Controversy Erupts Over Bison Paddock Design
By Carol Dimmick
After months of acrimony between members of a volunteer group and the City over an $800,000 plan to build a new paddock for the bison that live in Golden Gate Park, a compromise plan is being hammered out.
San Francisco began a captive breeding program in 1891 for the bison to help prevent the extermination of the largest land mammal in North America. The current herd has 12 females and two males.
For months, controversy has been brewing over the design of the bison paddock, which is a large structure with a system of chutes designed to rotate the bison into a series of holding pens. The main points of contention between the competing plans include the corral configuration, squeeze chute and the crash gate.
According to the Golden Gate Park Master Plan, the goal of improving the bison paddock is to provide a place for the efficient care and management of the herd including feeding, quarantining, shipping, receiving and breeding of the herd.
Dan Mauer, project director for the Recreation and Park Department, says the final design for the new paddock is now "90 percent" complete.
"For the design we took the components we felt would work. It takes the best from both worlds and puts them into a system the zoo feels it can manage," he said. The zoo is responsible for the animals' health.
The new paddock will reflect a compromise between a design favored by the Watchbison Committee, a volunteer group that works with the animals, and another design favored by the zoo.
But Phil Carleton, a founding member of the Watchbison Committee, has worked since 1992 to improve the physical conditions for the animals, is skeptical of any compromise design backed by the City.
"The city just wants to have a showcase for handling buffalo even if it is not workable," Carleton said.
Carleton wants the city to construct a corral system based on drawings by Jack Errington, an expert Carleton brought in to help with the design. Errington has managed the second largest herd of bison in North American on a ranch in Wyoming for the last 30 years.
Mauer said he has incorporated many of Errington's suggestions into the plan and Errington will review the final plan and provide feedback.
The final design has to be approved by the zoo's staff and then it will be presented to the members of the Joint Zoo Committee, a subcommittee of the SF Recreation and Park Commission in the near future.