We all know the story of plains bison. They once thundered across the prairies by the millions until trigger-happy Europeans nearly wiped them out. But we don't all know the story of their larger forest-dwelling cousins, the wood bison. Scientists estimate that there may have been around 168,000 in Canada in the late 1800s, with numbers dropping over the course of the century to just a few hundred. And in Alaska, wild wood bison had practically disappeared.
But now, Alaska wildlife officials want to boost the number of the 130 wood bison found in the state at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center by reintroducing a herd in the wild.
Reuters reports, "State and federal officials said the deal used provisions of the Endangered Species Act to classify the bison as a "nonessential experimental population" in Alaska - meaning that protecting them would not hinder development, including oil drilling or mining. The animal is classified as threatened."
The herd will be reintroduced in fenced areas at first, until they get used to their new digs, and eventually released into the wild. Limited hunting might be in the herd's future as well -- if the experiment lives up to its potential, anyway. And officials are hopeful indeed, since similar reintroduction efforts in Canada have been successful.
It is encouraging to see the possible return of such an iconic species to the wild. Fingers crossed for the new herd.