Restoring Free-Ranging Wood Bison in Alaska
Project #: 15653 – Updated: January 17, 2011
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) has been working for over 15 years with many private of government partners to restore one or more free-ranging populations of wood bison (Bison, bison athabascae) in Interior Alaska. Wood bison are a subspecies of North American bison that was present in Alaska for nearly 10,000 years, but disappeared sometime in the last few hundred years. ADFG has conducted habitat studies and identified three locations that could support a herd of 400 or more wood bison. In 2008, ADFG imported a small herd of wood bison from Elk Island National Park in Canad...view full description
Location (by county):
Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area (AK)
AK District 00
Bird Conservation Regions:
Northern Pacific Rainforest, Northwestern Interior Forest
|Site Name||Publicly Accessible|
|Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center||Yes|
|Lower Yukon/innoko River area||Yes|
Full Project Description
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) has been working for over 15 years with many private of government partners to restore one or more free-ranging populations of wood bison (Bison, bison athabascae) in Interior Alaska. Wood bison are a subspecies of North American bison that was present in Alaska for nearly 10,000 years, but disappeared sometime in the last few hundred years. ADFG has conducted habitat studies and identified three locations that could support a herd of 400 or more wood bison. In 2008, ADFG imported a small herd of wood bison from Elk Island National Park in Canada. These animals are being held in captivity at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage, pending completion of disease testing and site planning and preparation. ADFG is presently working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to promulgate regulations under the Endangered Species Act to designate wood bison in Alaska as a nonessential experimental population. These regulations will ensure conservation of wood bison and also provide management flexibility to ensure that wood bison restoration is compatible with other resource development activities. ADFG will begin a cooperative planning process to restore wood bison in the lower Yukon/Innoko River area in spring 2011. The first release is planned for spring, 2012.
Project Assistance & Partnership Opportunities
Once ESA regulations are completed they will be evaluated by the state administration to ensure that wood bison restoration is compatible with other resource development activities. The Governor's Office must issue the final approval to proceed with releasing wood bison to the wild.
We need to acquire three heavy duty stock trailers that can be loaded in large aircraft to transport wood bison to remote release sites that are not accessible from the Alaska highway system.
ADFG is working with the USFWS to complete National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act requirements before wood bison can be released in the wild. Proposed regulations and a notice of availability of an Environmental Assessment should be published in the Federal Register in early 2011. There will be a 60-day public comment period. The USFWS projects final regulations to be completed by July 2011.
Goals and Targets
- Public Benefit
- Enhance the wildlife and ecological diversity of Alaska and provide opportunities for human use and enjoyment of wood bison.
- Conservation Mission
- Promote bison conservation in North America, assist with efforts to recover wood bison and restore one or more populations of wood bison to portions of their historic range in Alaska.
- Climate Change Adaptation
- Global climate change may cause a shift in the ecosystems of Interior Alaska from predominately boreal forest toward grasslands. If this occurs habitat may improve for a grazing species like wood bison. Restablishing one or more wood bison herds in Alaska now will increase the ability to adapt to a potentially changing environment and maintain an abundant large mammal population.
- Restore wood bison populations to portions of their former habitat in Alaska so that they are again an integral part of Alaska’s wildlife, providing Alaskans and others the opportunity to enjoy, and benefit from, this ecologically important northern mammal.
Habitat evaluations and environmental analyses have been completed. Numerous opportunities for public involvement and comment have occurred and broad support for restoring wood bison in Alaska has been demonstrated. Wood bison have been imported from Canada and have completed nearly all requirements of a comprehensive disease testing and health certification program.
Consistent with plans:
- Species Recovery Plan
- Canada's National Recovery Plan for Wood Bison supports reestablishing one or more free-ranging herds in Alaska. Restablishing geographically separated herds in Alaska will provide additional security for the future of wood bison, should disease or other factors affect herds in Canada.
- State Wildlife Action Plan
- The State of Alaska's Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy addresses species with special conservation needs. Wood bison restoration in Alaska contributes to one of the main goals of the strategy, which is to "conserve the diversity of Alaska's wildlife resources, focusing on those species with the greatest conservation need."
- Forests and Woodlands
- Mixed Hardwoods and Conifer
- Shrublands and Grasslands
- Shrublands and Steppe
- Wetlands and Riparian Habitats
- Lowland Riparian Forests and Shrublands
- American Bison Bos bison
Is the success of this project's actions being monitored? Yes
Please describe your monitoring activity.
The ultimate measure of success for the project will be the reintroduction of wood bison to portions of their historic range in Alaska. Wood bison will be fitted with radio-collars and their movements and herd growth carefully monitored to ensure the reintroduction effort is a success.
What lessons have been learned and/or what suggestions do you have for similar activities?
ADFG has spent over fifteen years consulting with the public and working to overcome various regulatory requirements for the project to move forward. The only significant controversey that has arisn has been addressing the status of wood bison under the Endangered Species Act and the potential for restrictions on oil and gas and other resource development activities in Alaska. It took many years working the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to clarify the status of wood bison under the ESA and then determine that the best approach to use is to designate wood bison in Alaska as a nonessential experimental population under section 10(j) of the ESA. It is now taking an extended period of time for the regulations to be promulgated through the Federal Register. My advice: plan way ahead, it will take longer than you can possibly imagine.