WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reclassified the wood bison, a Canadian relative of the American plains bison, from “endangered” to “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.
There are no free-range herds of wood bison in the United States, so their recovery status in the wild has been tied to their progress under the Canadian National Wood Bison Recovery Plan.
The downgrade is based on the USFWS finding that the number of bison in disease-free herds in Canada far exceeds the baseline identified in the recovery plan that signals the species is moving to sustainability.
The plan called for the creation of at least four disease-free herds of 400 individuals. By 2000, there were seven disease free herds totaling over 4,400 individuals, up from the low of just one herd with 300 individuals, in 1978.
There are so many wood bison in Canadian herds that Canada allows controlled hunting of animals. In April, four U.S. hunters won the right to import the trophy heads of wood bison they had killed in Canada, over the objections of the USFWS.
Both the wood bison and plains bison were hunted nearly to extinction by the end of the 19th century, and recovery efforts for both have been hampered by curtailment of their historic range, disease, and the intermingling of genetic stock with domesticated cattle.
The male wood bison is the largest terrestrial animal in North America, weighing over 2,000 pounds.