From an ADFG News Release:
ADF&G has completed an Environmental Review of the possibility of restoring wood bison in Alaska and is seeking public comment on a proposal to more forward with the project.
The Environmental Review concludes that wood bison restoration can be accomplished with minimal or no negative environmental impacts, and would enhance the diversity of Alaska’s wildlife resources and provide significant benefits to people.
A newsletter and comment forms are available on the ADF&G website or at ADF&G offices. Comments are welcome through June 30, 2007. This is an important time for interested people to let the department know their thoughts on whether the project should move forward, and, if so, which area or areas should be considered first,” said ADF&G wildlife planner Randy Rogers.
The report evaluates possible wood bison restoration on Yukon Flats, Minto Flats and in the lower Innoko/Yukon River area, all of which have been identified as having suitable habitat. It is possible that wood bison could eventually be restored in one, two or all three areas.
The Environmental Review also identifies several major issues that must be adequately addressed in order for the project to succeed. These include concerns about the status of wood bison under the Endangered Species Act, disease testing and health certification requirements for wood bison stock and future allocation of hunting opportunities.
The Minto-Nenana, Tanana-Manley-Rampart, and Grayling-Anvik-Shageluk-Holy Cross Advisory Committees have unanimously endorsed wood bison restoration in their areas. The Fairbanks Advisory Committee is currently working on detailed comments and recommendations on the Environmental Review
According to Bob Stephenson, Wood Bison Project Biologist and member of Canada’s Wood Bison Recovery Team, “wood bison restoration in Alaska would make a significant contribution to international wood bison conservation efforts.”
If public support for the project continues as it has in the past, ADF&G hopes to import 40-50 wood bison calves from Elk Island National Park in Canada next winter and could begin releasing wood bison into the wild in 2010 or 2011.
A small herd of wood bison has been held at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage, and includes five calves that have been born so far this spring. ADF&G is working in partnership with AWCC to develop additional holding facilities.
The concept of wood bison restoration originated in the early 1990’s on the Yukon Flats, where Athabascan elders provide historic accounts about bison and numerous wood bison bones have been found. Wood bison remains have been found in other parts of the interior, and one specimen was found in the Anchorage area. The most recent reported sightings of wood bison occurred around 1900. ADF&G has worked with local villages, the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments and others for over 10 years to consider wood bison restoration on the Yukon Flats, which offers extensive high quality habitat. In 2002 the project was expanded to consider other areas in interior Alaska.
The complete report and a newsletter that summarizes key points can be found on the internet. Copies of the newsletter can be obtained from the Fairbanks office of ADF&G (459-7313).