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Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes Reclassification of Wood Bison from "Endangered" to "Threatened"

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) today announced it has
prepared a status review of the wood bison (Bison bison athabascae), which
is listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as endangered. After
evaluating the best scientific and commercial data available, the Service
has determined that reclassifying the species from endangered to threatened
is warranted.

On November 26, 2007, the Service received a petition from the co-chairs of
Canada's National Wood Bison Recovery Team requesting that the agency
reclassify the wood bison from endangered to threatened. The petition
contained information about recovery efforts in Canada, and referred to
information provided to the Service’s Division of Scientific Authority. On
February 3, 2009, the Service published a 90-day finding acknowledging the
petition provided sufficient information to indicate that reclassification
may be warranted and that the Service would initiate the status review
referenced above.

There are two closely related subspecies of bison: the wood bison and
plains bison. Physical and genetic differences distinguish the two
subspecies. The wood bison is considered the largest living, native
terrestrial mammal in North America. The average weight of mature males is
approximately 1 ton (2,000 pounds). They have a large triangular head, a
thin beard and rudimentary throat mane, and a poorly-demarcated cape. The
highest point of their hump is forward of their front legs, they have
reduced chaps on their front legs, and their horns usually extend above the
hair on their head. In contrast, the plains bison are smaller and lighter
in color than wood bison. Plains bison have a thick beard and full throat
mane and well-developed chaps. The highest point of the hump is over their
front legs and their horns rarely extend above their bonnet of dense, curly
hair.

During the early 1800s, wood bison numbers were estimated at 168,000. By
the late 1800s, however, the subspecies was nearly eliminated, with only a
few hundred remaining. Overharvest was the primary cause of the population
decline. In 1922, Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP) in Canada was set aside
for the protection of the last remnant population of wood bison, which was
then estimated at 1,500-2,000 individuals. Between 1925 and 1928, more than
6,600 plains bison were translocated to WBNP. These plains bison hybridized
with the wood bison and also introduced tuberculosis and brucellosis to the
herd. These diseases still persist and are an impediment to recovery. No
effective vaccines exist to protect free-ranging wood bison populations
from brucellosis or tuberculosis.

In 1959, an isolated northern population of relatively pure wood bison was
found in WBNP, and two herds were established from these animals: the
Mackenzie herd and the Elk Island National Park herd. Most of the world
population of wood bison is derived from 37 animals captured and relocated
from this isolated northern population. In 1978, there were only about 400
disease-free wood bison; 100 in the Elk Island National Park captive herd
and 300 in the free-ranging herd in the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary. Recovery
actions, guided by the Canadian National Recovery Plan, have led to the
establishment of several more disease-free herds in Canada. By 2000, when
the last Canadian status review was conducted, the number of disease-free
herds had grown to 6, which included a total of 2,800 individuals. Since
2000, an additional herd has been established, bringing the total number of
herds to 7, and the number of disease-free, free-ranging bison has
increased to approximately 4,400.

The Service requests information from the scientific community and public
on the following topics:

Information on taxonomy, distribution, habitat selection and use,
food habits, population density and trends, habitat trends, disease,
and effects of management on wood bison;
Information on captive herds, including efficacy of breeding and
reintroduction programs, origin of parental stock, stock
supplementation for genetic purposes, growth rates, birth and
mortality rates in captivity, location of captive herds in comparison
to wild populations, effects of captive breeding on the species, and
any other factors from captive breeding that might affect wild
populations or natural habitat;
Information on the adequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; trends
in domestic and international trade of live specimens, sport-hunted
trophies, or other parts and products; poaching of wild wood bison;
illegal trade and enforcement efforts and solutions; and oversight of
reintroduction or introduction programs;
Information on the effects of other potential threat factors,
including contaminants, changes of the distribution and abundance of
wild populations, disease episodes within wild and captive
populations, large mortality events, the effects of climate change,
or negative effects resulting from the presence of invasive species;
Information on management programs for wood bison conservation in the
wild, including private, tribal, or governmental conservation
programs that benefit wood bison; and
Current or planned activities within the geographic range of the wood
bison that may impact or benefit the species; including any planned
developments, roads, or expansion of agricultural enterprises.

Written comments and information concerning this proposal can be submitted
by one of the following methods:

Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the
instructions for submitting comments.
U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn:
FWS-R9-IA-2008-0123; Division of Policy and Directives Management;
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222;
Arlington, VA 22203.

Comments must be received within 60 days, on or before April 11, 2011. The
Service will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. This
generally means the agency will post any personal information provided
through the process. Requests for public hearings must be submitted within
45 days to the Service, in writing, at the address shown below by April 11
2011.

The public may also obtain a copy at the Anchorage Regional Office, 1011 E.
Tudor Road, Anchorage, Alaska, or by calling the Regional Office,
907-786-3309, and requesting a copy.

The ESA provides a critical safety net for native fish, wildlife and plants
and to date has prevented the extinction of hundreds of imperiled species
across the nation, as well as promoting the recovery of many others. The
Service is actively engaged with conservation partners and the public in
the search for improved and innovative ways to conserve and recover
imperiled species. To learn more about the Service’s implementation of the
ESA, go to http://www.fws.gov/endangered/.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to
conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for
the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and
trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific
excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated
professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our
work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.

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