Habitat assessment of potential wood bison relocation sites in Alaska

Project 9.10, Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Grant. Project Duration: July 1, 2003–June 30, 2006. Principal Investigator: Craig Gardner, Tok.

There is public and international interest in restoring wood bison to Alaska. Archaeological and paleontological evidence in combination with historic accounts from Alaska Native elders indicate that bison persisted in Alaska into the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Extirpation of wood bison from Alaska was most likely due to the combined effect of changes in habitat and harvest by humans. Restoring wood bison to Alaska would enhance Alaska’s wildlife resources providing subsistence, recreational and economic benefits assist the recovery and conservation of this subspecies.

During 2003–2005, five areas were evaluated in Interior Alaska as potential future ranges for wood bison based on adequate size and amounts of meadow habitat, availability of preferred forage species, accessibility during summer and winter, not too wet, restricting movement to calving and summer ranges, snow depths < 30 inches and the absence of hard crust or ice layers, and geographical separation from plains bison. We evaluated habitat in Minto Flats, the North Fork of Kuskokwim River in the vicinity of Telida, Innoko/Lower Yukon Rivers, Aniak River, and Hogatza River. Based on forage availability, Yukon Flats, Minto Flats, and Innoko/Lower Yukon Flats are suitable to support = 400 wood bison. The Yukon Flats offers the best habitat and can support in excess of 2000 bison (Berger et al. 1995). Minto Flats offers abundant forage but is limited due to area size and summer access. The Innoko/Lower Yukon offers abundant habitat and possibly could support thousands of wood bison, but additional study is needed to determine summer and winter access to forage. This area could easily support 400–500 bison based on what we currently know.