The Bison Project - Homepage

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In 2015, through a partnership agreement with the National Forest Foundation and the USDA Forest, 27 bison were introduced as a restoration experiment. In the beginning there were 23 cows and four bulls.

Why are bison at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie?  



Will Their Natural Disturbances Help with Prairie Restoration?

They stomp and they run. They roll and wallow to scratch and fight off insects. Are bison helping to restore habitat for grassland birds and more with the natural disturbances that they cause? Volunteers, partners and staff monitor to see if the presence of bison is making a difference in the growth of forbs and grasses that might increase and improve habitat for grassland birds and more. We are looking at the natural behaviors of the bison, for example, the way they graze and the wallows they make, which we otherwise would not have during active restoration.

Will Their Grazing Help with Prairie Restoration?

Grazing provides the best opportunity to accomplish habitat management objectives, such as habitat maintenance for grassland birds and invasive species control.

Cattle are helping prairie restoration with their grazing. Bison grazing preferences are quite different from cattle. Bison create more varied grass lengths with their grazing, and different grassland birds thrive best in different lengths of grasses.   

Are bison promoting forb, grass and shrub diversity that is more compatible with tallgrass prairie with their grazing? Time will tell.

One in every three bites of food that we eat depends on pollinators. Can bison help create more natural habitat for grassland birds and other important pollinators?

Recently, 6 bison – 4 cows and 2 bulls – were fitted with yellow global positioning system (“GPS”) collars to help researchers follow their movements within four different experimental treatment areas: (1) treated with prescribed fire; (2) mowed; (3) treated with herbicide; and (4) control (=no other management applied).

  • The GPS collars will help show not only day-to-day tracking, but tracking over time to help identify which areas the bison prefer and how they spend their time.

  • The collars will be used in conjunction with cameras.

  • As the experiment continues, the plant communities should show some changes. With these changes in the plant communities, we can see what the bison prefer as well as the effects that the bison have on the communities.

  • The six bison fitted with collars were chosen randomly. More cows were chosen than bulls because, during calving, bulls separate themselves from the cows.

Public Conservation Education

First-hand Experience on The Prairie Through first-hand, sometimes even  close-up experiences with bison – or even just looking for them – the hope is that each visitor will learn something new. There is so much to learn about bison, their life history and their role in prairie ecosystems, and seeing them, or being close to them, creates an immersive learning environment for visitors of all ages.

At home, people can learn about bison by looking for them through the web cam, which was introduced through a partnership agreement with the National Forest Foundation and the USDA Forest Service in 2016.   

Bison Boxes When the Welcome Center is open, “Bison Boxes” are available for check out. The boxes are not always available; call ahead to reserve a box. The box educational materials, artifacts, pictures and information suitable for teachers or youth leaders to conduct a self-led educational hike on the prairie. 

Bison - homepage - bison with calf

A 1,000-acre site was carefully identified base on important criteria:   

  • Rolling topography for panoramic viewing;
  • Room for sub-pastures;
  • Soil type that is conducive to native prairie grasses and forbs;
  • Free of infrastucture

Fencing was installed, including a six-foot-tall exterior fence and a five-foot-tall interior fence.

Bison Relocations: Helping partner organizations reach their restoration and education goals

Within a few years after the herd was introduced, the number of bison grew to a size that allowed opportunity for some to be transferred to federally recognized tribes, educational institutions, other government sites and more. The USDA Forest Service is coordinating with organizations to tryto help them meet their goals in restoration and education involving bison


big bison in a field


The herd was introduced at Midewin in October 2015 as a 20-year experiment in restoring the landscape to native tallgrass prairie.

Bison: Live Camera

Live Camera

On Friday, December 9, 2016 a webcam was installed in areas where the bison have been known to graze.

Close-up of a Bison

Looking and Learning

Midewin staff and a trained group of Volunteer Rangers are available to discuss the bison introduction project with visitors at our Welcome Center and the Iron Bridge Trailhead area. Information and maps will be available at both locations.

Bison: Learning and Viewing


The history of the Bison experiment

Bison - Media


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