The chances are poor for Germany’s only free-living herd of bison and the species protection project that was once respected throughout Europe. After a long, paralyzing argument and also after a search for a solution at a round table last autumn, there are no prospects for the project in North Rhine-Westphalia. The conditions for saving the project have become even worse.

The 40 animals are currently “in a newly built, around 25 hectare management gate in the city of Bad Berleburg, so the release phase is currently over,” said a spokesman for the Siegen-Wittgenstein district of the German Press Agency.

After an ongoing stalemate, the former environment ministers Ursula Heinen Esser (CDU) and Johannes Remmel (Greens) recommended at the round table that the wandering herd be captured as quickly as possible and reduced to 20 to 25 animals – i.e. transporting several bison to herds elsewhere in Europe . The implementation, which requires extensive preparation, has not yet begun; coordination is also ongoing “with other interested projects at home and abroad,” according to the district administration.

Animals were declared “homeless.”

Regardless of this, what made things even more difficult was that, according to the district spokesman, the owner of the land over which the bison area was supposed to extend in the Siegen-Wittgenstein district had now announced that his land was no longer available to continue the project under the given circumstances.

An initial herd of eight was released in the Wittgensteiner Land in the Rothaar Mountains – on the basis of a contract between the Wisent-Welt-Wittgenstein sponsoring association, the Siegen-Wittgenstein district and the Arnsberg district government. The herd migrated beyond the intended project area and, according to forest farmers, caused extensive damage to trees.

Some disputes were also fought out in court. In autumn 2022, the sponsoring association declared the animals “homeless” – and no longer responsible for themselves. The district and state of North Rhine-Westphalia were angry and the end was already imminent.

The district spokesman now reported that the Siegen-Wittgenstein district will continue to try to find a new project sponsor. But there are no signs that partners can be won. So far there is no prospect of anyone wanting to contribute financially to a foundation proposed by the Round Table.

In response to a dpa inquiry, the NRW Environment Ministry said that the bison project was a “project initiated and supported by a private association”. The actors involved are currently “clarifying the outstanding legal, financial and species protection issues”.