The wood bison is also called the mountain bison or mountain buffalo, and is a larger cousin to the plains bison. The wood bison was thought to have been extinct through North America until they were found in Alberta, Canada. In 1957 a herd of about 200 was found. Their population is now about 2,000 thanks to the protection and restoration efforts of the Canadian government.
There is a herd of about 90 kept at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center east of Anchorage. The 90 includes the members and offspring of about 50 animals moved there in 2008. The plan was to hold them in quarantine for two years before releasing them in the Minto Flasts area north of Fairbanks. They weren't released as planned because there were fears about conflicts with hopeful natural gas developments. An interior Alaska native corporation, Doyon, hopes to find a mark able quantity of gas in the Monto Flats area.
Doyon along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are in favor of putting the bison back to where they were last known to range. This was the low, rolling hills of the Innoko country between Iditarod and the tiny village of Shageluk. The area is mostly an old ghost town with a little amount of gold mining still going on. Their original plan was to release the endangered bison to the area next spring. However, Rep, Alan Dick is putting his foot down to the idea. He fears that if the wood bison were transplanted to the area it would have a large affect on people living in more than 1,200-square miles in the Innoko River country. Dick, along with others, are questioning the implications of adding an endangered species to the mix of the big-game in the state.
The transplant of the wood bison to the area would complicate land-use issues. Currently, the people have problems with wolves and many go out to hunt for the wolves. However, if the wood bison are in the area and the hunting had to stop, then there could be an excess about of wolves. According to Dick, "The bison are going to be roaming free but the people are going to be locked up." A similar situation is currently occurring with killing wolves in Unimak Island, the location where the Unimak caribou herd is endangered by predation.
The state representative has submitted legislation that would require state lawmaker to approve any movement of bison from the wildlife center. The state's endangered species coordinator claims that the state and federal government has agreed that the bison wouldn't be moved until their EIS status was lowered to "threaten." The coordinator says that with the bison listed at "threatened," there would be better allowance for management of animals, and little if any, restrictions on what people could do. State biologist are questioning how long this will take and if they can even trust the government.