North America’s largest land animal is coming back to one of its natural environments. A subspecies of the more commonly known plains bison, the wood bison once ranged wide swathes of Alaska and Canada until the 1900s. A series of environmental factors forced the species to near extinction.

According to the Alaska Dispatch, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently announced a plan to reintroduce the wood bison to the state with the end goal of promoting tourism and hunting. Conservation groups have been lobbying for the creation of a wild bison population since 53 of the endangered species were moved to an Alaska quarantine from Canada. Their efforts were stalled by concerns that the bison might interfere with gas and oil development.

So far, the FWS plan involves moving a “nonessential experimental population” of the animals to an area near Fairbanks, Alaska. The region was historically a bison range before they became endangered. The bison will be kept under careful surveillance for a short period to allow them to acclimate, and then released into the wild.

We have no doubt that these animals will be well adjusted to the landscape and be able to survive,” said Alaska Fish and Game director Doug Vincent-Lang.

Once the population exceeds a certain number the Department of Fish and Game will open the herd to hunting. Subsistence hunters will be first in line but department representatives state that the end goal is to reach a wider demographic of hunters.

The plan’s public comment period will end in two months, after which reintroduction will begin early next spring  if the plan is approved.

“These bison shouldn’t be looking at wire down at Portage, looking at fences,” said Mike Miller, director of the conservation center where the bison are currently being held. “I’m glad to see that some day they will be free.”

Image from Susan Drury (Watson Lake) on the flickr Creative Commons

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  • Thomas Stieber

    This sounds like a great project, it should have been started decades ago. I just hope they won’t be wolf food like the reintroduced Elk in Wisconsin are.