Wood bison are on the comeback

May be reintroduced to Alaska as an experimental, non-essential population.

Alaska wants to reintroduce wood bison from Canada but they are currently listed as an endangered species by the USFWS. In response there is an effort to classify them as an experimental, non-essential population under the 10(j) rule so that there will be less protection and no critical habitat designation. They would still be protected from intentional harm. It seems that the oil and gas industry is worried they won’t be able to exploit the land if there are protected species there.

There haven’t been wood bison in Alaska for 200 years or so but there are some plains bison which were introduced into the Copper River Delta in 1928.

You can read about the plan to reintroduce wood bison here.

Wood bison are on the comeback
Wild wood bison could be roaming Alaska again if effort succeeds






  1. Tom Page Avatar
    Tom Page

    I was reading a paper on the paleoecology of Idaho’s Lost River Mountains/ Upper Pahsimeroi area last night, and the two bison skulls unearthed during the project both turned out to be wood bison…one of them wasn’t even terribly old – maybe 400 years?

    One unrelated fact from that study which I found really interesting: Ungulate bone samples were almost exclusively bighorn sheep, pronghorn and bison, in varying proportion. The proportions of each species had rough correlation with climate changes and the grass/sagebrush ratio. For many thousands of years until the very recent past, there were no deer or elk in this country, if we believe the evidence gleaned from bone fragments taken from scat samples of various critters. Now we have no bison, very few sheep, a declining pronghorn population, and several thousand elk…

  2. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    The story references the source population in Canada as the result of successful conservation efforts to recover the numbers. I wonder how that could be with all those 200lb wolves roaming around behind every bush

  3. SEAK Mossback Avatar
    SEAK Mossback

    There are actually four small transplanted herds of plains bison in Alaska that all descended from the animals from the National Bison Range first released at Delta Junction in 1928. Three of the herds have limited hunting but none seem to have expanded much in area, probably because they are centered in well-drained areas of good grass forage, whereas much of the surrounding geography is typical tundra , forest and black spruce bog with permafrost. There are definitely other areas with good grass that seem to lack a grazing herbivore, including the proposed release site for the wood bison. The Yukon Territory, in particular, has a lot of that type of habitat and, although very cold in winter is quite dry with low snowfall, so outfitters can pretty much turn their horses loose along the Alaska Highway to forage on their own (even in such prime wolf country!) when they aren’t being used during hunting season

    Its easy to see how wood bison could have been wiped out in Alaska 200-300 years ago if they were similarly concentrated in grassy pockets. However, bison had been in Alaska for many thousands of years – they were probably the most abundant large herbivore here at one time. An almost entire intact steppe bison (killed by lions 36,000 years ago and minus one meal) was uncovered from permafrost by a placer miner near Fairbanks. Dr. Dale Guthrie even admitted to dining on some – that was one well-aged steak!

  4. Peter Kiermeir Avatar

    Good year for bison! European bison, the Wisent (Bison Bonasus) are currently released in sparsely populated areas of south Westphalia and Brandenburg, near Berlin. At the latter location together wir Przewalski horses (Equus ferus przewalskii). As far as I know these are the only locations outside Poland where these bison are allowed to romp free. Looks like we´ll do some hiking there in summer…


Ken Cole is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is the interim Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project.

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Ken Cole