Some bison have escaped again from their mountain-meadow enclosure in the Black Hills.
Jerry Krueger, the deputy supervisor of the Black Hills National Forest, fielded a question about the bison Wednesday during a regular meeting of the forest’s advisory board at the Mystic District Ranger Office in Rapid City.
Board member David Wolff asked for an update on the bison, which escaped earlier this summer from Pe Sla. That’s the Lakota name for a large clearing in the forest about 15 miles northwest of Hill City, where the Rosebud Sioux Tribe manages a bison herd. Several tribes completed a joint acquisition of the land in 2014.
Krueger said about 70 bison escaped the enclosure early in the summer, and the Forest Service – which manages much of the land around Pe Sla – received reports that all but five of the bison were recaptured just prior to Christmas.
Then, on Monday, the Forest Service received a report that 28 more bison had escaped.
“The bison did what bison do,” Krueger said, “which is, when given the opportunity like cattle, they’ll exit the pasture to go check out whatever they’re interested in going and checking out.”
Kevin Robling, who is the deputy secretary of the state Department of Game, Fish & Parks and is a member of the forest advisory board, said during the meeting that the GF&P recently received a report about the bison’s whereabouts. On Friday, Robling told SDPB that said somebody who grooms snowmobile trails saw the bison Jan. 3 along a trail 6 miles west-southwest of Rochford, near Pe Sla.
Nobody from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe was at the forest advisory board meeting. Joe Buck Colombe, who is the Pe Sla caretaker for the tribe, spoke to SDPB by phone Thursday.
When told of the information shared at the forest board meeting, Colombe disputed some of it. He said there were 68 bison that escaped during the summer and all have been recaptured. He said the bison never strayed beyond the general area around Pe Sla.
“They never left the Hills,” Colombe said. “They stayed close to their home base.”
Some bison were brought back to Pe Sla but many were transported to the Rosebud Reservation while projects to improve the Pe Sla water system and fencing got underway, Colombe said.
He acknowledged that 28 bison were outside the fence as of Thursday, but he said the bison were still on tribal land. He was hopeful that with winter weather setting in, hay could be used to lure the bison back within the fence.
Colombe said escapes at Pe Sla have been largely caused by wildlife. He said elk have jumped over the fences and damaged them, and other elk have followed behind and caused more damage.
“In all reality, I think elk are more destructive than buffalo,” Colombe said.
He said the tribe is working to improve the fence at Pe Sla, including with some cabling that is more resistant to damage caused by elk.
Bison can weigh around 2,000 pounds, run 35 mph and clear heights of 6 feet with a leap. Krueger said if anyone encounters bison in the Black Hills National Forest, they should maintain a safe distance from the animals.