[Federal Register: February 3, 2009 (Volume 74, Number 21)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 5908-5910]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[FWS-R9-IA-2008-0123; 96100-1671-0000-B6]
RIN 1018-AI83

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Petition To 
Reclassify the Wood Bison From Endangered to Threatened

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of 90-day petition finding and initiation of status 


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce our 
90-day finding on a petition to reclassify the wood bison (Bison bison 
athabascae) from endangered to threatened throughout its range in the 
List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife established under the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Act), as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et 
seq.). We find that the petition presents substantial scientific and 
commercial information indicating that the petitioned action of 
reclassifying the wood bison from endangered to threatened status under 
the Act may be warranted. Therefore, we are initiating a status review 
of the wood bison to determine if reclassification, as petitioned, is 
warranted under the Act. To ensure that the status review is 
comprehensive, we are requesting submission of any new information on 
the wood bison since its original listing as endangered throughout its 
entire range under the predecessor of the Act on June 2, 1970 (35 FR 
8491). At the conclusion of our status review, we will issue a 12-month 
finding on the petition, as provided in section 4(b)(3)(B) of the Act.

DATES: The finding announced in this document was made on January 14, 
2009. To be considered in the 12-month finding on this petition, we 
will accept comments and information from all interested parties until 
April 6, 2009.

ADDRESSES: You may submit information, materials, and comments by one 
of the following methods:
     Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. 
Follow the instructions for submitting comments.
     U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, 
Attn: FWS-R9-IA-2008-0123; Division of Policy and Directives 
Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive; 
Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203.
    We will not accept e-mail or faxes. We will post all comments on 
http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means that we will post any 
personal information you provide us (see the Public Comments section 
below for more information).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Rosemarie Gnam, Ph.D., Chief, Division 
of Scientific Authority, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. 
Fairfax Drive, Room 110, Arlington, VA 22203; telephone 703-358-1708; 
facsimile 703-358-2276; electronic mail ScientificAuthority@fws.gov. 
Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call 
the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800-877-8339.


Public Information Solicited

    We intend that any final action resulting from this status review 
will be as accurate and as effective as possible based on the best 
available scientific and commercial information. Therefore, we solicit 
information, comments, or suggestions on the wood bison from the 
public, concerned government agencies, the scientific community, or any 
other interested party. We are opening a 60-day public comment period 
to allow all interested parties an opportunity to provide information 
on the status of the

[[Page 5909]]

wood bison throughout its range, including:
    (1) Information on taxonomy, distribution, habitat selection and 
use, food habits, population density and trends, habitat trends, 
disease, and effects of management on wood bison;
    (2) Information on captive herds, including efficacy of breeding 
and reintroduction programs, origin of parental stock, stock 
supplementation for genetic purposes, growth rates, birth and mortality 
rates in captivity; location of captive herds in comparison to wild 
populations, effects of captive breeding on the species' natural 
habitats and wild populations, and any other factors from captive 
breeding that might affect wild populations or natural habitat;
    (3) Information on the adequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; 
trends in domestic and international trade of live specimens, sport-
hunted trophies, or other parts and products; poaching of wild wood 
bison; illegal trade and enforcement efforts and solutions; and 
oversight of reintroduction or introduction programs;
    (4) Information on the effects of other potential threat factors, 
including contaminants, changes of the distribution and abundance of 
wild populations, disease episodes within wild and captive populations, 
large mortality events, climate change, or negative effects resulting 
from the presence of invasive species; and
    (5) Information on management programs for wood bison conservation 
in the wild, including private, tribal, or governmental conservation 
programs that benefit wood bison.
    We will base our finding on a review of the best scientific and 
commercial information available, including all information received 
during the public comment period.
    You may submit your comments and materials concerning this proposed 
rule by one of the methods listed in the ADDRESSES section. We will not 
accept comments you send by e-mail or fax.
    Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or 
other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be 
aware that we will post your entire comment--including your personal 
identifying information--on http://www.regulations.gov. While you can 
ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying 
information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be 
able to do so.
    Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting 
documentation we used in preparing this 90-day finding, will be 
available for public inspection on http://www.regulations.gov, or by 
appointment, during normal business hours, at the U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Division of Scientific Authority (see FOR FURTHER 


    We received a petition from the co-chairs of the National Wood 
Bison Recovery Team (NWBRT) based at the University of Calgary, Canada, 
dated November 26, 2007, requesting that we reclassify the wood bison 
(Bison bison athabascae) from endangered to threatened. The petition 
contained information about recovery efforts in Canada and referred to 
information provided to the United States Division of Scientific 
Authority by the NWBRT since 2004 regarding the natural history and 
biology of the wood bison, including the species' current status and 
    All wild, disease-free wood bison, 3,382 specimens in 2004, are 
found in northwestern Canada (Reynolds et al. 2004, p. 32). They are 
distributed among seven managed populations in the Northwest 
Territories, the Yukon Territory, British Columbia, Alberta, and 
Manitoba. There are also 15 captive-breeding herds (5 public herds and 
10 private herds), with all of the public herds located in northwestern 
    The wood bison differs morphologically from the more common plains 
bison (Bison bison bison). The wood bison is larger and heavier within 
similar age and sex classes, darker in color with a more squarish hump 
than the rounder hump of the plains bison. There is less hair on top of 
the head of the wood bison, around the horns and in the beard, which 
makes the horns appear longer and the head appear smaller than those of 
the plains bison. The long hair on the front legs of plains bison is 
short or absent in wood bison, and the cape on the hump, shoulders, and 
neck is less distinct (Reynolds et al. 2003, p. 1013).
    In contrast to the plains bison, wood bison herds are smaller. 
During rut, wood bison herds disperse into even smaller groups with 
some bulls temporarily becoming solitary (Reynolds et al. 2003, p. 
1021). Whereas plains bison bulls establish dominance hierarchies for 
breeding, wood bison bulls establish harems (Reynolds et al. 2003, p. 
1021). Wood bison home range size varies with age, sex, and 
availability of forage (Reynolds et al. 2003, pp. 1024-25). The 
breeding season is from July to October. Bulls between the ages of 6 
and 9 years do most of the breeding (Reynolds et al. 2003, p. 1025). 
Peak breeding age for cows is between 5 and 14 years of age. Wood bison 
forage in open meadows, and rest and ruminate in aspen and coniferous 
forests (Government of Canada 1997, p. 2; Reynolds et al. 2003, p. 

History of the Endangered Species Act Listing

    The wood bison was listed under the U.S. Endangered Species 
Conservation Act of 1969; the listing of which went into effect on June 
2, 1970, with the publication of our final rule, Conservation of 
endangered species and other fish or wildlife (35 FR 8491). At that 
time through the present, the only wild wood bison herds were found in 
the boreal wilderness of northwestern Canada (Government of Canada 
1997, p. 2). While never numerous, the subspecies, which numbered 
approximately 200,000 animals in Canada in 1800, was almost 
exterminated by the late 1800s due to overhunting for food and the fur 
trade. About 250 specimens survived in the early 1900s and were 
protected by the Government of Canada in Wood Buffalo National Park. 
The growing herd was jeopardized by the introduction of plains bison, 
however, with which the remaining wood bison hybridized. The plains 
bison also introduced tuberculosis and brucellosis in wood bison herds. 
A total of 200 disease-free bison with wood bison morphological 
characteristics were discovered in 1959 in a remote area of Wood Bison 
National Park. Between 1963 and 1965, just prior to the Endangered 
Species Conservation Act listing, 42 of these specimens were introduced 
into the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary, near Fort Providence, in the 
Northwest Territories, and into Elk Island National Park in Central 
Alberta (Government of Canada 1997, p. 2). These specimens became the 
founder stock for the 4,336 disease-free specimens of wood bison 
(Reynolds et al. 2004, p. 32).
    Because the wood bison was summarily listed under the 1969 
Endangered Species Conservation Act, along with many other species, 
there was no separate Federal Register final rule for its listing. On 
June 2, 1970, the wood bison first appeared on the list of foreign 
species (Appendix A) in our final rule, Conservation of endangered 
species and other fish or wildlife (35 FR 8491). According to this 
rule, the taxa included in Appendix A of that document were considered 
as endangered throughout their range. It was likely that the total 
subspecies population of about 200 specimens contributed to the listing 
decision. Appendix A indicated Canada as the sole range country (in the 
``Where Found'' column), with the explanation

[[Page 5910]]

that the range information ``is a general guide to the native countries 
or regions where the named animals are found. It is not intended to be 
    In 1979, the listing status of wood bison within the United States 
was reviewed due to a potential failure to comply with a procedural 
requirement of the 1969 Act (i.e., consulting with the governor of any 
state in which the species was found) (44 FR 43705; July 25, 1979). On 
July 25, 1980, the Service published a proposed rule discussing the 
earlier procedural error, but did not propose changes to the listing 
status of wood bison as we had determined that no pure bred individuals 
of the subspecies were known to occur in the United States (45 FR 

Other Wood Bison Listings

    The wood bison was placed in Appendix I of the Convention on 
International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora 
(CITES) on July 1, 1975, when the treaty went into effect (42 FR 10462; 
February 22, 1979). On September 28, 1997, the wood bison was 
downlisted to Appendix II based on a proposal from Canada that 
described progress in implementation of the Canadian recovery plan 
(Government of Canada, 1997; 62 FR 44627; August 22, 1997). The United 
States voted in support of the downlisting. Listing in CITES Appendix 
II allows for regulated commercial trade as long as certain findings 
are made, whereas a listing in Appendix I generally prohibits 
commercial trade. The wood bison is also listed as a threatened species 
under Canada's Species at Risk Act (SARA), which went into effect on 
June 1, 2004. The 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (http://
www.iucnredlist.org/) classifies the American bison (Bison bison) as 
``lower risk-conservation dependent.'' Subspecies, such as the plains 
bison and wood bison, are not evaluated separately from the species on 
the IUCN list.
    The NWBRT petition is the second petition that we have received 
regarding the wood bison. On May 14, 1998, the Service received a 
petition from a private individual requesting that we remove the wood 
bison from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, primarily 
because it had just been downlisted under CITES. In a 90-day finding 
published on November 25, 1998 (63 FR 65164), we found that the 
petitioner did not supply substantial information to indicate that the 
delisting was warranted.
    The NWBRT, with this petition, requests reclassification of the 
wood bison from endangered to threatened because--according to their 
petition--populations are healthy, habitat remains plentiful, and 
recovery and management plans are being implemented. With this action, 
we find that the NWBRT petition presents substantial scientific 
evidence and commercial information indicating that reclassification 
from an endangered species to a threatened species may be warranted.


    On the basis of the information provided in the petition or 
contained in Service files, we have determined that the petition 
presents substantial scientific and commercial information indicating 
that reclassifying the wood bison from endangered to threatened may be 
warranted. Therefore, we are initiating a status review to determine if 
reclassification of the subspecies is warranted. To ensure that the 
status review is comprehensive, the Service is soliciting scientific 
and commercial information regarding this subspecies.

References Cited

Government of Canada. 1997. Prop. 10.35. Proposal for the transfer of 
wood bison (Bison bison athabascae) from Appendix I to Appendix II of 
the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Tenth 
Meeting of the Conference of the Parties held in Harare, Zimbabwe, 9-20 
June, 1997. 2 pp.
Reynolds, H.W., C.C. Gates, and R.D. Glaholt. 2003. Bison (Bison 
bison). In: G.A. Feldhamer, B.C. Thompson, and J.A. Chapman (eds.), 
Wild Mammals of North America. Biology, Management, and Conservation. 
2nd Edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. Pp. 1009-
Reynolds, H., C. Gates, J. Nishi, T. Jung, H. Schwantje, and B. 
Stephenson. 2004. Draft background on wood bison recovery efforts and 
legal status in Canada. Submitted to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
August 2004. 32pp.


    The primary author of this document is Jeffrey P. Jorgenson, Ph.D., 
Division of Scientific Authority, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (see 
ADDRESSES section).


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

    Dated: January 14, 2009.
Kenneth Stansell,
Acting Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. E9-2084 Filed 2-2-09; 8:45 am]