[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 76 (Friday, April 19, 2013)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 23533-23536]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-09241]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-HQ-ES-2012-0094; FXES111309F2130-123-FF09E22000]

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-Day Finding on 
a Petition To Delist the Wood Bison

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of 90-day petition finding.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce a 
90-day finding on a petition to delist the wood bison (Bison bison 
athabascae) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). 
Based on our review, we find that the petition does not present 
substantial information indicating that delisting the wood bison 
subspecies may be warranted. Therefore, we are not initiating a status 
review in response to this petition. However, we ask the public to 
submit to us any new information that becomes available concerning the 
status of, or threats to, the wood bison or its habitat at any time.

DATES: The finding announced in this document was made on April 19, 

ADDRESSES: This finding is available on the Internet at http://www.regulations.gov at Docket Number FWS-HQ-ES-2012-0094. Supporting 
documentation we used in preparing this finding is available for public 
inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska Regional Office, 1011 East Tudor 
Road, Anchorage, AK 99503; (907) 786-3856. Please submit any new 
information, materials, comments, or questions concerning this finding 
to the above street address.

Wildlife Service, Fisheries and Ecological Services, 1011 E. Tudor 
Road, Anchorage, AK 99503; or by telephone at 907-786-3559; or by 
facsimile at (907) 786-3848. If you use a telecommunications device for 
the deaf (TDD), please call the Federal Information Relay Service 
(FIRS) at 800-877-8339.



    Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) requires 
that we make a finding on whether a petition to list, delist, or 
reclassify a species presents substantial scientific or commercial 
information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted. We 
are to base this finding on information provided in the petition, 
supporting information submitted with the petition, and information 
otherwise available in our files. To the maximum extent practicable, we 
are to make this finding within 90 days of our receipt of the petition, 
and publish our notice of the finding promptly in the Federal Register.
    Our standard for substantial scientific or commercial information 
within the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) with regard to a 90-day 
petition finding is ``that amount of information that would lead a 
reasonable person to believe that the measure proposed in the petition 
may be warranted'' (50 CFR 424.14(b)). If we find that substantial 
scientific or commercial information was presented, we are required to 
promptly conduct a species status review, which we subsequently 
summarize in our 12-month finding.

Petition History

    On April 3, 2012, we received a petition, dated April 3, 2012, from 
the Western Bison Association, the Rocky Mountain Buffalo Association, 
the Minnesota Buffalo Association, the Oklahoma Buffalo Association, 
the North Dakota Buffalo Association, the Northwest Buffalo 
Association, the Missouri Buffalo Association, the Kansas Buffalo 
Association, and W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear requesting 
that the wood bison be removed from the Federal List of Endangered and 
Threatened Wildlife as threatened under the Act. The petition clearly 
identified itself as such and included the requisite identification 
information for the petitioners, as required at 50 CFR 424.14(a). In a 
letter to the petitioners sent April 24, 2012, we stated that we 
anticipated that we would review the petition and make a finding within 
the coming year. This finding addresses the petition.

Previous Federal Action(s)

    The listing history for wood bison is extensive and was 
reconstructed in the proposed rule to reclassify wood bison from 
endangered to threatened, which published February 8, 2011 (76 FR

[[Page 23534]]

6734). Please refer to that document for the complete listing history. 
Here we present only the most pertinent facts.
    Wood bison became listed in the United States under the 1969 
Endangered Species Conservation Act when it was included on the first 
List of Endangered Foreign Fish and Wildlife, which was published in 
the Federal Register on June 2, 1970 (35 FR 8491). In 1974, the first 
list under the 1973 Endangered Species Act appeared in the Code of 
Federal Regulations (CFR); the wood bison was listed as an endangered 
species based on its inclusion on the original 1969 list. Because the 
wood bison was listed under the 1969 Endangered Species Conservation 
Act, there is not a separate Federal Register notice that defined the 
population(s) and their range, or analyzed threats to the subspecies.
    On May 14, 1998, the Service received a petition from a private 
individual requesting that the Service remove the wood bison from the 
List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, primarily because it had 
been downlisted from Appendix I to Appendix II under the Convention on 
International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora 
(CITES). In a 90-day finding published on November 25, 1998 (63 FR 
65164), we found that the petitioner did not provide substantial 
information to indicate that the delisting may be warranted.
    On November 26, 2007, we received a petition from the co-chairs of 
Canada's National Wood Bison Recovery Team requesting that we 
reclassify the wood bison from endangered to threatened. On February 3, 
2009, we published a 90-day finding (74 FR 5908) acknowledging that the 
petition provided sufficient information to indicate that 
reclassification may be warranted and that we would initiate a status 
review. On February 8, 2011, we published a proposed rule to reclassify 
wood bison (76 FR 6734), and on May 3, 2012, we published a final rule 
reclassifying wood bison as threatened under the Act (77 FR 26191).

Status in Canada

    In Canada, the Species at Risk Act (SARA) is the Canadian 
counterpart to the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Under the SARA, the 
Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) was 
established as the scientific body that identifies and assesses a 
species' status. The wood bison was recognized by the COSEWIC as an 
endangered subspecies of Canadian wildlife in 1978. Wood bison was 
reclassified to threatened in June 1988, based on a status report 
prepared by the National Wood Bison Recovery Team. The National Wood 
Bison Recovery Team published a national recovery plan in 2001 (Gates 
et al. 2001), which has guided recovery actions in Canada since that 

Species Information

    Wood bison is the largest native extant terrestrial mammal in North 
America (Reynolds et al. 2003, p. 1015). Average weight of mature males 
(age 8) is 910 kilograms (kg) (2,006 pounds (lb)) and the average 
weight of mature females (age 13) is 440 kg (970 lb) (Reynolds et al. 
2003, p. 1015). They have a large triangular head, a thin beard and 
rudimentary throat mane, and a poorly demarcated cape (Boyd et al. 
2010, p. 16). In addition, the highest point of their hump is forward 
of their front legs; they have reduced chaps on their front legs; and 
their horns usually extend above the hair on their head (Boyd et al. 
2010, p. 16). These physical characteristics distinguish them from the 
plains bison (Reynolds et al. 2003, p. 1015; Boyd et al. 2010, p. 16). 
Detailed information on the biology of wood bison is provided in our 
February 8, 2011, proposed rule to reclassify wood bison as threatened 
(76 FR 6734) and in our May 3, 2012, final rule (77 FR 26191). Please 
refer to those documents for a detailed account of the species' 


    In the proposed and final rules (76 FR 6734, 77 FR 26191), we adopt 
the widely accepted notion that wood bison is a valid subspecies, a 
point which the petitioners contest. The petitioners assert that wood 
bison and plains bison (Bison bison bison) are not significantly 
different and that they should be considered a single species. 
Therefore, we discuss taxonomic classification and our rationale for 
accepting wood bison as a valid subspecies below.
    Taxonomy is the theory and practice of classifying organisms. 
Traditionally, physical characteristics of an organism were used to 
describe a species. However, from an evolutionary perspective, 
appearances can be deceptive; animals that look alike may not be 
closely related and animals that appear different from one another may 
actually be closely related. With the advent of sophisticated molecular 
tools, taxonomists can now examine various aspects of a species genetic 
code to help them determine how closely animals are related to one 
another. Although molecular techniques have added another tool in the 
taxonomist's toolbox, they also have limitations and do not necessarily 
give an unambiguous picture of the relationship among species. Sample 
size (number of animals sampled, number of genes sampled, or the number 
of loci on a gene sampled), type of DNA examined (mitochondrial DNA vs. 
nuclear DNA), the techniques used, and the populations selected for 
sampling are among a few of the reasons that variable or ambiguous 
results may arise. In addition, how a species (or subspecies) is 
defined, which on its face is a simple concept, is in reality very 
complex, and several definitions for ``species'' exist (Mayr and 
Ashlock 1991, pp. 24-28; de Queiroz 2007, pp. 879-885). Consequently, 
the intersection of incomplete knowledge of exactly how animals are 
related to one another, combined with the human concept of what a 
species is, often culminates in controversy over whether certain groups 
of animals should be lumped together or split apart. Such is the case 
for wood bison.
    We recognize, as the petitioners assert, that differences in 
opinion exist regarding the division of Bison into two subspecies (B. 
b. athabascae and B. b. bison) (e.g., Bork et al. 1991, pp. 43, 47; 
Geist 1991, p. 283). However, quantified differences in pelage (e.g., 
distribution of mane, chaps, and cape) and structure (e.g., overall 
body size, location of hump, length of horns) have been described (van 
Zyll de Jong et al. 1995, pp. 394-400). These differences, and the fact 
that wood bison and plains bison are physically separated by a great 
distance, led Boyd et al. (2010, p. 16 (American Bison Specialist 
Group)) to conclude separation into two subspecies is consistent with 
the subspecies concept. As noted in our final rule to downlist wood 
bison (77 FR 26209), the introduction of plains bison into Wood Buffalo 
National Park in Canada, the only place where wood bison remained in 
the 1920s, led to some degree of hybridization. However, genetic 
analysis has indicated that although the wood bison had limited contact 
with plains bison, it was minimal enough that the animals exhibit 
predominantly wood bison traits. Wood bison originating from founders 
with minimal contact with plains bison are genetically more similar to 
one another than they are to plains bison (van Zyll de Jong et al. 
1995, pp. 394-404; Wilson and Strobeck 1999, p. 493). Hybridization did 
not lead to a phenotypically homogenous population (one population that 
looks the same) (van Zyll de Jong et al. 1995, pp. 394-404).
    As described above, molecular tools can be used to evaluate the 
relatedness of individuals, populations, species, and genera. The work 
of Wilson (2001) and Wilson and Strobeck (1999, pp. 493-

[[Page 23535]]

494) using DNA microsatellites indicate that the genetic differences 
between plains bison and wood bison are greater than those within 
either of the two subspecies. These results support maintaining the 
subspecific designation. Results of studies that sequence only 
mitochondrial DNA are of limited value in answering questions about 
subspecific designation because mitochondrial DNA is inherited only 
from the maternal side (Avise 1994, pp. 62, 99). In the case of Douglas 
et al. (2011), which the petitioners use as support for their argument 
of lumping the subspecies together, mitochondrial DNA from only two 
wood bison were sequenced, further limiting the authors' ability to 
draw general conclusions about the relatedness of wood and plains 
bison. As Boyd et al. (2010, p. 17) note, the inability to detect a 
difference with a molecular test comparing limited sequences of genomic 
material does not necessarily mean that there is no difference. It is 
possible that in the future refined genetic analysis with appropriate 
sample design and sample size will provide a more compelling reason to 
lump the two subspecies together. Until that time, we will continue to 
follow the accepted separation of North American bison into two 
    The Canadian National Recovery Plan (Gates et al. 2001, p. 28) 
provides this summary about American bison subspecies:
    (1) Historically, wood bison differed from other bison populations 
with regard to multiple morphological and genetic characteristics.
    (2) The intrusion of plains bison into the range of wood bison in 
1925-1928 was entirely human-caused.
    (3) The two North American bison subspecies continue to be 
morphologically and genetically distinct, despite some hybridization in 
the 1920s.
    (4) Wood bison and their descendants continue to constitute 
populations of a subspecies of bison.
    In a recent evaluation of the subspecific separation of wood bison 
from plains bison, Boyd et al. (2010 pp. 15-18) also conclude that 
there appears to be sufficient justification for the formal recognition 
of the two subspecies. In addition, they point out that regardless of 
the formal designation for wood bison, all forms of geographic and 
ecological variation contribute to biodiversity and that variants of a 
species may have evolutionarily important ecological adaptations (Boyd 
et al. 2010, p. 18). This reality is reflected in the Service's ability 
to recognize and provide protection to ``distinct population segments'' 
at a taxonomic level below subspecies. In addition, COSEWIC also 
considers and includes subspecies, varieties, or geographically or 
genetically distinct populations in its definition of wildlife species 
(http://www.cosewic.gc.ca/eng/sct2/sct2_5_e.cfm, viewed June 26, 
2012). Both the Act and SARA recognize that conservation of biological 
diversity requires protection for taxonomic entities below the species 
level whether at the subspecific level or less (e.g., distinct 
populations). Therefore, regardless of how we name the populations we 
now call wood bison, since its description in 1897 (Rhoads 1897) wood 
bison in Canada have been recognized as a unique subspecies and managed 
as such. Consequently, even if we were to consider wood bison and 
plains bison as one species, that would not automatically lead to the 
delisting of the wood bison.
    The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (Code) provides 
guidance to zoologists worldwide regarding naming species. In the 
Preface to the Code it states, ``Nomenclatural rules are tools that are 
designed to provide the maximum stability compatible with taxonomic 
freedom.'' A published ``revision'' or ``monograph'' is the standard 
method used to examine all the species within a group and present a 
unified synopsis of all of the information available (Mayr and Ashlock 
1991, p. 348). Recognizing the taxonomic controversy that exists for 
the subspecific designation of wood bison, a reasonable, defensible, 
and conservative approach is to follow the naming conventions that are 
in place. The petition does not provide compelling, convincing, or 
unambiguous information that would cause the Service to consider wood 
bison and plains bison as a single species, nor can we authoritatively 
resolve this issue with the information available.
    In summary, based on the historical physical separation, and 
quantifiable behavioral, morphological, phenological (appearance), and 
genetic differences between the two subspecies, the best available 
scientific information indicates that subspecific designation is 
appropriate (FEAP 1990, p. 24; Bork et al. 1991, p. 47; van Zyll de 
Jong et al. 1995, pp. 403-404; Wilson and Strobeck 1999, pp. 492-494; 
Reynolds et al. 2003, p. 1010; Boyd et al. 2010, pp. 15-18). The 
established management of bison as two subspecies and the long-standing 
recognition of the two subspecies by the scientific community provide 
additional justification for treating wood bison and plains bison as 
two distinct subspecies.

Evaluation of Information for This Finding

    Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533) and its implementing 
regulations at 50 CFR part 424 set forth the procedures for adding a 
species to, or removing a species from, the Federal Lists of Endangered 
and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. A species may be determined to be 
an endangered or threatened species due to one or more of the five 
factors described in section 4(a)(1) of the Act:
    (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of its habitat or range;
    (B) Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes;
    (C) Disease or predation;
    (D) The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or
    (E) Other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued 
    We must consider these same five factors in delisting a species. We 
may delist a species according to 50 CFR 424.11(d) if the best 
available scientific and commercial data indicate that the species is 
neither endangered nor threatened for the following reasons:
    (1) The species is extinct;
    (2) The species has recovered and is no longer endangered or 
threatened; or
    (3) The original scientific data used at the time the species was 
classified were in error.
    In the case of this petition, the petitioners have not discussed 
threats to the species (or subspecies) that remain or have been 
eliminated. They focus instead on the success of recovery efforts for 
wood bison ``ecotype,'' the increase in the number of animals, and the 
establishment of new herds. We agree that significant strides have been 
made towards recovery of wood bison, and we discussed the success of 
recovery efforts in our proposed and final rules for the 
reclassification of wood bison (76 FR 6734, 77 FR 26191). Although we 
acknowledge that wood bison are no longer endangered, we conclude in 
our final rule that threats to wood bison remain and that the wood 
bison should be listed as threatened. In particular, we identified loss 
of habitat, disease, and hybridization as ongoing threats. The 
conclusions made in the May 3, 2012, final rule to reclassify the 
subspecies are still valid. The petitioners have not provided, and we 
have not received, any new information regarding threats to, or 
recovery of, wood bison that was not considered in the final 
reclassification rule.

[[Page 23536]]


    The petition does not present substantial information to indicate 
that delisting of wood bison is warranted. Although we recognize that 
controversy exists around the subspecific designation for wood bison, 
nomenclature stability, management history, and the acceptance of two 
subspecies by the American Bison Specialist Group, the Canadian 
National Wood Bison Recovery Team, and other zoologists lead us to the 
conclusion that retaining the current nomenclature is appropriate and 
    Although the petitioners argue that wood bison and plains bison 
should be considered as one species, they did not indicate that all or 
most threats to bison have been ameliorated. Instead, they focus on the 
success of recovery efforts for wood bison. We agree that the status of 
wood bison is more secure today than it once was. However, in our final 
rule to reclassify wood bison as threatened, which published earlier 
this year, we identified threats that remain to the species. The 
petitioners did not provide any new information about the status of the 
species that we were not already aware of and had evaluated in our 
final rule.
    On the basis of our determination under section 4(b)(3)(A) of the 
Act, we conclude that the petition does not present substantial 
scientific or commercial information to indicate that delisting the 
wood bison under the Act may be warranted at this time. Although we 
will not conduct a thorough review of the status of the species at this 
time, we encourage interested parties to continue to gather data that 
will assist with the conservation of the wood bison. If you wish to 
provide information regarding the wood bison, you may submit your 
information or materials to Marilyn Myers, Endangered Species 
Biologist, Alaska Regional Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION 
CONTACT), at any time.

References Cited

    A complete list of references cited is available on the Internet at 
http://www.regulations.gov and upon request from the Alaska Regional 


    The primary author of this notice is Marilyn Myers of the Alaska 


    The authority for this action is the Endangered Species Act of 
1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: November 7, 2012.
Daniel M. Ashe,
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2013-09241 Filed 4-18-13; 8:45 am]