A Nenana-based barge line will soon be hauling some unusual cargo. Twenty-eight wood bison bulls are scheduled to travel on Inland Barge from Nenana to the Innoko River near Shageluk, beginning sometime during the next week.
A larger group of cows and calves was delivered to the area by cargo plane earlier this year, and released into the wild on April 3 as part of a long-term effort to reintroduce the species to the wild in Alaska.
Fish and Game biologist and pilot Tom Seaton is the Wood Bison Project Leader. He says that the males will be transported in the same shipping containers used to airlift the cows and calves, with some new modifications to make their trip on the barge more comfortable.
“We increased ventilation by a significant amount. We now have air conditioning units and fans installed in there. We have a watering facility. If they still get a little bit warm in there after all that, we have misting that we can go from river water so we can keep the containers and the animals damp and cool them down if we have these really hot days. As you can see, we are having high 70s in May which is pretty amazingly warm.”
The containers will also give each bull more space to move around compared to the set-up for the cows and calves. Bulls are considerably larger than cows, with some bulls measuring over 10 feet long and weighing over a ton.
Two handlers will travel with the bison on the barge to monitor their conditions around the clock. The barge will not stop along the Yukon to deliver additional freight, as it normally would. Instead, it will be moving downriver as quickly as possible to minimize the time the bison have to spend in the containers.
Once the barge turns up the Innoko River, Seaton will pilot a surveillance plane to figure out the best unloading site and communicate that information to the barge.
“And right now the cows are mainly everywhere from 10 miles downstream of Shageluk on the Innoko to as much as 12 miles upstream from Shageluk. So we will find the best spot where it is safe for the bulls to unload, and it is also close enough to the cows that they can catch scent of the cows when they get off the barge and hopefully they will hook up over time.”
The adult and juvenile bison were raised at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage from Canadian stock.
The bulls will be transported by truck from Portage to Nenana, and then transferred to the barge. Inland Barge estimates that the trip to the offloading site will take about four days.