The New (Old) Beast in Alaska
North America’s largest living land mammal will soon return to the state's forests
We’re all familiar with the plight of the American Bison. In the early 19th century, the animals were almost driven to extinction by overhunting and diseases from domestic cattle.
But less people know about the wood bison—North America’s largest living land mammal, known for its wooly coat, pronged horns, large head and large size. (The average male weighs up to 2,000 pounds.)
The wood bison suffered a similar fate to its lower-latitude cousin. While large herds once roamed the boreal regions of northwestern Canada and interior Alaska, habitat loss and other problems plagued the animals. Numbers in Canada dwindled to just a few hundred, while the population in the United States dissapeared entirely. Later, a few dozen bison were brought to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage, Alaska, where their numbers expanded to 130 animals.
Now Alaskan authorities have big plans for these bison.
Officials announced the agreement to reintroduce the wood bison to the lower Yukon River and lower Innoko River areas on Thursday.The animals will be flown to the region and initially kept in fenced areas where they will adjust to their new surroundings.
The deal will be completed through provisions of the Endangered Species Act. The bison will be classified as threatened and a “nonessential experimental population” in the state of Alaska. This means any protective measures for the animals will not be allowed to hinder development, such as oil drilling or mining.
Alaska state wildlife officials will manage the herds and plan to allow limited hunts in the future.
The reintroduction of these animals worked well in the past. Canadian officials rebuilt their wood bison population from just a few hundred to approximately 9,000.