FORT SILL, Okla.-- After three major back-to-back wildfires and drought conditions destroyed about 70 percent of its grazing areas, the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge needed to find a place where its longhorns could graze. So its biologists turned to their neighbor Fort Sill.

The installation provided the refuge with about 1,400 acres of grazing land for 200 longhorns with a free one-year federal permit beginning last March. The longhorns were removed from the post nine months later.

Staff from the refuge thanked Fort Sill Feb. 8 with an appreciation plaque at the Natural Resources Classroom here.

"This was a super good deal for the refuge and we are grateful," said Walter Munsterman, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge supervisory biologist. "Fort Sill really helped us out when we had a serious need."

The orginal proposal was supported by Col. Paul Hossenlopp, Fort Sill Garrison commander, and the Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general.

"I thought it was the right thing to do," said Hossenlopp, during the presentation. "I hope that it helped you out the way you wanted it to," he said to refuge officials.

Fort Sill was a good location for the longhorn because it was nearby, and it had existing fences in a large training area that had grass, said Chris Deurmyer, Fort Sill Natural Resources specialist. The area was just north of Cache, Okla., near Pottawatomie Twin Lakes.

"We have a perimeter fence on the highway, and an adjoining fence with the refuge," he said. Refuge personnel had to erect only three miles of barbed-wire at their cost.

The public longhorn herd, which is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was removed from the fort via a cattle drive along with the barbed wire in November, and within two weeks the area was being scheduled for training, Deurmyer said.

It worked out well for the longhorn, Munsterman said.

"If Fort Sill hadn't allowed us to do this, we would have had to cut down the animal population even more drastically with a public auction," he said. "We have a genetically important herd of bison, and we have what is considered the most true-to-type longhorn in existence. The longhorns came to the refuge in the 1920s."

Reducing the animal population further could be genetically detrimental with in-breeding in the herds, he said.

Although Fort Sill and the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge are big land holders with different missions, good stewardship of the land and community relations are common with both organizations, Deurmyer said.

"This was the first time Fort Sill had cattle grazing on its land," Deurmyer said. He added the post works with the refuge in mutual missions, such as fire protection. "This was another way to partner up."