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15 October 2011

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Gainesville residents protest to save Paynes Prairie bison

By Meredith Rutland
and Comments By Lisa Grossman Protest Organizer

When Dottie Taylor saw cars packing the streets on game day, she thought of another kind of herd.

Sweating in the midday sun, she held a sign that read "Beauty and the Beast." An American bison played the beauty and the Florida Park Service Director, Donald Forgione, was pegged for the role of the beast.

She and three other animal activists stood on the sidewalk on the corner of Archer Road and 34th Street on Saturday to protest for the safe treatment of Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park's adult male bison, which are scheduled to be removed from the park this winter.

Residents of Gainesville and surrounding cities have hit the pavement and the Internet since word came out last year that park management was considering removing the bison, horses and cattle. Those rumors filtered into fact after a public meeting in December and a series of management plans sent out by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

As of now, the plan is to remove the adult male bison from the herd of about 60. The females and soon-to-be-sterilized yearling males will stay on the prairie as a non-reproducing herd of about 30.

The park's horses will also stay on the prairie for now, and the males in the herd of about 30 will be sterilized.

The park's cattle will stay at the park cattle ranch.

The activists' main concern is that the bison could be sold for slaughter.

According to the most recent management plan, the first choice of a new home for the bison is animal sanctuaries, but if none can be found, other unspecified recipients who pass animal safety screenings may be called in.

Taylor, clad in a tie-dye T-shirt, cat-eye sunglasses and a straw hat with pink flowers, explained the issue when drivers stuck their heads out of their windows to ask about her sign.

"They've been here longer than any of us," she said.

Nearby, Sharon Nataline held a sign that was about as wide as she is tall. It had the phone number for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

The 60-year-old vegan has spent a good deal of her life protecting dogs from animal abusers.

She said she'd like to see the bison sterilized and left to roam. Even if they are sent to sanctuaries, she said, wild bison are known to die from the stress of roundups.

"Now they're part of the culture, part of the heritage," she said. "The bison certainly don't deserve to be slaughtered."

Protest organizer Lisa Grossman stated previous to the protest "I think there's thousands of Gainesvillians who are concerned about this," said Grossman, a Jacksonville resident who attended high school in Gainesville.

The management plan of Paynes Prairie's animals, which was released this spring, states the adult male bison in the herd of about 60 are scheduled to be removed.

The first choice of a new home is animal sanctuaries, but if none can be found, other unspecified recipients who pass animal safety screenings may be called in.

David Jowers, the park manager, referred all questions to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in Tallahassee.

The male yearlings will be sterilized and will remain on the prairie with the females, which will create a non-reproducing herd of about 30, according to the management plan.

The state plans to remove the animals during the winter, said Kristin Lock, public information officer for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

An exact date for the removal has not been released.

One of the reasons the animals will be removed is safety.

In an interview earlier this year, Donald Forgione, director of the Florida Park Service, said the bison could be dangerous to drivers if an animal wandered onto a major highway like State Road 441 or Interstate 75, which both run through the prairie.

Grossman said she believes the removal is a way for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to try to fix its mistakes at the animals' expense.

If too many bison were being born, she said, some should have been sterilized a long time ago.

Grossman, who has been banned from the UF campus after a protest in December, said she wants the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to commit to sending the bison to humane sanctuaries.

"Hopefully we as a collective voice will be able to make a difference," she said. "Everybody's welcome. We have signs for everyone."

The plan also calls for either the removal or the sterilization of the park's male cracker horses. There are about 30 of the wild horses in the state park.

At the moment, the plan is to sterilize the male horses and to take steps to try to avoid removing them, Lock said.

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