Protesters will rally to keep Paynes Prairie bison alive

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Activists plan to protest this weekend urging state park officials to promise that adult male bison at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park will be kept alive and well.

Residents from Gainesville and surrounding cities are staging a sign-waving protest on the corner of 34th Street and Archer Road at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, just in time to catch the gameday traffic, said protest organizer Lisa Grossman.

Her main worry is that the bison could be sold for slaughter.

“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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