USFWS Announces Reclassification of World Wood Bison Population
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will publish in the Federal Register
tomorrow a Final Rule reclassifying the wood bison from endangered to
threatened. The historical range of the wood bison encompassed a large area
of Alaska, but at present, free-ranging wood bison occur only in Canada.
Wood bison were previously listed as endangered under the Endangered
Species Act of 1973 (ESA). A proposed rule was published in the Federal
Register in February 2011 to reclassify the species as threatened.
Tomorrow’s publication of the Final Rule completes this reclassification
process. The Final Rule will take effect 30 days after publication.
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 the largest living, native terrestrial
mammal in North America. The average weight of mature males is
approximately 1 ton (2,000 pounds). A wood bison has a large triangular
head, a thin beard and rudimentary throat mane, and a poorly-demarcated
cape. The highest point of the hump of these animals 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, the wood bison’s closest relative, has a thick beard and full throat
mane and well-developed chaps. The highest point of the hump is over the
front legs and horns rarely extend above their bonnet of dense, curly hair.
Plains bison are smaller and lighter in color than wood bison.
Historically, the range of the wood bison was generally north of that
occupied by the plains bison, and included most boreal regions of northern
Alberta; northeastern British Columbia; a small portion of northwestern
Saskatchewan; the western Northwest Territories south and west of Great
Slave Lake; the Mackenzie River Valley; most of The Yukon Territory; and
much of interior Alaska. Currently, there are no wild free-ranging
populations in Alaska.
Canada has their own version of an endangered species act called Species at
Risk Act (SARA). Canada reclassified wood bison from endangered to
threatened in 1988. Recovery actions have greatly increased the number of
herds and animals in Canada. However, because threats still remain,
primarily from disease, loss of habitat, and hybridization with plains
bison, the species remains listed as threatened in Canada. Our
classification of wood bison under the ESA has no bearing on how Canada
manages their animals or the decisions they make on classification.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) requires the Service to list species as
endangered or threatened regardless of which country the species lives in.
Benefits to foreign species include prohibitions on certain activities;
including import, export, take, commercial activity, interstate commerce,
and foreign commerce. By regulating activities, the United States ensures
that people under the jurisdiction of the United States do not contribute
to the further decline of listed species. Although the ESA’s prohibitions
regarding listed species apply only to people subject to the jurisdiction
of the United States, the ESA can generate conservation benefits such as
increased awareness of listed species, research efforts to address
conservation needs, or funding for in-situ conservation of the species in
its range countries.
The Final rule may be viewed in the Federal Register tomorrow at
http://www.gpoaccess.gov/fr/ Docket No. FWS–R9–IA–2008–0123. 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. Additional information, including Q&As, can be found
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conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats
for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and
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