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Wildlife: Bringing back bison in Europe

European bison. Photo by Michael Gäbler.

Keystone species could help entire ecosystems recover

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Europe may not have the wide-open spaces of America’s Great Plains or Rocky Mountains, but that’s not preventing forward-thinking conservation biologists from trying to restore keystone ecosystem species wherever they can. One of the latest projects involves bringing bisons back to the forests and grasslands of Central Europe.

While a few isolated populations of bison have survived in remote areas of the Caucasus Mountains and a few other spots, the animals were extirpated in central Europe many decades ago. One of the latest attempts to rebuild wild populations involves releasing several animals in forests on the border of Germany and the Czech Republic.

“European Bisons had been an integral part of local countryside for thousands of years. By returning them we will pay the debt of the previous generations which contributed to the extinction of these majestic animals in Central Europe,” says Dalibor Dostal, the director of conservation organization European Wildlife. The bison project is a collaboration between European Wildlife, local conservation groups and scientific institutions.

Conservation biologists hope that bringing back the bison will benefit other species, including endangered butterflies that rely on wildflower meadows. “We believe that the return of the European Bison can indeed save those butterflies,” adds Dalibor Dostal. “This is because life of many small animals depends on regular grazing of big herbivores, and without them they would not be able to survive,” he said.

In the long run, the return of the European Bison will benefit taxpayers along with the environment. In the part of Europe where the release is planned, several millions of Euros a year go towards maintaining of grassy areas. Herds of grazing herbivores could reduce those costs.

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