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Buffalo herd gets loose in northwest Minnesota's Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge

These buffalo are from a herd of 15-20 that escaped an adjoining farm and are now wandering in the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge in Becker County, Minn. Photo courtesy Lee Kensinger.

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. – A dozen or more buffalo are roaming the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Minnesota after they got loose from a neighboring farm.


The bison haven’t been especially aggressive, but they are unpredictable and people should be cautious around them, just like they would be around bears, timber wolves or any other wild animal, said Refuge Manager Neil Powers.

“There’s a neighbor adjacent to the refuge who raises domestic buffalo,” Powers said. “His animals got out and into the refuge. He’s been trying for a week to round them up and get them back into his private pastures.”

He said about 15 to 20 buffalo got loose and are now “roaming around the north edge of the refuge.” The area is forested with heavy vegetation, which has made the roundup difficult.

The buffalo herd on the loose in Tamarac is owned by Dan Bergstrom, who lives on the east edge of the refuge just north of Island Lake.

“He’s making every effort to do it, he’s working really hard,” Powers said of Bergstrom. “He’s been trying to herd them down the main trails towards his pastures, but it’s been a big challenge for him.”

“It’s going slowly,” Bergstrom said. “It’s not easy, and the more people you get coming around to see them, it makes it worse.”

As word has spread about the buffalo, people have showed up trying to get photos, and it made the roundup effort more difficult, he said.

Bergstrom asked people to stay away from the area and avoid scattering the buffalo. He is being helped by federal and tribal game wardens. Refuge officials are helping coordinate the effort, and have provided access to areas not normally open to the public, Powers said.

The buffalo tend to stay together until someone tries to herd them in a certain direction, then they break into smaller groups of two or three that make the effort even more difficult, Powers said. They later tend to regroup.

When the roundup fails, other steps are taken. “I shot three (buffalo) already,” Bergstrom said. “I’ll probably end up shooting some more.”

Powers said the refuge remains open and safe for visitors, but they should “be very cautious, because buffalo can be very unpredictable.”

He said several refuge visitors have had unexpected encounters with the wandering bison, and several have taken photos.

“The biggest thing for people to know is that we’re still open, we still want people to come out and recreate,” Powers said. “There’s still plenty of space to enjoy the resources.”

Powers said the buffalo will likely be loose in Tamarac for some time.

“We anticipate it will take more than a couple weeks, maybe quite a bit more to round them up, because of the forested environment.”