Bison were once the kind of the prairies, and numbered as many as 65 million animals. Today, most bison are livestock on ranches. The conservation herds at places like Yellowstone National Park are restricted to certain areas. CPI has a vision for herds of wild bison roaming freely once again across the landscape, and is working to change the regulations and perception that prevent bison from once again being treated as wildlife.

No animal better represents the majesty of the American grasslands than the bison. As a keystone species, bison affect the distribution and reproduction of prairie vegetation, aerate soil with their hooves, and create wallows that can sustain ecosystems of their own during wet seasons. While bison originally numbered in the tens of millions, demand for bison robes and materials in the east, combined with the easy transport afforded by the railroad, nearly eradicated the bison from the prairies; there were just 23 wild bison left in the country by 1902. Since then, conservation efforts have helped the bison population rebound to 500,000 animals. However, only around 30,000 are in conservation herds; the rest are livestock. While livestock bison have provided invaluable contributions to the species’ survival, conservation herds present the purest opportunity to return bison to the expanses, and Colorado Prairie Initiative hopes to restore the bison to its native grasslands across Colorado.

Bison are not currently recognized as wildlife in Colorado. This means that bison are not allowed to roam freely across the state in the way that elk, deer, and antelope can. Colorado Prairie Initiative hopes that by working with state agencies, livestock interests, and conservation groups, progress can be made towards allowing bison to take their rightful place as the wild kings of the grasslands. No state in the country has wild bison that are wholly unconfined by fences or arbitrary boundaries. Colorado can, and should, be the first.

Grassland Cleanup

Recreational target shooting is a popular pastime on the Pawnee National Grasslands, but irresponsible use has created a large litter problem. CPI is working with the U.S. Forest Service to improve the regulations and rules governing target shooting, and is committed to providing volunteers to help clean up the problem.

The Pawnee National Grasslands provide great opportunities for Coloradans to experience the majesty of the prairies on public land, whether through hiking, birdwatching, or hunting.  Recreational shooting is also extremely popular on the grasslands, and is regulated by rules put out by the U.S. Forest Service. Unfortunately, not enough shooters adhere to the requirement that they clean up their targets and shell casings. The Colorado Prairie Initiative is working with the USFS to change the regulations to facilitate cleanup of popular shooting areas, while still encouraging people to get out to enjoy the grasslands in whatever   capacity they choose.

CPI is also organizing volunteer trips to the Pawnee Grasslands to help clean the shooting areas. Trash, broken targets, and old electronics are just some of the things littering our public lands, and the wildlife and plants need it gone. If you are interested in joining CPI for a cleanup effort, please contact us.


Energy exploration has exploded across eastern Colorado. Oil and gas wells and wind farms are popping up with increasing regularity, and can have negative impacts on the surrounding ecosystems. CPI is working in tandem with industry and regulators to ensure that energy development does not endanger Colorado’s imperiled prairie ecosystems.

Oil and gas exploration has exploded across eastern Colorado. Although energy development can fragment habitats or cause other environmental issues, sometimes drilling provides an opportunity to begin prairie restoration one small area at a time. Colorado law requires energy companies to reclaim the areas their operations affect by planting seeds that will grow to restore the area to. Current regulations only require seeding “consistent with adjacent areas,” which may not always mean native or ecologically beneficial plants. Additionally, the reclamation process does not always proceed promptly, despite the requirements to finish within one year. For example, The Denver Post recently reported that 72% of reclamation projects have been going on for more than five years. The Colorado Prairie Initiative has submitted a petition to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) for more stringent reclamation requirements than those currently in place to help give native prairies a stronger foothold back in eastern Colorado.

The petition focuses on making two major improvements to the current regulations. First, it would require energy companies to file a pre-drilling reclamation plan with the COGCC detailing their proposed steps for reclaiming the area. This will help prevent the sort of ongoing projects that have emerged in recent years.

Second, the petition would require the use of native plants or an ecologically acceptable substitute on non-crop lands. Most of the oil and gas exploration in eastern Colorado takes place on private lands, and the landowners have a right to use their land as they see fit after reclamation is finished. However, the Colorado Prairie Initiative believes it is important to protect the wildlife and plants that reside on those lands, which are held in trust for the public. Therefore, the petition requires the companies to use native plants, or find an acceptable substitute that is both ecologically beneficial and suitable to the landowners post-reclamation land uses.

The petition can be read here. The COGCC is currently accepting comments to be considered when the Commission votes on whether to proceed with the rule making process. Please consider sending a comment, the prairies need your support.


Water is vital for survival on the prairie, and livestock need it as much as any other animal. The U.S. Forest Service provides cattle with stock tanks across the National Grasslands. These tanks are generally made of concrete and metal, and are filled by solar pumps or windmills. However, these tanks are often the only water sources for miles around, and they draw all manner of wildlife. Sadly, birds, snakes, and other small animals often try to drink from these tanks and fall in. Without a means of escape, they drown.





The Comanche National Grassland in southeast Colorado has approximately 600 water tanks that don’t have escape ladders, and CPI is committed to installing these ladders on every tank. Each ladder costs about $8 total (counting materials and installation), and each can save countless lives.





Few animals on Colorado’s modern prairie draw as much ire as coyotes. Although they are a key predator that keeps the food web functioning, ranching and agricultural interests often view them as threats to cattle and other livestock. This often results in coyotes being killed or hunted year-round. The Colorado Prairie Initiative is working to end what is effectively persecution of an important prairie species through research and advocacy.


Wildlife Services is a subagency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture that was created in the early 20th century to facilitate the settlement of the west. Today, they exist with largely the same mission and function: to kill wildlife. Wildlife Services agents are hired by local landowners and county governments to kill coyotes using firearms, traps, and poison. See Table A for a breakdown of the lethal methods used in Colorado over the last five years.



To change the discussion about predators on the prairie, CPI knows that more information is needed. Our current research project focuses on the seasonal variations of coyote diet on the shortgrass prairie. This will help us understand more about what particular types of prey coyotes consume during different times of the year, which will in turn inform management policies. For example, if data show that coyotes feed heavily on beef cows during certain months, management might be warranted during those times. However, if during other seasons coyotes feed largely on small mammals or birds, policies do not need to allow the animals to be killed for protection.

The research uses scat analysis to determine the seasonal breakdown in diet of coyotes in a certain region of the Pawnee National Grassland. The area is grazed almost year round, and the study is expected to reveal to what extent, if any, coyotes interfere with cattle. If you are interested in volunteering to help with this project, please email CPI here.

Prairie Dogs

Prairie dogs are one of the most important species on the prairie. Their grazing encourages the growth of forage and aerates the soil, and their burrows provide habitat for dozens of other prairie species. But they are also viewed as competition for cows on range land, and as such are classified as agricultural pests in Colorado. This status means that they are killed liberally and virtually without regulation,  including by target shooters and government entities. But these animals are too important to treat otherwise, and CPI is working to ensure both the protection of prairie dogs and of the ecosystem that depends on them.


The USDA kills and poisons thousands of prairie dogs every year through an agency called Wildlife Services. The purposes of these operations vary, but the end result is always the same: dead prairie dogs. Unfortunately, Wildlife Services has not done any environmental review to evaluate the impacts of its actions, and removing a keystone animal from an ecosystem is not an event to be taken lightly. CPI is petitioning Wildlife Services to undertake the required environmental analysis before continuing with the program. When such review is performed, public comment and input will be vital. Read CPI’s petition here.