Wildlife center prepares for reintroduction of wood bison

Hands-on conservation

Posted: Friday, October 12, 2007

 

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  These wood bison calves, born at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, will soon be joined by 40 more young wood bison being imported from Canada. The AWCC is seeking 25 strong volunteers for the next three weekends (Oct. 13-14, 20-21 and 27-28) to assist with building a fence on 27 acres of Chugach National Forest land in preparation for the arrival of the new animals. Wood bison are a heavier, taller and darker subspecies than their plains dwelling counterparts. Photo courtesy of the Alaska Wil

Bulls, such as this one at AWCC have an average weight of 1,800 pounds as opposed to plains bison bulls, which average 1,600 pounds.

Photos courtesy of the Alaska Wi

Anyone that has ever wanted a hands-on opportunity in helping save a threatened species will be able to get involved in a conservation project, from the ground up, this weekend.

The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC), located near Portage, is seeking 25 strong volunteers for the next three weekends (Oct. 13-14, 20-21 and 27-28) to assist with building a fence on 27 acres of Chugach National Forest land in preparation for the arrival of 40 young wood bison that will be imported from Canada.

"This is a rare opportunity for people to have a hand in a conservation effort to restore a species that has gone extinct in Alaska," said Kelly Miller, educational director for the AWCC.

Unlike the plains bison, which were not endemic to Alaska, but that have been introduced and now roam around the state in places such as Delta Junction, wood bison a heavier, taller and darker subspecies did at one time naturally occur in the boreal forest regions of Alaska, as well as in the Yukon, western Northwest Territories, northeastern British Columbia, northern Alberta and northwestern Saskatchewan.

"When people think of the bison, they think of the west, but we had them right here until they went extinct," Miller said.

By the year 1900, overhunting had reduced the numbers of wood buffalo from 168,000 to less than 250 individuals, but conservation efforts largely by Canadian government agencies have now restored those numbers to approximately 4,000 animals, most of which occur in a few free-ranging herds.

The AWCC received their first wood bison from Canada in 2003, and from those 13 animals the only wood bison in the U.S. then and now the herd has grown to 28 animals.

"The herd has more than doubled in size. Our calving has been 100 percent successful. No mortalities even with last winter's deep snow. And the older animals we initially got are doing great. The big bulls are putting on weight and are almost full grown," Miller said.

 

These wood bison calves, born at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, will soon be joined by 40 more young wood bison being imported from Canada. The AWCC is seeking 25 strong volunteers for the next three weekends (Oct. 13-14, 20-21 and 27-28) to assist with building a fence on 27 acres of Chugach National Forest land in preparation for the arrival of the new animals. Wood bison are a heavier, taller and darker subspecies than their plains dwelling counterparts.

Photo courtesy of the Alaska Wil

The addition of animals to the AWCC is due in part to the Canada's National Recovery Plan for wood bison recommending the reestablishment of more populations in Alaska to help secure the future of the subspecies. Also, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game currently is evaluating the possibility of restoring wood bison to the wild in Alaska.

"The imported wood bison will initially be brought to the AWCC where they will be held for up to two years until they receive the necessary health certification to be released into the wild," Miller said.

Funding for the fence that will contain these animals was provided by the Anchorage Soil and Water Conservation District, and the use of the land came as a result of the cooperative agreement between AWCC, Fish and Game, Chugach National Forest and the Natural Resource Conservation Service. the The local chapter of Safari Club International also has donated money to cover some of the expenses for purchasing feed for these new animals.

Volunteers interested in assisting with the fence building project must provide their own transportation to the AWCC, and should arrive early enough to begin work at 9 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Lunch will be provided.

Volunteers should also wear warm clothes and waterproof boots or shoes as work duties will include stacking cut brush, loading and spreading fence posts, standing posts and wire mesh, and tying the fence to the posts.

For more information, e-mail Kelly Miller at the AWCC at Biggame@alaska.net or call her at (907) 301-5575.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.



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