- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 7, 2014

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - A federal agency has published a rule that could lead to reintroduction of wood bison to the wilds of Alaska early next year.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday published in the Federal Register a rule that exempts wood bison in Alaska from key provisions of the Endangered Species Act. Reintroduced bison will be considered an experimental population not essential to the continued existence of the species, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (https://bit.ly/1inU5Pr ) reported.

State officials feared the presence of the species without the rule would hinder resource development.

The rule takes effect next month and means threatened wood bison can be managed by state wildlife officials. The state will even be able to plan a hunting season if numbers allow.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Doug Vincent-Lang, acting director of the state Division of Wildlife Conservation.

Wood bison could be released on the lower Innoko River in southwest Alaska next spring, Vincent-Lang said.

Wood bison are North America’s largest living land mammal. Smaller plains bison were not native to Alaska but were introduced to the state in 1928.

Adult male wood bison weigh up to 2,000 pounds. Fossil carbon dating and Alaska Native folklore indicate wood bison were present in Alaska for 10,000 years. They vanished about a century ago for unknown reasons.

The Department of Fish and Game has been working on restoring wood bison for more than 20 years. Animals were imported from Canada but they or their offspring have been penned at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Girdwood for nearly seven years as state and federal officials haggled over rules.

Designation as an experimental population means wood bison in Alaska are not considered crucial to the overall survival of the species. It also means the land they occupy will not be designed critical habitat.

The bison herd now numbers 114 animals, state wildlife biologist Tom Seaton. Another 30 calves are expected this spring.

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, https://www.newsminer.com


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