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The wild, wild West lives on in Utah bison

HANKSVILLE, Wayne County — A four-footed remnant of the wild, wild West lives on in a remote mountain range in southern Utah.

New genetic tests confirm what has long been suspected: a herd of bison in the Henry Mountains is one of the few surviving populations of pure American plains bison, a species that once dominated the Great Plains and the western United States by the millions.

"When I say 'pure' I mean bison that have not been contaminated with cattle genes," said professor Johan du Toit of Utah State University's Department of Wildland Resources. "Most of the bison that are around today, particularly those on private land, are hybrids."

The absence of cattle genes is not due to a lack of cross-breeding opportunities. The Henry Mountains bison roam freely in an area south of Hanksville where domestic ranch cattle also graze under permits from the Bureau of Land Management. In spite of that close proximity, it appears there has been no inter-breeding in the seven decades the bison have been there.

Perhaps just as important: The Henry Mountains bison herd shows no signs of brucellosis. That disease has sparked decades of conflict with ranchers near Yellowstone National Park as purebred bison there have wandered out of the park in wintertime. See full story here.