FWS reclassifies wood bison as threatened, not endangered, species
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR Fish and Wildlife Service
50 CFR Part 17 / Docket No. FWS–R9–IA–2008–0123; MO 92210–1113FWDB B6 / RIN 1018–AI83
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Reclassifying the Wood Bison (Bison bison athabascae) Under the Endangered Species Act as Threatened Throughout Its Range
AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.
ACTION: Proposed rule and notice of 12-month petition finding.
SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), propose to reclassify the wood bison (Bison bison athabascae) from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). This proposed action is amended based on a review of the best available scientific and commercial data, which indicate that the endangered designation no longer correctly reflects the status of the wood bison. This proposal also constitutes our 12-month finding on the petition to reclassify this subspecies. We are seeking data and comments from the public on this proposed rule.
EXCERPT RE: HISTORY: During the early 1800s, wood bison numbers were estimated at 168,000, but by the late 1800s, the subspecies was nearly eliminated with only a few hundred remaining. In the words of Soper, wood ‘‘bison appear to have been practically exterminated,’’ and based on the fate of plains bison, in which 40 to 60 million animals were reduced to just over 1,000 animals in less than 100 years overharvest may have been the cause for the decline. The fact that populations began to rebound once protection was in place and enforced supports this idea. In 1922, Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP) was set aside for the protection of the last remnant population of wood bison. Since that time several additional herds have been established.
EXCERPT RE: PROGRESS TOWARDS RECOVERY: since 1978, the number of free-ranging, disease-free herds has increased from 1 to 7, and the number of wood bison has increased from approximately 400 to over 4,000. The first recovery goal of establishing 4 freeranging, disease-free herds with 400 or more animals has been met, and planning is underway to create one or more herds in Alaska. Although the number of herds needed to meet recovery goal 2 was not specified, progress has been made on the second goal with the establishment of diseasefree herds in Russia; Manitoba, Canada; and Alaska. The Hook Lake Bison Recovery Project was a well-planned, science-based attempt to conserve the genetic diversity of a diseased herd and would have contributed greatly to recovery goal 3. Although ultimately the project was unsuccessful, a great deal of knowledge was gained (Wilson et al. 2003, pp. 62–67). The wood bison recovery team is very aware of the need to maintain genetic diversity in the herds and establishes new herds with the goal of maintaining genetic diversity through multiple introductions (i.e., the Aishihik herd and Hook Lake herd). The establishment of six additional herds on the landscape since 1978 contributes to recovery goal 4. In addition, the captive population at Elk Island National Park has provided disease-free stock for those six additional herds and two captive herds. It is clear that there is active management of the herds, and multiple avenues of research are being funded and pursued regarding the biology and management of wood bison. Progress towards the recovery goals outlined in the national recovery plan, published by the National Wood Bison Recovery Team, is moving forward steadily.
EXCERPT RE: FIVE FACTOR ANALYSIS: The wood bison status review found that threats to wood bison are still present in factors A, C, D, and E. Habitat loss has occurred from agricultural development, and we expect losses will continue in concert with human growth and expansion of agriculture, including commercial bison production. The presence of bovine brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis constrains herd growth as managers attempt to maintain physical separation between diseased and disease-free wood bison and cattle herds, the diseased herds are occupying habitat that could be restored with disease-free herds, and disease in the largest potential donor population (WBNP herd) prevents those animals from being used in reintroduction projects. Plains bison are commercially produced in historical wood bison habitat. These operations remove potential habitat from wood bison recovery efforts and the escape of plains bison poses a threat to wood bison because of hybridization and the loss of genetic integrity. Finally, we found that regulatory mechanisms are inadequate to prevent disease transmission within Canada, and to prevent hybridization. Image above by FWS available online at IHEA Guide to Wildlife Identification.