Restoring Free-Ranging Wood Bison in Alaska

Project Description

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) has been working for over 15 years with many private of government partners to restore one or more free-ranging populations of wood bison (Bison, bison athabascae) in Interior Alaska. Wood bison are a subspecies of North American bison that was present in Alaska for nearly 10,000 years, but disappeared sometime in the last few hundred years. ADFG has conducted habitat studies and identified three locations that could support a herd of 400 or more wood bison. In 2008, ADFG imported a small herd of wood bison from Elk Island National Park in Canad...

Project Map

Publicly Accessible: Yes
County: Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area, AK
Project Size:
  • 519930.0 acres

Project Sites

  • Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
  • Lower Yukon/innoko River area
  • Minto Flats
  • Yukon Flats

Goals and Targets

Primary Motivations:

  • Conservation Mission
    Promote bison conservation in North America, assist with efforts to recover wood bison and restore one or more populations of wood bison to portions of their historic range in Alaska.
  • Public Benefit
    Enhance the wildlife and ecological diversity of Alaska and provide opportunities for human use and enjoyment of wood bison.
  • Climate Change Adaptation
    Global climate change may cause a shift in the ecosystems of Interior Alaska from predominately boreal forest toward grasslands. If this occurs habitat may improve for a grazing species like wood bison. Restablishing one or more wood bison herds in Alaska now will increase the ability to adapt to a potentially changing environment and maintain an abundant large mammal population.

Primary Goals:

  • Restore wood bison populations to portions of their former habitat in Alaska so that they are again an integral part of Alaska‚Äôs wildlife, providing Alaskans and others the opportunity to enjoy, and benefit from, this ecologically important northern mammal.
    Progress: Habitat evaluations and environmental analyses have been completed. Numerous opportunities for public involvement and comment have occurred and broad support for restoring wood bison in Alaska has been demonstrated. Wood bison have been imported from Canada and have completed nearly all requirements of a comprehensive disease testing and health certification program.

Consistent With Plans:

  • State Wildlife Action Plan
    The State of Alaska's Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy addresses species with special conservation needs. Wood bison restoration in Alaska contributes to one of the main goals of the strategy, which is to "conserve the diversity of Alaska's wildlife resources, focusing on those species with the greatest conservation need."
  • Species Recovery Plan
    Canada's National Recovery Plan for Wood Bison supports reestablishing one or more free-ranging herds in Alaska. Restablishing geographically separated herds in Alaska will provide additional security for the future of wood bison, should disease or other factors affect herds in Canada.

Targeted Habitats:

  • Forests and Woodlands
    • Mixed Hardwoods and Conifer
  • Shrublands and Grasslands
    • Shrublands and Steppe
  • Wetlands and Riparian Habitats
    • Lowland Riparian Forests and Shrublands

Targeted Species:

  • American Bison Bos bison

Conservation Actions

Action Status Start Year End Year
Reintroduce native species Proposed 2010 2012
Reintroduce wood bison in Alaska
Captive breeding for conservation purposes In Progress 2003 2015
Holding wood bison in captivity to complete disease testing and increase the size of the herd prior to being released to the wild.
Develop a wildlife management plan Proposed 2011 2012
Develop a collaborative plan for reintroduction and management of wood bison
Other - Conservation plans and agreements: Address ESA and NEPA requirements In Progress 2008 2012
Develop regulations for conservation and management of wood bison in Alaska under the Endangered Species Act


Is the success of this project's actions being monitored? Yes

Monitoring Activities
The ultimate measure of success for the project will be the reintroduction of wood bison to portions of their historic range in Alaska. Wood bison will be fitted with radio-collars and their movements and herd growth carefully monitored to ensure the reintroduction effort is a success.

Lessons Learned and/or Suggestions for Similar Activities
ADFG has spent over fifteen years consulting with the public and working to overcome various regulatory requirements for the project to move forward. The only significant controversey that has arisn has been addressing the status of wood bison under the Endangered Species Act and the potential for restrictions on oil and gas and other resource development activities in Alaska. It took many years working the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to clarify the status of wood bison under the ESA and then determine that the best approach to use is to designate wood bison in Alaska as a nonessential experimental population under section 10(j) of the ESA. It is now taking an extended period of time for the regulations to be promulgated through the Federal Register. My advice: plan way ahead, it will take longer than you can possibly imagine.

Quick Facts

Owning Organization

Wildlife Conservation Society

Managing Organization

Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG)
(State Government)

Contact Information

Randy Rogers (Wildlife Planner)
Alaska Department of Fish and Game

General Information

Project #: 15653
Last Updated: January 17, 2011

Project Relations


Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Parks Canada, Elk Island National Park
Safari Club International
Tanana Chiefs Conference, Lower Yukon Subregion
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Wildlife Conservation Socitey


ADFG wood bison web page (link will change in February 2011)
Alaska Wildlife Coservation Center web page

Copyright © 2019 NatureServe. All Rights Reserved.