Alaska, which comprises the historic U.S. range of the once endangered American wood bison, is preparing for a comeback of bovine proportions.
Recently, seven European wood bison or wisent cows were born and raised at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Highland Wildlife Park. They were soft-released into the Vanatori Neamt Nature Park in Romania as part of the largest wisent reintroduction effort in history. The United States is now moving forward on it own plans to reintroduce bison to parts of their historic range.
According to Alaska’s Daily News-Miner in Fairbanks,
”If all goes according to plan, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game could release wood bison in the lower Innoko River in Southwest Alaska as early as next spring,” Doug Vincent-Lang, director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation, said on Tuesday. “This is because the USFWS just announced that it will publish [a] rule that designates the wood bison herd a “non-essential experimental population,” which in essence makes the animals exempt from the federal Endangered Species Act. This designation “gives the state primary management authority of the animals.”
With this news the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage, Alaska learned that they can essentially move forward in making plans to fly out individuals from their 130-plus head of wood bison in the relatively near future. The U.S. wood bison reintroduction program has been a joint effort between the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the 200-acre game animal sanctuary, which is home to other native ungulate and carnivore species from moose to grizzly bears. Several political hurdles have extended the effort over a decade, but the news is no less exciting for the managers of the only sustainable captive herd of wood bison in the U.S.
The wood bison, a subspecies of the American bison, was extirpated in Alaska and hence, is deemed functionally extinct in the United States. However, with this announcement by the USFWS, the wood bison should be restored to its ancient range outside of Canada where it has continued to persist in the wild in recent history.
Wood bison are the largest land mammals in the Western Hemisphere. Similarly, the slightly smaller wisent are the largest terrestrial mammals in Europe. Unlike the European bison, which was actually rendered globally extinct due to hunting and habitat loss, the wood bison, has survived in the Canadian portion of its historic range. American bison are more docile (i.e. easier to tame) and easier to outbreed with domestic bovids.
There are 7,000 free ranging wood bison in Canada, although hybridization with the nominate subspecies, the plains bison (Bison bison bison) of the lower 48, has been demonstrated in some populations.
This conservation effort for wood bison will not only increase the genetic diversity of the global population of the subspecies, but it will increase their numbers in the wild.
Happy Humpday (^_^)