Comparison of the Effect of American Bison and Cattle on Pasture and Direct Access Streams

EPA Grant Number: SU834764
Title: Comparison of the Effect of American Bison and Cattle on Pasture and Direct Access Streams
Investigators: Jones, Thomas G , Adkins, David , Bloom, Jessica A , Starkweather, Diana
Institution: Marshall University
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2010 through August 14, 2011
Project Amount: $9,997
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2010) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Agriculture , P3 Challenge Area - Water , P3 Awards , Sustainability


The technical challenge to sustainability that this project addresses is how humans can produce food in a less environmentally degrading manor.


We propose to do this by determining scientifically if Bison affect their pasture differently than Cattle and in what ways. To determine this a Bison pasture will be compared with a Cattle pasture of similar size and terrain, both of which will be compared to a fallow field as a control. The specific parameters to be studies include plant species diversity statistical analysis using ANOVA, persistence of native species, plant cover with relation to the creation of trails within the pasture, soil compaction evaluated by infiltration, and impacts on direct access streams evaluated by the West Virginia Save Our Streams protocol. Nearly one third of the prime top soil has been lost in the Unites States over the last 200 years due to poor agricultural practices, over grazing, and deforestation. Sedimentation and fecal bacteria load from farming and towns are now the main sources of non-point source pollution int he US. Cattle are a large contributor to this along with chickens and pigs. While entrepreneurial individuals have been raising Bison ever since ranchers moved into the plains, no one has scientifically shown whether raising Bison is better for the land than raising cattle. There has been speculation that because Bison have feet that are shaped differently than cows that they tend to break up soil as they move instead on flattening and compacting it. If this is true a Bison pasture should show less compaction and greater vegetative cover. It has also been observed that Bison prefer to stand in hilltops facing into the wind instead of wallowing in streams. If his is true then direct access streams should be less impacted. This project combines traditional scientific methods of Statistical Analysis with Environmental Science, Ecology, and Agriculture. Most of the costs involved with the particular study are travel costs and time invested. This particular research study should not have any demonstrable effects on the environment or resources. One unintended result of ranchers switching from Cattle to Bison may be that the American public actually becomes healthier. According to Dr. M.J. Marchello of the Animal and Range Sciences Department of North Dakota State University, Fargo, bison meat is significantly better for you than beef or even chicken. Compared to Chicken, Pork, and Beef, Bison meat has lower cholesterol, fewer calories, less fat (except for Chicken), and more Iron and Calcium (Marchello, 1).

Expected Results:

If the Bison are managed in a low impact method then we can count on meat that is free of antibiotics, added hormones, and other industry byproducts. In fact, Federal regulations prohibit the use of artificial growth hormones in bison, and industry protocols prohibit the use of ‘subtherapeutic’ antibiotics. If the results of this study show that Bison may impact the pasture and streams less than Cattle while producing more meat that is healthier for consumers to eat, then it will certainly have the potential impacts on future food production in the US. The anticipated long term future goal this study is the beginning of an experimental Bison Ranch that will document the impacts of putting Bison on a pasture and determine the economic feasibility of low input methods of raising Bison.

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report