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For the first time, members of the public are invited to participate in the "Annual Buff Ride" in the Henry Mountain area of eastern Wayne and Garfield counties.

However, the number of participants will be limited.A May 5 deadline has been set to register with the Richfield District of the Bureau of Land Management office in Richfield. The event will be May 16-18.

The ride is held to view the buffalo herd and observe range conditions.

Participation has been limited in the past to stockmen who use the range and personnel of the Bureau of Land Management and Utah Department of Wildlife Resources. "This year the agencies are encouraging the public at large, clubs or interested groups who have not been involved before to participate," said District Manager Jerry Goodman.

About 50 people can be accommodated and 20 specific invitations have been sent out, leaving some 30 openings for the general public. Participants must provide their own horse, feed, tack, bed roll, shelter and transportation.

The agencies will provide the food, but a fee will be charged, Goodman said. This will be divided among participants and is expected to cost about $25 per person. A deposit will be required.

"Representation by individual organizations, clubs or families will be limited to three or four people so a broader cross section of the public will have an opportunity to participate," Goodman said.

Participants should be at the King Ranch on the evening of May 16 for a campfire orientation and a Dutch oven dinner. The main ride will be held the following day with shorter rides and vehicle tours planned for the third day.

For information call the Richfield District office at 896-8221, referring to the "Henry Mountain Ride," Goodman said.

The ride will be a chance for people to see what early Americans commonly saw - a free-roaming herd of buffalo. Some 60 million bison once roamed the western United States but were nearly exterminated by white hunters who sold hides while leaving carcasses to rot.

In one year alone in the early 1870s, some 75,000 buffalo were killed near Dodge City, Kan. Indians watched their source of food, clothing and shelter disappear during just a few years.

The Henry Mountain buffalo herd was started in 1941 with three bulls and 15 heifers transplanted from Yellowstone National Park. Tested and vaccinated for brucellosis, the animals were released in the Robber's Roost area north of the Dirty Devil River on a desert area managed by the BLM near Hanksville, Wayne County.

They are touted as the only completely free and roaming buffalo herd in the United States. Another five bulls were released the next spring and the animals moved to the Burr Desert east of the Henry Mountains.

The buffalo were rounded up and corralled for testing in November of 1963, but some animals went berserk in the impoundment, charged at the fence and were killed. Some people called it a "blood bath."

After that incident the buffalo moved to the western slopes of the Henry Mountains.

The herd has steadily increased to several hundred through the years, bringing complaints from disgruntled stockmen who say the buffalo have exceeded the maximum numbers they claim were specified in an agreement when the herd was started. They complain that the buffalo compete with cattle because both feed on grasses.

A number of hunting permits are issued by the Division of Wildlife Resources each year for buffalo in the Henry Mountains, limited by drawing and purchased by a successful applicant on a once-in-a-lifetime basis.