Wood Bison Arrive on the Kuskokwim

Lone bison spotted between Aniak and Kalskag. (Photo courtesy of Marco Nichelson)
Lone bison spotted between Aniak and Kalskag. (Photo courtesy of Marco Nichelson)

North America’s largest land animal has made it to the Kuskokwim.

Most of the wood bison released in early April are still in the area around Shageluk, but one group of twenty-five broke off to explore southward and have scattered over an 80-mile area. One of the larger groups can be seen in the area around Holy Cross while one lone wanderer was seen in the area between Aniak and Kalskag.

Cathie Harms is a Wildlife Biologist with Fish and Game who has been part of the project to reintroduce wood bison to Alaska.

“The more they travel and the more they learn the expanse of their habitat and what kind of ground is out there, the better
they’re going to be prepared to survive the coming winters, Harns said. “So it’s a very, very good thing for the established population that they learn this kind of experience by moving around.”

In early April one hundred wood bison were released in Shageluk, Alaska. Seventy-five were cows, twenty-five of whom we pregnant, and the rest were juvenile bulls. In late May an additional twelve mature bulls were sent
out.

“The bison were released near Shageluk and since then they have been eating the grasses and sedges that are in the areas
that have greened up. It’s just brought them a whole bunch of energy and many of them are really exploring the habitat that’s around there.”

Wood bison are the largest land animals in North America, with bulls weighing on average 2,250 pounds. For tens of thousands of years, bison lived in Alaska, filling a role in the ecological system as grazers. They disappeared from the state between one and two hundred years ago.

At this time it is illegal to kill the bison, but hunting will happen once the population can sustain it.

“Hunting has always been part of the plan, but we have to wait until the herd can provide a harvest without stopping its
growth,” Harms said.

“It depends on how many they produce and how the survival is. We don’t know if hunting with be able to be allowed within five years, 10 years, 15 years or 20; it just depends on how they do. But certainly we worked with residents of the GASH region, residents of Southwest Alaska, residents of Anchorage and Fairbanks to put together a
management plan that does allow for hunting.”

This year, biologists estimate that more than twelve calves have been born in the wild. The herds will most likely meet back up again in late July and August for the breeding season.