QUITAQUE, Texas (AP) - The bison herd at Caprock Canyons State Park has added two new members.
The calves were born Feb. 28 and March 7, adding to the herd of 85 genetically pure animals that make up the official bison herd of the state of Texas. Park Superintendent Donald Beard expects 24 more during the calving season that should stretch to early summer.
“We’re going to have a bunch of them pretty soon,” he said, adding that 80 or 90 percent of last year’s bison were born from April to May, maybe some in June.
The herd, mostly descended from the historic Southern Plains herd preserved by pioneer Charles Goodnight, now roams in public areas of the park over 1,000 acres. The park, about 50 miles northeast of Plainview, supplemented the herd to broaden its genetics with animals from one of media mogul Ted Turner’s herds.
Work continues to open up more of the park’s 15,000 acres to the animals as well as cultivate other native species, such as prairie dogs and pronghorn antelope.
“We were planning to open it around January, but we may have to move them sooner if we don’t get some rain,” Beard told the Amarillo Globe-News (http://bit.ly/1d1MuAn ).
About 2,500 acres will be without bison because they are separated from the bulk of the park by a county road.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has been raising funds for additional fencing, mesquite eradication and prairie restoration the past couple of years by sponsoring public events at the park and in nearby Quitaque, including a music festival headlined by Asleep at the Wheel, according to TPWD information.
The park has room to add more animals toward a goal of creating a herd that can preserve the genetics of the originals.
“The park can carry about 250 head,” Beard said. “That’s conservative, but it’s not enough for a conservation herd. That would take about a thousand. We’ll have to start two or three more herds and have them somewhere else.”
State law says whatever herd is at Caprock Canyons will always be the official state herd.
Visitation to the park doubled since the herd was let off its first 300-acre pasture in late 2011, rising from 38,000 people to 68,000 in the last fiscal year, and Beard credits the bison.
“Visitation is already up 10 percent this year compared to the same time last year,” he said.
Caprock Canyons is on land once included in the historic JA Ranch founded by Goodnight and John Adair. In 1997, JA Ranch owners Monte Ritchie and Nina Bivins, descendants of Adair, donated about 50 bison from the existing JA south of Clarendon and Claude to the state for the project.