COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – After an absence of more than a century, wild bison were returned to Colorado’s Front Range on Saturday in full view of Denver’s skyline.
Sixteen buffalo from the National Bison Range in northwestern Montana were released in an enclosed 1,400-acre section of a wildlife refuge that formerly was the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, where nerve gas and other chemical weapons were manufactured.
“The release went very smoothly. We would say this was a tremendous success,” said Matt Kales, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He said the animals were released in an area that had never been used for the manufacture of weapons.
The 17,000-acre arsenal is being cleaned up and transformed from a chemical weapons and pesticide manufacturing center into the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge.
The refuge, about 10 miles from downtown Denver, is home to deer, bald eagles and hundreds of other species.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the parts of the arsenal that have been cleaned up, said bison were once a key part of the area’s short-grass prairie ecosystem.
“The short grass left by grazing bison is ideal habitat for prairie dog colonies, which in turn provide habitat and prey for rare species such as burrowing owls, hawks and swift foxes,” said Jonathan Proctor of Defenders of Wildlife. “Bison also add nutrients to the soil and create wallows which can attract several types of birds.”
Fish and Wildlife manages bison on seven refuges nationwide. Kales said the arsenal would be the first bison refuge in a major metro area.
Kales said Fish and Wildlife officials don’t believe the bison will try to get out of their enclosure, but employees will have tranquilizer guns and escape plans ready as a precaution.