Wood Bison Calves from Canada Arrive Safely in Fairbanks
The reintroduction of wood bison to Interior Alaska continues with the arrival of forty calves from Elk Island National Park in Canada.
Reestablishing the Population
The eleven-month-old calves left their home near Edmonton, Alberta on April 13. They traveled by truck all day and the next, reaching their destination at the UAF Large Animal Research Station by the evening of April 14. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and Parks Canada facilitated the transfer.
ADF&G and BLM formalized a long-term partnership in late 2021 to support the project. ADF&G officially applied to receive surplus wood bison from Parks Canada and Elk Island National Park. In February, Elk Island staff confirmed that surplus wood bison calves would become available. In early April, final health screenings were completed, and forty bison were approved for travel.
The young bison will reside temporarily at UAF, isolated for a minimum of thirty days after traveling to make sure they remain healthy, disease-free, and ready for potential release. After the isolation period, these bison will become a part of the captive wood bison population that ADF&G has available for release into the wild.
“Most of these bison will likely be used to augment the Lower Innoko-Yukon Rivers population, but some may help in future efforts to start new wild populations,” says ADF&G Wood Bison Biologist Tom Seaton.
In 2015, after decades of preparation, 130 wood bison were released to the Lower Yukon-Innoko Rivers area. That followed a 2008 reintroduction of 53 animals to Minto Flats near Fairbanks. Those animals were also originally from Elk Island and were held prior to release at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) near Portage. About thirty wood bison, mostly those born at AWCC, still live there.
“Many of the wood bison at AWCC are too old for release at this point, but future attempts to start new populations in the wild could include the younger individuals from AWCC and some from this most recent import,” Seaton says.
Wood bison, a larger subspecies related to the plains bison, are native to Interior and Southcentral Alaska and Northwestern Canada and were historically abundant across their range. By the early 1900s, they had disappeared from Alaska, and only a few hundred remained in Canada. Restoring wood bison populations is a goal shared internationally by a variety of organizations, agencies, universities, and tribal governments.
Seaton says these imported bison have the potential to increase the population of wild wood bison in the United States by as much as 30 percent while adding to their genetic diversity.
“This constitutes a massive contribution to the restoration of wood bison,” he says.