Restoration project brings wood bison back to Alaska

Conservation effort decades in the making
By the early 1900s wood bison had disappeared from Alaska, with only a few hundred remaining in Canada.
Published: Jul. 22, 2022 at 10:50 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - By the early 1900s, native wood bison had disappeared from Alaska, with only a few hundred remaining in Canada.

Biologists are working on changing the future of wood bison, and the latest phase of a restoration project is aiming to bring the species back to Alaska.

“We’re trying to restore this animal to the ecosystem because we really don’t have a big grazer in the Alaska ecosystem,” said Department of Fish and Game Biologist Tom Seaton. “So they fit right into a niche that’s empty.”

The Division of Wildlife Conservation’s Darren Bruning said that the project is not only returning the species to Alaska but also to the United States.

“It’s the only wild wood bison herd in the United States of America,” Bruning said.

Carlile is transporting just over two dozen yearling wood bison towards the lower Yukon-Innoko River area as part of a continuation of a long-term restoration project. As part of the effort to restore the species to North America, 130 bison had been released in this same area in 2015. The 28 wood bison being transported will now be joining the existing herd.

Seaton says that once the species is a part of the ecosystem, it will improve the diversity and productivity of all of the animals in the area, causing a ripple effect that will be positive for the environment.

“The wood bison project is really a gift to our grandkids and their grandkids,” Seaton said. “It’s going to take time before these animals really get going in the wild and become another resource for humans.”

Bruning says he’s happy to be a part of the project and “to work with everyone for this common cause to return this animal to the landscape. It’s overwhelming, its humbling its my honor to do so.”

Before the bison walk into their new home along the Inoko river in Southcentral Alaska, biologists will give them the opportunity to reform social bonds with other bison in the herd and confirm that there’s other wildlife in the area. The biologists hope that in the future, more bison will be added to this herd or to herds around Alaska.

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