On California’s Santa Catalina island there is a herd of over 150 bison living peacefully, they regularly feature in debates of environmental protection and economic expansions. Strangely enough though, as you can imagine, the bison is not a swimmer and the herd did not end up on this island naturally. Bison are native to the great plain regions of the United States. The farthest their natural habitat ever reached was Northeastern California, nowhere near Los Angeles at all.
But if you jump on a boat and take an hour-long ride from the luxurious beaches of LA then you will find an island filled with bison. The great shaggy bisons living out in the middle of the ocean. Twenty-two miles off the coast, Santa Catalina Island has long been a safe place for marine biologists and tourists – along with the occasional history buffs. That is because in 1924, The Vanishing American was filed on the island and they had scenes that required bison.
So the crew brought a small herd of 15 bison with them for the filming, but in what would only be described as animal cruelty today – they left them on the island and never brought them home. What happened was the funds behind the film dried up and they didn’t have the money to pay to transport the animals back to the Great Plains. Fortunately, the island did have a supply of grass and the bison seemed quite happy living there. Their herd grew to over 150 strong and even needed people to do some population control to keep it in check.
Don’t worry the bison was not killed, just periodically removed the island if the herd became too big. During 1924 and 1996 a grand total of 59 bison were added also to improve herd genetics. And well this worked extremely well, too well most researchers would say. Because after that time over 2000 bison have needed to be removed. In 1987 the bison population peaked at 527, but researchers have since kept it down to 150.
The area is managed by the Catalina Island Conservancy and they have a strong passion for conserving the endangered species. Therefore they want to let the bison stay, and also it has become a tourist attraction so there is an appeal to keeping them there. But the bison are not that friendly for the island’s wildlife, they eat all the plants. The island is home to endangered plant species as well, this is causing a dilemma on what to do. For the moment the debate continues and no one really knows what to do.