Belwin to Reintroduce Bison to their Prairies

Afton, MinnesotaJune 10, 2008 — Bison will soon roam the prairies of Washington County, Minnesota once again. On Saturday, June 28th at noon, Belwin will release a herd of bison onto its property located in Afton and West Lakeland, Minnesota. Bison, long absent from this area, play an essential role on the prairie. By reintroducing them, Belwin hopes to enhance the health of its prairies, study the effect of bison on the landscape and teach people about Minnesota’s history during its 150th anniversary.

For several decades Belwin has been restoring native prairies to the property it owns in Washington County along Stagecoach Trail. To date, Belwin has nearly 500 acres in prairie which it actively manages through a diversity of techniques. Among them, Belwin uses annual prescribed burns as a method of encouraging the growth of native plants and preventing others from invading the prairie. Regular fires have always been a part of the prairie and Belwin’s are made healthier because of them. Still, there has remained one other part of this natural system that to date has gone unfilled: bison.

Bison are as much a part of prairies as grasses and wildflowers. Because the bison and the prairie evolved together, neither is complete without the other. Bison work the landscape with their hooves, forage out unwanted plants and spread seeds in a way that cannot be replicated any other way. By reintroducing bison to our prairies, we will be restoring this lost part of the native prairie system.

Belwin has formed a partnership with NorthStar Bison of Rice Lake, Wisconsin who will own and manage the herd. “Belwin has long-sought to add bison to its prairies,” said Steve Hobbs, executive director of Belwin, “but as a nonprofit organization with limited resources, it has never before been possible. Our partnership with NorthStar benefits us both. Belwin gets the benefit of bison on its prairie, and NorthStar gains several hundred additional acres on which to raise their animals. Belwin is also thrilled to be supporting an innovative producer of healthy, locally raised food.”

On Saturday, June 28th at noon, as Belwin and NorthStar release the bison herd, they will be joined by Dan O’Brien. O’Brien is a South Dakota rancher, biologist and author of Buffalo for the Broken Heart. He is one of the nation’s foremost experts on bison reintroduction and will speak about his experiences with his own herd and their reintroduction to his ranch.

Belwin has been a leader in conservation and environmental education in Washington County, Minnesota for over 35 years. Belwin owns over 1,300 acres of land along the bluffs of the Saint Croix River and has worked tirelessly to protect the watershed of Valley Creek — one of Minnesota’s premier trout streams. In restoring its land to native prairie and oak savanna, Belwin hopes to be an inspiration for others to do the same. Since its inception Belwin has hosted the Saint Paul Public Schools on its property which brings over 10,000 students to Belwin every year. Many of the students who visit the property in 3rd and 5th grades have their first exposure to nature while at Belwin. In response to a request from the community, Belwin opened the Lucy Winton Bell Athletic Fields in 2000. Since opening, they have become one of the premier youth athletic complexes in the Twin Cities and regularly receive over 70,000 visits annually.


Steve Hobbs
Executive Director, Belwin
(651) 436-5189 x101