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The Mountain-Prairie Region


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228


March 14, 2007

Contact: Matt Kales (303) 236-4576
                Sherry James (303) 289-0659



On March 17, 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners will reintroduce wild bison to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, located in Commerce City, Colorado. The reintroduction will mark the 104th birthday of the National Wildlife Refuge System, America’s premier network of lands and waters managed for fish and wildlife conservation.

Sixteen bison from the National Bison Range in Montana will be released at the Refuge to establish a pilot herd on a pasture in the northwestern portion of the site. The herd will be located on refuge land and enable the Service to monitor and evaluate the effects bison have on native short grass prairie ecology and to determine the role of bison in the management of the site. In hosting the pilot herd, the Refuge will also play a key part in advancing the Service’s national bison conservation program.

"Bison are one of our nation’s most storied animals," said Mitch King, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mountain-Prairie Regional Director. "The return of bison to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge signals remarkable progress both in the transformation of this site and in the conservation of American bison. The Service thanks our many public and private partners for their support as we work to restore this unique refuge to its full ecological potential."

In order to minimize disturbance to the bison and facilitate a safe release, the release is not open to the public. However, the Service will add the bison pasture to its popular public tram tour route beginning in April, which will enable the public to view the bison and bison habitat.

Additional public use opportunities involving bison and bison conservation will also be available in the future.

The bison pasture was once part of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. The U.S. Army, with the assistance of Shell Oil Co., is successfully managing the remaining cleanup of this Superfund site. To date, more than 12,000 acres (two-thirds of the site) have been certified as clean by the Environmental Protection Agency and State of Colorado. Once certification was complete, the U.S. Army transferred the land to the Service, officially establishing and later expanding the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. Of the 12,000 acres, 1,400 are designated as bison habitat by the Service.

"We are pleased that the success of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal cleanup has enabled the American Bison to return to its native home," said Charlie Scharmann, program manager for the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. "To see wild bison roaming on this land is truly remarkable and we are proud to have played a role in this historic conservation effort. The return of this signature species, along with the bald eagles and more than 300 species of wildlife that already call this site home, make the Refuge a destination that Colorado residents and visitors alike will not want to miss."

"The return of the American bison marks another step in bringing this land full circle back to its natural beauty," said Roger Shakely, Denver site manager for Shell Oil Co. "Bones found here show that bison roamed the land more than a thousand years ago, and visitors will now be able to see bison again in their natural habitat. We support the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s commitment to conserving this species and offering those educational opportunities to the community."

The Service is coordinating with its Army and Shell partners at the Arsenal, and with regulatory agencies, local governments and other entities involved to ensure the bison reintroduction fully comply with all applicable laws, regulations and policies related to the remaining clean-up at the Arsenal and continued transformation of the site to a national wildlife refuge.

The bison identified for movement from the Bison Range to the Refuge contain valuable and unique genetic characteristics that the Service, using the best available scientific information, has determined important to the long-term conservation of wild bison. The Service is undertaking a series of bison transfers among and between national wildlife refuges in Montana, North Dakota, Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa to prevent against a catastrophic loss of key genetic material. These transfers are also intended to serve as an initial step toward establishing a more holistic management approach that recognizes and includes bison as a functional part of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Bison were historically an integral component of the North American prairie ecosystem. Migrating bison provided essential functions, such as grazing and other disturbances that, together with fire, drove key ecological processes on the prairie. The decimation of the historic bison herds across the continent in the late 19th century removed this component from the prairie ecosystem. As the Service works to restore and conserve prairie habitats throughout the National Wildlife Refuge System, the agency has identified wild bison as a species that can and will play a vital role in this effort.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.



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