By Chris Howell, NewsOn6.com
PAWHUSKA, OK -- The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is 39,000 acres of land returned to nature and its original inhabitant, the bison. North of Pawhuska, the preserve has few roads and fewer fences. The 3,300 bison are able to roam the vast wilderness freely.
"When it was done twenty years ago, it really set the bar for prairie conservation and really changed the way that The Nature Conservancy looked at conservation in terms of conservation at the appropriate scale to preserve all the pieces," said Mike Fuhr of the Oklahoma Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.
While setting up the monumental Tallgrass Prairie Preserve was no easy task, The Nature Conservancy credits its success to one man: former Chairman Joe Williams.
"If you're going to do conservation, you better do large scale conservation. What we learned on this project was if you're going to succeed, you have to involve local leadership. You don't want to be an outside conservation organization and go in and say this is what you're going to do," said Williams.
Once a year the workers round-up the bison with four-wheel drive trucks and run them into pens to be counted, inoculated, sorted and tagged.
For a few minutes the bison run again as a herd and they thunder across the prairie as they have for thousands of countless years. After being checked out, they are released to roam the land for another year. A year they owe to people such as Joe Williams.
This year to acknowledge the work of Williams the Nature Conservancy presented him with the lifetime achievement award.
Williams is moved by the sight of the bison running free.
"Oh, I think it's wonderful. When we came over the hill and looked over the prairie and saw all of those bison, landscape full of bison, it made me feel really good," said Joe Williams.