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Grant Awarded to Wood Bison Restoration Project

 

(Juneau) - The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Wildlife Conservation, has been awarded a grant of $152,320 from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to help complete the first reintroduction of wood bison to the wild in Interior Alaska.

Department staff plans to use the money to help develop a cooperative management plan, set up a temporary corral and move hay and supplies to the first release site in the lower Innoko River area, and transport bison to the release site.

Private funding has been a critical component of the wood bison project, and other major contributors include the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, Turner Foundation, Safari Club International, Carlile Transportation Systems, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Science and the UAF Agriculture and Forestry Experiment Station. ADF&G will match the WCS funding with federal funds through the State Wildlife Grant program administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“We really appreciate the support of the Wildlife Conservation Society,” project biologist Bob Stephenson said. “It brings us one step closer to bringing back a species that’s been absent for a hundred years or more.”

As part of the department’s wood bison restoration program, 89 wood bison are being held at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center near Girdwood. The herd has undergone extensive disease testing and has been given a clean bill of health.

ADF&G plans to release the first group of wood bison in the spring of 2012. “We will begin planning for wood bison restoration in the Innoko area later this winter using a cooperative process involving local residents and other stakeholders,” ADF&G Wildlife Planner Randy Rogers said. Two other areas under consideration for future releases are the Yukon Flats and Minto Flats.

Special regulations are being drafted for wood bison in Alaska under the Endangered Species Act that will allow the conservation effort to move forward, while making sure that wood bison reintroduction does not restrict other land uses or resource development activities. ADF&G has worked with the Alaska Department of Law, Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop the regulations, and proposed rules will be available for public review and comment sometime this winter. Bison will be released only after suitable ESA regulations are completed.

With funding secured, the health certification nearly complete and ESA regulations underway, Corey Rossi, Director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation noted, “We are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The wood bison project will enhance the wildlife diversity of our state and provide opportunities for viewing and, eventually, hunting these magnificent animals.”

The Alaska wood bison restoration project was one of eleven projects funded in a nation-wide competitive process through the WCS Wildlife Action Opportunities Fund awards for 2010. Other projects receiving funding included the reintroduction of whooping cranes in Louisiana, conserving critical habitat linkages for grizzly bears and other wildlife in northern Idaho and Montana and conserving habitat in the Great Basin for antelope and other species.

The WCS was founded in 1895 with the goal of conserving wildlife and wild places. In addition to supporting worldwide conservation programs around the world, the WCS manages several wildlife parks in New York, including the Bronx Zoo and Central Park Zoo. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Bronx Zoo helped conserve some of the last remaining plains bison in North America. In 1905, Theodore Roosevelt and other conservationists formed the American Bison Society to save plains bison from extinction. Plains bison numbers have increased, and they are no longer in danger of extinction, but most are privately owned. In 2007, the WCS revitalized the American Bison Society to help pursue the ecological restoration of bison throughout North America. The WCS Institute has supported Alaska’s wood bison restoration program on a national level for several years.

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