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Wild plains bison


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  • Plains bison. Credit: Jack Dykinga/USDA.

    Wild plains bison. Credit: Jack Dykinga/USDA.

  • White-tailed prairie dog. Credit: USFWS.

    Wild plains bison. Credit: USFWS.

Wild plains bison (Bison bison bison)

The plains bison (Bison bison bison) is a subspecies of the American bison that was historically found from central Canada to northern Mexico and nearly from coast to coast.  It was most abundant on the Great Plains.  They were eliminated west of the Rocky Mountains and east of the Mississippi River by the early 1800s.  By 1889, only a few wild plains bison remained in the Texas Panhandle, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and the western Dakotas, as well as a small number in captive herds.  Diligent efforts by a few individuals prevented extinction.

Conservation efforts by private landowners, state and federal agencies, and others helped to rebuild herds.  Today, there are over 400,000 plains bison, with approximately 20,500 managed in conservation herds in parks, preserves, other public lands, and on private lands throughout and external to their historical range.  Population trends have been stable to increasing in recent years.  Currently, there are approximately 20,500 in conservation herds and an additional 420,000 in commercial herds.

The Service will continue our cooperative efforts to conserve the existing bison herds in the United States.  We will continue to cooperatively implement the Joint Bison Management Plan and the Department of Interior’s Bison Conservation Initiative. 

In addition to federal cooperative efforts to conserve existing herds and establish new herds, several state governments and private entities participate in restoration of the plains bison.  State managed conservation herds exist within the species’ historical range in Arizona, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.  Additional state herds external to its historical range exist in Alaska.  The Nature Conservancy manages eight herds for conservation purposes, with initiatives for establishing two new herds.  Turner Enterprises manages several herds with dual purposes of conservation and commercial production.  The American Prairie Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund have also developed conservation herds.

Recent actions & links »

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has concluded that a petition to list the wild plains bison under the Endangered Species Act does not contain substantial scientific data to indicate that the petitioned action might be warranted.  Despite this determination that the bison will not receive further consideration for listing under the ESA at this time, the Service will continue to work with our partners to conserve and protect wild plains bison throughout its remaining range.

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The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with Others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American People.
Last modified: January 06, 2021
All Images Credit to and Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Unless Specified Otherwise.
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