Pair of Wood Bison. Photo Credit: Laura Whitehouse
Wood bison appear very similar to plains bison but are slightly bigger, with mature males weighing up to 2,000 pounds. They predominantly use open meadows interspersed among woodlands and feed on grasses and sedges.
Critical Habitat: None designated
Distribution: Historically found throughout Alaska and Canada. Today, seven free-ranging herds with approximately 4,000 animals are now only found in Alberta, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, and the Yukon Territory, Canada.
Threats: Numbers originally declined from hunting, especially in Canada. Current threats are minimal and herd sizes are growing. However, these animals are susceptible to bovine tuberculosis, bovine brucellosis, and anthrax. Some Canadian populations are affected by these diseases. Commercial production of plains bison in Canada reduces the amount of potential habitat available for wood bison and also increases the risk of hybridization between the two subspecies.
Conservation efforts: Conservation efforts: The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has been working on a plan to reintroduce wood bison back to Alaska. Towards that end, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center has cared for a growing herd of captive wood bison near Girdwood, Alaska.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, on May 7, 2014, published a final rule to allow a nonessential experimental population (NEP) of wood bison to be established in Alaska under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Under section 4(d) of the ESA, this final rule also determines those measures and prohibitions that are necessary and advisable for the conservation of the wood bison in Alaska. This final rule allows for the reintroduction of a NEP of wood bison in Alaska, establishes provisions under which wood bison in Alaska will be managed, and allows for legal incidental taking of wood bison within the defined NEP area.
Under the ESA, the Service may establish an experimental population, allowing for the reintroduction of a species to its former range with special rules that allow for some of the management requirements of the ESA to be relaxed to facilitate acceptance by local landowners and managers. Within this final rule, there are exemptions for the incidental effects of development, land management and other lawful activities, and for regulated hunting, in order to ensure management flexibility. These exemptions provide assurance that the establishment of wild wood bison herds will not have unintended consequences for the State of Alaska, private landowners, industry, or Alaska Natives.
In Canada, conservation efforts, including reintroduction of disease-free herds, have led to an increase in the number of herds from one in 1978 to seven herds now, with more than 4,000 animals total.
Contacts: Regional Endangered Species Coordinator, 907-786-3323
Final Rule (June 6, 2014)
Final Environmental Assessment
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Species Profile
Alaska Department of Fish & Game Species Profile
Canada’s Species At Risk Profile
Management of wood bison in the Yukon Territory, Canada