Camp Pendleton: a bison’s paradise

Story by Sgt. Dylan Chagnon and 1st Lt. Charlotte Dennis

Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton

Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton was given 14 Plains Bison from the San Diego Zoo from 1973-1979. Today, the bison herd consists of approximately 90 individuals. Along with another herd on Santa Catalina Island, the herd on Camp Pendleton is one of only two wild conservation herds of bison in all of California.

While the main herd consistently holds around 40-50 bison, there are multiple bachelor herds scattered throughout the base. They roam between the Delta and Charlie training areas, the Zulu Impact Area, and Case Springs.

The Camp Pendleton Game Warden’s Office monitors the bison population on base, keeping track of their genetic diversity, overall health, and total population. They are expecting about 15-20 calves to be born in April 2021.

Bison can grow up to six feet tall and weigh up to 2,000 pounds. While it may seem that their massive size would slow them down, they are actually incredibly agile for their size, being able to run at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour. The Game Warden advises base patrons to maintain a distance of 150 feet while observing them.

“There is a bison management plan put in place and we follow it extensively,” said Mike Tucker, the chief game warden for MCB Camp Pendleton. “We give them the space they need to live naturally and would only intervene in certain situations.”

The game wardens on Camp Pendleton focus on protecting the environment while also prioritizing Marines’ capability to effectively train. As long as animals are not a threat to training, to public health, or to the health of the ecosystem, they are free to live out their natural lives.

“About 50 years ago, the San Diego Zoo entrusted Camp Pendleton to care for this herd, and we’ve done an excellent job in doing so,” said Tucker. “We’ve done a great job in maintaining the environmental security of many different species, and will continue to do so as long as they call our base ‘home.’”