ADF&G Plans to Cull Wood Bison from Captive Herd
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is planning to cull about ten older wood bison bulls from the state owned herd held at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) in Portage, AK this coming winter. The herd size is being reduced as part of a husbandry effort to maintain a healthy captive herd.
“The herd needs to be maintained at a level that the pastures can support until we can release them into the wild,” said Division of Wildlife Conservation Regional Supervisor David James. “We intend to keep the herd at about 135 animals until then.”
Breeding has also been restricted this year to reduce the number of calves produced in 2013. A total of 35 were born in 2012, but staff expect about 10 calves in 2013. This and the removal of 10 bulls will maintain the population near its current level.
Federal and state regulations require that the meat be donated to charities. Meat will be distributed through the existing system used by the Alaska State Troopers for road-killed moose. The hides and skulls will be donated to scientific and educational institutions where possible.
Most of the bulls that will be culled are past prime breeding age. James said the animals are not the best candidates for the restoration program. Young animals are needed for transport to release sites because they are much smaller and easier to handle, and have more years ahead of them to reproduce and contribute to herd growth. The older animals can injure each other when confined in tight quarters for transport.
Alaska’s wood bison restoration effort has been delayed because of issues related to the status of wood bison under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Therefore, the state is working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a special rule that would designate wood bison in Alaska as a nonessential experimental population.
Such a rule would provide the state with primary management responsibility and protect resource developments from certain provisions of the ESA. For instance, the rule would prevent the designation of “critical habitat.”
“Wood bison restoration is a significant conservation opportunity that will provide substantial social, environmental and economic benefits for Alaska, and we are eager to see these impressive animals roam free, but federal regulations that will protect other state interests have to be in place before they can be released in the wild,” James said. “We very much appreciate the ongoing efforts of Mike Miller and his staff at AWCC to care for these animals, as well as the continuing, generous help from the Safari Club International, Carlile Transportation Systems, and other organizations to support these animals in captivity until the State is assured that releasing them in the wild is in the best interest of Alaskans.”