June 27, 2008

Group to Offer a Home for Bison to Roam

By Kevin Giles, Star Tribune, Minneapolis

Jun. 27--A Washington County nature preserve that is restoring native prairie will add a bison herd to help teach people about Minnesota's heritage during the state's sesquicentennial this year.

About 20 yearling bison will be released Saturday on 220 acres bordering Afton and West Lakeland Township, said Steve Hobbs, executive director of Belwin, a nonprofit organization.

"Bison are as much a part of the prairies as grasses and wildflowers," Hobbs said. "Because the bison and the prairie evolved together, neither is complete without the other.

"Bison work the landscape with their hooves, forage out unwanted plants and spread seeds in ways that cannot be replicated. By reintroducing bison to its prairies, Belwin will be restoring this lost part of the native prairie system."

NorthStar Bison of Rice Lake, Wis., will own and manage the herd, Hobbs said.

The bison will return to Rice Lake in October to give the preserve a chance to study how their presence affected plants and grasses, Hobbs said.

The release, at noon, is open to the public and will take place on Division Street east of Stagecoach Trail, about 2 miles south of Interstate Hwy. 94 and 3 miles east of the Hwy. 95 South/Manning Road exit between Woodbury and Afton.

Dan O'Brien, a South Dakota rancher and author of "Buffalo for the Broken Heart," will attend.

Belwin, a nonprofit organization, owns more than 1,300 acres along the St. Croix River. The land features woods, wetlands, tallgrass prairies, oak savannas, spring-fed cold water streams and farmland being restored to prairie.

Belwin hosts 10,000 St. Paul schoolchildren each year who come to Washington County to learn about nature. Belwin's offices are at 1553 Stagecoach Trail S. in Afton. An annual meeting for Belwin members will be held after the bison release.

Kevin Giles --651-298-1554


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