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Home on the range: Bison make it to Montana reserve -- via Canada

Dennis Lingohr / American Prairie Reserve

Some of the 71 bison calves trucked from Canada are released onto grassland in Montana.

Dozens of bison calves trucked in from Canada are now roaming a stretch of Montana countryside that conservationists hope to restore to its original shape.

The bison, even though they were born across the border, are from the genetic stock of herd that used to roam what's known as the American Prairie Reserve. Hundreds of their ancestors were from that same area when they were sold to Canada in 1906 for its Elk Island National Park.

"We knew from the beginning that returning bison to the land would be an important step in restoring the reserve’s full biodiversity," Sean Gerrity, president of the American Prairie Reserve, said in a statement. "When the Canadian government purchased the herd, it helped the species survive near extinction. Now we are bringing them back to help restore a complete grassland ecosystem."

The 71 calves released Thursday join 140 bison already on the 123,000-acre reserve.

The nonprofit says it aims to "create the largest wildlife reserve in the continental U.S., culminating in three million acres of private and public land and connecting one of the last large sections of untilled temperate grasslands on the continent."

Some 500,000 bison roam rural U.S. lands today, a fraction of the tens of millions that once populated the Great Plains.

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