes beyond these improvements.

“The real cost savings to the district is in terms of saving staff resources on ongoing habitat management,” Woodson said.

Bison prefer to eat grass, and the removal of the grass canopy will result in warmer soil temperatures and increased soil moisture, the MCCD said in a news release. It also will create a vegetation structure that attracts grassland birds, as these kinds of fowl prefer shorter, patchier pastures, as opposed to taller, uniform ones.

More bison aren’t expected to come to the preserve until June, Kummerer said. Eventually, the MCCD aims to increase the herd to 30 young animals.

While these bison are new to the area, they are intentionally there – in contrast to one American bison spotted in western Lake and eastern McHenry counties after it escaped from a farm in September, the Daily Herald reported.

That bison, named Tyson, got loose in September while being unloaded at a farm near Route 176 and Darrell Road, and it still was on the loose as of last week, Lake County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Chief Chris Covelli said.

Although the sheriff’s office has had several people call with possible sightings since the Daily Herald’s report earlier in December, these were determined to be horses and cows, Covelli said.

“We remain ‘unmoooved’ by Tyson’s antics, and we just want her to take some ‘acowtanbility’ and return home,” Covelli said in an email.

Cassie Buchman

Cassie Buchman

I cover Crystal Lake, Algonquin, Cary, Fox River Grove, Prairie Grove and Oakwood Hills for the Northwest Herald.