UNITED STATES MARINE CORP
Story by Sgt. Dylan Chagnon and 1st Lt. Charlotte Dennis
Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton
While the main herd consistently holds around 40-50 bison, there are multiple bachelor herds scattered throughout the base. They roam between the Delta and Charlie training areas, the Zulu Impact Area, and Case Springs.
The Camp Pendleton Game Warden’s Office monitors the bison population on base, keeping track of their genetic diversity, overall health, and total population. They are expecting about 15-20 calves to be born in April 2021.
Bison can grow up to six feet tall and weigh up to 2,000 pounds. While it may seem that their massive size would slow them down, they are actually incredibly agile for their size, being able to run at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour. The Game Warden advises base patrons to maintain a distance of 150 feet while observing them.
“There is a bison management plan put in place and we follow it extensively,” said Mike Tucker, the chief game warden for MCB Camp Pendleton. “We give them the space they need to live naturally and would only intervene in certain situations.”
The game wardens on Camp Pendleton focus on protecting the environment while also prioritizing Marines’ capability to effectively train. As long as animals are not a threat to training, to public health, or to the health of the ecosystem, they are free to live out their natural lives.
“About 50 years ago, the San Diego Zoo entrusted Camp Pendleton to care for this herd, and we’ve done an excellent job in doing so,” said Tucker. “We’ve done a great job in maintaining the environmental security of many different species, and will continue to do so as long as they call our base ‘home.’”
Photo By Sgt. Dylan Chagnon | A large bison herd roams Marine Corps Installations West, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton on April 6, 2021. Camp Pendleton was given 14 Plains Bison from the San Diego Zoo from 1973-1979. Today, the bison herd consists of approximately 90 individuals. Along with another herd on Santa Catalina Island, the herd on Camp Pendleton is one of only two wild conservation herds of bison in all of California. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Dylan Chagnon)
125, 000 acres with two natural water sources.
In 1987 the count was 50 head. (estimate, it was not an official ground count)
1999, they counted 62 bison.
They spend much of their time in the canyons and the ‘impact” area. Where training is done routinely. Obviously this area is off limits to the general public as they can be dangerous with shrapnel and or ‘duds’. One the average they have two bison deaths per year, either hit by a car or in one case, a bison swallowed a bullet and the sharps edges caused laceration inside. (according to the vet that preformed the necropsy)
One older bison had a broken leg, they said it could have happen by stepping on a bomb that may have exploded. No exam was performed to know for sure. The herd is unmanaged and left to forage on their own and they are often seen by the firefighters stationed at Case Springs. They have had their personal encounters with the herd. Once, eating the new tree saplings planted around the station house and another during a controlled burn, sent one fighter scrambling to get out of their way.
The herd can interfere with basic training, where they have to stop and move them off the course or it leaves on its own.
2008, head now at 147 bison.
“Once, the bison surrounded a vehicle containing the commandant, blocking his way. The four stars on his collar gave him absolute authority over 170,000 Marines but meant nothing to the bison. He waited until the beasts, in their haughty, self-assured manner, slowly decided to move.” Los Angeles Times 2008
To study the genetic composition, they killed a small bull of 1400lbs and a 800 pound cow and the results showed no cattle genes or ill health.
2022 the numbers have reached an estimate of 90.