ND/SD ranch owned by Fla. man in trouble againBISMARCK (AP) — Authorities have impounded as many as 6,000 bison at a ranch belonging to a millionaire businessman on the North Dakota-South Dakota border after animals died and others were struck by vehicles when they escaped the facility in search of food, a sheriff said Tuesday.
BISMARCK (AP) — Authorities have impounded as many as 6,000 bison at a ranch belonging to a millionaire businessman on the North Dakota-South Dakota border after animals died and others were struck by vehicles when they escaped the facility in search of food, a sheriff said Tuesday.
Thirteen bison have been found dead at the ranch owned by real estate developer Maurice Wilder, of Clearwater, Fla., sheriffs say. Three animals involved in vehicle collisions in South Dakota have been destroyed, and officials on both sides of the border expect to find more bison carcasses once the snow melts.
Corson (S.D.) County Sheriff Keith Gall said passers-by and neighboring ranchers notified authorities that bison at Wilder's ranch could be neglected and starving to death. He said South Dakota authorities have been caring for the bison herd under a court order since Feb. 2.
Gall said the county has spent more than $50,000 in the past week tending the bison in harsh winter conditions and will continue to do so until a judge determines the herd's fate. The county has purchased hay and has hired snowplow crews to keep ranch roads open for access to the animals.
“We're not only fighting to get the animals fed but we are definitely fighting the elements,” the sheriff said.
Wilder, whose ranch spans some 35,000 acres in the Dakotas, did not return telephone calls from The Associated Press on Tuesday.
His attorney, Jackie Stebbins of Bismarck, said she is working with South Dakota officials to “resolve this as fast as we can.” She declined further comment.
Wilder has owned the ranch for about 17 years and has had several complaints about his bison operation in the past. Veterinarians from both Dakotas have investigated complaints of animal abuse and neglect at the ranch, and locals have complained about bison running loose, trampling fences and feasting on neighboring ranchers’ hay supplies.
Charges of animal neglect and livestock at large were dropped in North Dakota two years ago after Wilder's company paid eight neighboring ranchers more than $60,000 in damage to hay and fences.
Wilder told the AP at that time that he had fired his ranch boss and hired a veteran ranch manager to watch over the operation.
Gall said the ranch continued to run improperly. He said workers at the ranch did not have the authority to buy hay or to pay for maintenance on ranch equipment, much of which is broken.
“Pretty much the person who writes the checks to keep the ranch working is Mr. Wilder, and he didn't,” the sheriff said. “I think the people taking care of the ranch were almost to the point of giving up.”
Gall said five workers from the ranch are helping the county feed and care for the animals.
The sheriff said 4,000 to 6,000 bison were feeding Tuesday at two areas of the ranch on the South Dakota side. He said at least a dozen animals were stranded in other parts of the ranch without food.
The eight bison found dead on the South Dakota side of the ranch “is way more of a loss than it ever should have gotten to,” he said.
Gall said ranch workers told him that much of the herd was slated to be sold at a South Dakota auction last year.
“Mr. Wilder didn't feel the price was a good price and the animals were turned back,” he said.
Sioux County Sheriff Frank Landeis said about 100 bison were on the North Dakota part of the ranch on Tuesday, including more than a dozen that were trapped inside a bale feeder, a large metal enclosure that normally holds hay.
“How they got in there, I don't know,” he said. Five dead bison have been found on the North Dakota side so far, he said.
Some bison have been reported on the loose by neighboring ranchers in North Dakota, Landeis said. The animals escaped by walking over fences and ditches covered with snowdrifts, he said.
At least one area rancher intends to file a claim against Wilder for damage to hay supplies, the sheriff said.
“You really can't blame the animals, they get hungry and go where the food is, just like people,” he said.
Corson County State's Attorney Eric Bogue said Wilder will be billed for the care of the animals; if he doesn't the animals could be sold. No criminal charges have been filed.
South Dakota State Veterinarian Dustin Odekoven said Wilder also must adopt a new management plan for the bison that must be approved by a judge before the animals could be returned.
"We're looking for a long-term solution, not just a patch, Odekoven said.