I captured both of these photographs at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in the Flint Hills of Kansas on separate visits. The preserve is a window into what the great plains were once like, and hosts a herd of over 100 bison. I deliberately photograph the bison during snow storms as it helps me appreciate the way they handle environmental extremes with stoicism, and winter allows me to showcase their full coats before any shedding occurs in warmer weather. Hiking into the preserve and finding the herd roaming freely is always a bit surreal, as they are an intimidating presence to encounter. Time seems to slow down on shoot days as I follow their grazing patterns through the Windmill Pasture during snowfall.
The presence of bison on the preserve increases biodiversity due to their grazing and activity. Wallowing is the act of laying on its back and rolling to each side which helps defend against biting insects and can at times be seen as social behavior. This creates depressions that become mini-wetlands that nurture plants and small animals. Different bird species also find food at the bottom of wallows and shelter in the varied grass lengths left behind by trampling and grazing. Foraging naturally aerates the soil and disperses seeds due to their hooves and weight, allowing for native grasses and plants to thrive. The ripple effect of the bison’s impact is immense.
Many native American tribes revered this animal as a spiritual being as it was a key part of their culture and spirit. The history is painful, but the bison is currently a modern conservation success story whose environmental benefits and impact are vital. The bison has carved out an important role in the discussion of land use in the American West and I hope to bring to you photographs that relay the inherent beauty and inspiring nature of these animals.