BISON WINTER AT YELLOWSTONE
Here’s a program from our archives.
To some Native American tribes, the buffalo, or bison, was said to be a predictor of the weather. If its coat was thick, then a harsh winter was at hand. Well, let’s hear how bison are faring this winter, at Yellowstone National Park. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
ambience: Thermal Hot Springs
Winters are long and harsh in Yellowstone, and hot springs, like the ones we’re listening to now, provide whatever scarce warmth there is to be found in the park. According to Wildlife Biologist John Mack, many of the about 3000 bison that spend the winter in Yellowstone cling to these steamy thermal areas. But the bison still need to forage away from the hot springs, so they’ll spend the winter searching through the snow for whatever sedges and grasses they can find.
Luckily, the bison are well adapted for the winter. Unlike deer and elk, bison can manage in very deep snow. They swing their massive heads back and forth, sweeping through the snow reach the grasses underneath.
But physical hardiness isn’t always enough for the bison. Their success in the winter is dependent on the environmental conditions throughout the year. During the summer months, the bison are eating and fattening up in the higher elevations of the park. When winter arrives, if the temperature is very low or if layers of ice cover the undergrowth, the bison may have to rely on their fat reserves to survive.
And yet the bison have survived massive hunting by man, the narrowing of their range to a fraction of its original size, and thousands of winters past. They are, according to Black Elk, the Chief of all animals, representing the Earth and the totality of everything that is.
I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.