Something wonderful may be on the hooves of happening in Colorado: There’s a move afoot to open land adjacent to Denver’s international airport – which occupies a calf-sized chunk of the 50 square miles (129.5 sq km) it occupies – to the US’s largest, and closest-to-being-extinct mammal – the bison.
Often erroneously called ‘buffalo’, these four-hooved monsters can weight more than 2,000 pounds (907 kg). They once roamed the Great Plains in the tens of millions. But over-hunting, aided by human population growth resulting from the westward expansion of what would become the transcontinental railroad, when “hunting by rail” was a popular sport, which left countless bison rotting where they were dropped, cut sharply into their numbers. The population decline persisted well into the second half of the 20th century. Then the federal government, recognizing (at long last!) that the nation’s ‘National Mammal’ was at serious risk of fading out if existence, placed restrictions on killing them, and slowly the population began to recover.
Now, thanks to several federal programs (including severe penalties for killing them) their numbers are continuing to increase – but at a rough count of around 30,000 in total, they continue to need all the protection they can get to return to something like their former majestic population.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service is coordinating efforts across several federal agencies to give the giants of the plains back land that was once all theirs. As much as 200 acres (81 hectares, abbreviated as 81 ha) of the Denver Airport property is expected to opened up to bison grazing through an expansion of their ‘reservation,’ as it were, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge. No timetable has been established for the plan, but it has been noted by the feds that, while the local bison would no doubt by happy to have all that land to themselves, since they don’t need such a large grazing area (in addition to the land they already call home), their population is due to be supplemented by bison from elsewhere in the west.
Sadly, or fortunately, saving the bison isn’t the only aim of opening up more grazing land for them: They’re also seen as a tourist attraction – something to (hopefully) be visible to arriving and departing airline passengers.
It’s likely that some enterprising person will also arrange for helicopter flights over the area for paying passengers, for their photographing pleasure. Never mind the fact that some enterprising individual or company will overlook the fact that the helicopters’ whoop-whoop-whoop aural signature will tend to frighten the animals more than the railroad apparently did.
It’s sad how often man does something good, then shoots himself in the foot: Bison are used to a quiet environment. Having an airport as a neighbor is bad enough, but having helicopters flying the photograph-mad masses over their heads is likely to be more than some will be able to bare – causing them to go back where they came from: The far more peaceful Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge.