Thousands of apparently starving bison belonging to a Florida real estate owner have been impounded by authorities in South Dakota, where a county sheriff is overseeing their feed and care until a judge decides the animals’ future.

This is the second winter in three years that authorities have been called into the Maurice Wilder Ranch after reports of starving animals. This time, South Dakota authorities have moved beyond voluntary improvements to taking physical control of between 4,000 and 6,000 bison.

The ranch extends across dozens of miles of pasture land in South Dakota and North Dakota from McLaughlin, S.D. to Selfridge, though the ranch headquarters and primary feedlot are in South Dakota.

Corson (S.D.) County Sheriff Keith Gall said he is at the ranch daily making sure the animals are getting hay and water and said the county has spent between $50,000 and $100,000 in less than a week on feed and hiring snowplows to open feeding lanes.

Normally, animals would be removed in an impoundment, but the sheer number of animals and deep snow prevent moving them.

Gall said the situation is severe.

“There have been a number of animals found dead; since I’ve been out here, well over a dozen have been found dead,” Gall said. He said others have broken legs

“It’s a definite bad situation that should have been corrected a long time ago,” Gall said. “He’s (Wilder) had issues out here on and off, but this is the worst it’s ever been.”

He said his office had been involved for weeks with calls from motorists, who had been striking roaming bison out on the adjacent highway. No injury accidents were reported.

A court hearing had been scheduled for Monday, but was canceled when Wilder did not contest the impoundment order.

Wilder’s attorney, Jackie Stebbins, of Bismarck, said she is working with the Corson County state’s attorney to resolve the matter and anticipates resolution will come “soon.”

Three calls to Wilder and to his corporate ranch overseer Dan O’Brien were not returned.

Besides his Florida real estate holdings, Wilder, 71, has farms and ranches in seven states. He has received more than $2.3 million in farm subsidies since 2005, including $108,000 for his farm operation in Corson County.

South Dakota State Veterinarian Dustin Odekoven said the state is looking for a long-term solution in short order.

He said options under the impoundment are to reassign ownership of the bison, to sell them at public auction, or to return them to the owner.

“I think we’ve seen enough. I think we are getting tough, that’s why we are where we’re at. We’ve exhausted all other options,” Odekoven said.

The Wilder Ranch has several days to come up with a management plan for the state vet’s review and approval

“The length of time they’re under impoundment depends on the management plan,”Odekoven said.

He said the judge will have the final say.

Corson County State’s Attorney Eric Bogue requested the impoundment order after working with state animal health officials, who have been looking into the situation for months.

Bogue said no criminal charges have been filed, but he’s not ruling out the possibility.

More immediately, the court judge will deal with assessing costs to Wilder to pay Corson County’s bills for feed and snow removal and approve a management plan, possibly this week, Bogue said.

He said state animal officials “tried valiantly to work with Wilder and then turned it over to us.”

He said it’s his understanding that all the ranch bison are on the South Dakota side of the operation.

Sioux County State’s Attorney John Gosbee said that other than one complaint from a North Dakota landowner, he hasn’t had any contact on the situation.

Gosbee did file animal trespass charges against Wilder’s operation during the winter of 2008-09, when starvation caused the bison to crash property fences and break into private feed stores.

North Dakota and South Dakota animal health officials also intervened that winter and required Wilder to show he was taking proper care of the bison.

Gall said the ranch has the same problems again this winter. He said feed isn’t adequate for the huge number of animals, the ranch equipment isn’t up to the job and some ranch employees don’t understand the stress of the extreme cold and snow.

Gall said the bison are not contained to one area and some are running at large on the ranch because cross fences are down or buried under snow.

He said he’s confident that most are now near food and water.

(13) comments

Tatanka Ho

Hmmm... am I the only one to notice that this is occuring on LAKOTA LAND???? What they call Corson County, we call Standing Rock Lakota Reservation!! So, WHERE is the Lakota voice here????

Lakota people should just step-in, here on Lakota land, & reclaim these poor buffalo for our own! This rich whiteman only wants to exploit our land & our buffalo for his own financial gain! He hasn't even tried to hire competent help, or made a single HONEST effort to care for our relatives. Distribute these buffalo amongst the oyate on Standing Rock & Cheyenne River, & reclaim all of the land in what the outsiders call Corson County!

itsMeFred

Something that people often don't realize is that the 35,000 acre ranch that those 4-6000 buffalo have over-populated ALSO runs about 1500-2000 head of cattle! In fact, two years ago when Wilder was ordered by the state of SD to cut down on his buffalo numbers and replace his manager, he sent 600 head of beef cattle *up* from his Nebraska ranch that spring...

The State of SD investigated Wilder in '03 for animal neglect. (Starving the buffalo).
Wilder claimed it was incompetent management, so the state insisted upon seeing a management plan, and that he replace his ranch manager.
All of that was done.

Two winters ago, the exact same thing happened. Buffalo were starving, getting out, etc.
Wilder claimed it was incompetent management, so the state, again, insisted upon seeing a management plan, and that he replace his manager.
All of that was done. Again.

Here we are once more. And I'll bet money that once more Wilder is going to try to say that he has an incompetent manager. Surely people are starting to see the common denominator??

I can say with certainty, it is NOT the management. It is the owner.

Wilder and Dan O'Brien (the ag. manager for the corporation) are the ones who control the purse-strings. They are the ones to approve purchases. They are the one to approve sales. And THEY are the ones who tie the hands of the ranch manager when he needs to buy extra hay, replace worn out equipment, or hire extra help.

I don't know the current crew at the buffalo ranch, but I can say with a fair amount of certainty that they are probably doing the absolute best they can with the limited resources Wilder grants them.

It always shows up in these articles that Wilder or O'Brien didn't answer calls from the press. Nope. They won't. They don't answer calls from anyone, really.
I guarantee that whomever is currently running the buffalo ranch has that very problem. He calls and the secretary tells him that they'll call him back. And they never do...

Teacher

This is "not" the first offense or time this has happened in this very location w/ the same owner. Tax write off or ignorance? He'll just wave his wallet and pay off his debt like he has in the past as he has no remorse for inhumane treatment of animals.

miawmd

Apparently this man is too rich and powerful for the State to require effective measures that will stop him from this abuse, so again his attorneys will come up with some solution the state will agree too and we will see the same thing happen again in a year or two. I have no doubt that his ranch manager is doing what the owner wants to save him money. This man should never again get government subsidies that apparenly help support this abuse.

Golly Gee

I agree the bison can't be taken to Custer State Park or Wind Cave. They'd all have to be tested for diseases and genetics and that would cost too darn much. Wilder can't take care of business now. You think he's going to take on any additional costs to have the animals tested? Besides, the Wind Cave herd of bison is of a purebred kind with no cattle genes found in their bloodlines. Who knows where Wilder's herd came from.
This is awful for Wilder's bison and for all those responsible ranchers who know the business and take proper care of their herds (bison, cattle, sheep, horses, etc.).

Zed Head

I agree sdrezman, I too “laugh each time i read the uninformed suggest solutions to problems they totally have no understanding.” That usually includes the self-proclaimed experts as well. Foe example, on what grounds do they have the authority or the justification to a seize a 35,000 acre ranch? Perhaps you are somewhat unfamiliar with the 4th Amendment of the U. S. Constitution.

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated,”

Is it reasonable to seize the entire ranch, either to pay for this fiasco or as an attempt to prevent future use? The bison alone will go to pay for a substantial amount of the cost for temporary care and feeding.

It was also reported that “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.”

Since this is a well-known and on-going situation, what responsibility do officials have? Would they not be monitoring with follow up inspections, rather than waiting on the reports of “passers-bys”? Such inspections could have been paid for by the owner as a part of the earlier encounters. Are the officials not just as guilty of neglect?

Logger Gal

This guy has had over a year to straighten out his situation. Just sell his stock over all the states to pay his bill, and repo his property. Just because he is a big rancher across the US doesn't mean he is beyond the law. He is an animal abuser, USDA income abuser, and who knows what more.... just do it and be done with this mean person.

sdrezman

4000-6000 animals require about 30 acres APIECE to forage w/o supplement during harsh winters. it is jusy plain stupid to say transfer these animals anywhere. houcks,yellowstone park and custer are overgrazed now or do you not read the paper??? i laugh each time i read the uninformed suggest solutions to problems they totally have no understanding of. mr wilder is a criminal, every year he starves these wonderful animals and every year nothing is done. as an accomplished rangeman and animal husbandry expert i know the solution required immediatly. hay,mineral and jail for wilder and every one of his employees. in the spring sell this herd for slaughter to feed hungry people and pay for the feeding. take wilders ranch and sell it ,send wilder to prison for the rest of his life.fyi thir4, your tax dollars now support houcks "wild horse herd". they no longer have honor.

XDAK

The article did mention that he's "hired" a couple different groups to run this ranch. Apparently he hasn't found any "good" workers that can handle the situation. Poor pay? Lazy group just getting the check because the "boss" is 1500 miles away? Who knows???

MustBeKidding

This is just awful.

I agree that the owner should be held criminally liable for the condition of the animals and be responsible for paying back the public funds that are being spent.

sdcowgirl1551

It appears that this Wilder fella is of the opinion that he does not have to answer to our state. Due to the massive amount of money being spent to care for his animals, if it is within the states ability, I hope they seize the bison, and the ranch and sell all of it at auction to get rid of this menace of a human and repay the state for all funds being spent to save these poor animals.

thirt4

Maybe these majestic animals can be rescued and ownership transferred to Custer State Park, Houck Buffalo Ranch near Mission Ridge, SD or maybe Yellowstone National Park. I am sure someone will care for these kings of the plains. Obviously someone living in Florida has no clue what to do with them or they would have downsized after the first time these animals were neglected.

CMH

Criminal charges should be filed. When animals are in human care we most make sure the animal is fed and watered. Since this has been a on going problem it seems to me that the owner and managers of this ranch need never to have animals in their care/ownership again. I hope the judge will close this operation down, and sell or auction off the bison.

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