Sask. bison back home after winter of roaming free

The 30 animals have been on the lam since December but two men from northeastern Saskatchewan managed to round them up

A herd of bison that were on the run in northeastern Saskatchewan last winter are back home.

The approximately 30 bison broke loose in early December and roamed all winter near Highway 35 in the rural municipalities of Pleasantdale and Barrier Valley.

Two men from the area worked together over the winter and spring to capture the bison, and the last animals were returned to their owners in late spring.

A local bison producer, who declined to be identified, said the animals eventually moved back toward their home farm and away from the highway.

Bison will return to areas they know deliver a steady food supply.

“It takes know-how to handle the animals and that kind of thing to move them,” said the producer, who wasn’t involved in the recapture. “They have to trust you as well as you have to trust them. There’s always a fine line between them and you.”

Bison are not like cattle. They tend to wander more, are temperamental and tend to move through steeper and denser terrain. It takes more time to move them.

“Nowadays, with more and more bison coming in the area, there’s so many people that do not know how to understand them or handle them,” he said.

Livestock can be a nuisance and a safety hazard when they break out of their enclosures.

Wayne Black, reeve of the RM of Barrier Valley, said he was often contacted about the whereabouts of the bison.

“The buffalo are a lot bigger animal and nobody wants to run into them, so we did our due diligence, got signs up to indicate that there (were) animals at large.”

Local residents were asked to leave the herd alone because a plan was in place to round them up. Black said there was one public interaction, but it wasn’t life threatening.

“There was definitely a collision with a vehicle; no injuries to the driver of the vehicle,” he said.

“They won’t attack vehicles, and typically they won’t attack people, but if you start chasing them and agitating them, then they quickly avert to their wild nature.”

Bison are swift and can run up to 60 km–h, said Les Kroeger, president of the Saskatchewan Bison Association. He said the accident likely occurred when the bison were running alongside the vehicle and crossed unexpectedly.

These types of incidents are un-avoidable in the industry because bison are crafty escape artists, he added. The average bison can jump two metres and weigh up to 1,000 kilograms. Their enclosure has to be high and sturdy.

Kroeger said the bison owners did not contact the association, and it’s not the association’s mandate to get involved.

However, it can connect people with each other and get in contact with the right people for the job.

In these instances, it’s best to contact the local RM and keep your distance, Black said.

“It’s a common sense thing. That’s why we tell people leave them alone. We don’t want people who aren’t experienced in handling buffalo out there trying to be a hero.”

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