After 100 Year Absence, Wood Bison Set for Alaska Return
It has been over one hundred years, but the largest land mammal in North America is finally making a return to its native home.
On Sunday, Wood bison will be moved from a conservation center south of Anchorage, Alaska, to an intermediate staging area before being set free into the wild. The acclimatization period looks to last a few weeks, but after that, a hundred wood bison will return to their natural habitat for the first time in over a century.
The careful plans, which will see bison flown in 20-foot containers two from Anchorage to Shageluk, have been orchestrated by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for some time now.
“This has been an incredibly long project — 23 years in the making,” said biologist Cathie Harms. “To say we’re excited is an understatement.”
For reasons unknown, after flourishing for thousands of years in Alaska, the wood bison slowly started to disappear in the 20th century. The Canadian National Recovery Plan has helped take care of bison populations in northern Alberta since the 1950s, but they had all left Alaska. The project to reintroduce the creatures back into the state began with the transfer of bison from Canada: 13 in 2003 and another 58 in 2013.
Of the 100 to be transported, half are pregnant cows while the other half are sub-adults. Following the herd’s settling, there is a possibility that 20 bulls will be added to increase diversity.
While wood bison are a threatened species, this population will be exempt from certain restrictions in the Endangered Species Act. That is, this herd is dubbed an experimental population and not essential to the continued existence of the species. Depending on the status and growth of the herd, hunting may be permitted in anywhere from 5 to 15 years.
For better or worse, part of the desire to bring the bison back to Alaska was to appeal to hunters: both for subsistence and sport.
For more information on the project, check out the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center website: http://www.alaskawildlife.org.