Wood bison (Bison bison athabascae) are the largest land animals in North America. Like their cousins, the Plains Bison (Bison bison bison), they nearly went extinct in the early 20th century after years of hunting and habitat pressures. By the 1950’s only about 250 individuals survived in Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park. Although populations have now risen to about 3000 in boreal wilderness of northwestern Canada, it is listed as Threatened in Canada and as Endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.
In 2008, wood bison were re-introduced into central Alaska as part of a recovery plan for the species. Wood bison feed primarily on sedges and grasses, and studies have shown that bison grazing can increase habitat diversity. Ulysses S. Seal Conservation grant funds were used to purchase livestock panels used in the release site to hold the bison while they acclimate to their new environment. This project was championed by Grant Spickelmier, Assistant Director of Education at the Minnesota Zoo.