Wood bison designation changed


Can be exported to U.S. | New genetics welcomed as breeders seek to improve herds

Wood bison now have the same designation in the United States as they do in Canada, which means more opportunities for Canadian bison producers to sell stock to their American counterparts.


Terry Kremeniuk, executive director of the Canadian Bison Association (CBA), said the new U.S. listing for Wood bison as threatened instead of endangered will allow the U.S. to import them under a special permit process called the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) permit. 


Animals designated as endangered cannot be exported except for special cases such as research or for zoos.


“Now you’ll be able to ship Wood bison into the U.S. with a CITES permit, so it just gives the producers in the U.S. access to another pool of genetics,” Kremeniuk said.


There has always been interest in Wood bison among American bison producers because virtually all bison in the United States, except some in Alaska, are the Plains type. 


“Anytime you would see a Wood-Plains cross at a sale, there was a lot of interest in it because there was some of that hybrid vigour. I expect there will be some people looking for that.”


In a news release from the U.S.-based National Bison Association (NBA), executive director Dave Carter said his group views the change as a step toward the ultimate removal of Wood bison from the endangered or threatened list.


“The down-listing is a positive first step in recognizing the recovery of Wood bison,” said Carter. 


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“We think that Fish and Wildlife needs to take the next step and fully removed (sic) Wood bison from the list.”


Last year, the NBA and the CBA filed a joint comment to the U.S. federal register urging that Wood bison be delisted. 


There were an estimated 11,000 Wood bison in Canada as of 2008 in domestic and free-ranging herds. 


A notice in the U.S. federal register, which accompanied the recent listing announcement, said there were 4,414 Wood bison in seven free-range Canadian herds as of 2008, and numbers were either stable or increasing.


“Therefore we have determined that the Wood bison no longer meets the definition of endangered under the Endangered Species Act,” the notice read.


However, U.S. Fish and Wildlife said it retained the designation of threatened because threats to the wild Wood bison herds in Canada include loss of habitat through agricultural expansion and the presence of tuberculosis and brucellosis.


Kremeniuk said this was a reference to disease issues in bison near Wood Buffalo National Park.


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The U.S. notice said diseases in the Wood bison herd constrain growth “and regulatory mechanisms are inadequate to prevent disease transmission within Canada.”


There are also concerns in some circles about the crossbreeding of Plains and Wood bison to the point that no purity remains in either type.


“There will always be people who want to raise pure Wood bison and the other group that will want to raise Plains bison. It’s no different in some respects than what you see in the cattle industry,” said Kremeniuk.


Wood bison tend to be larger than Plains bison and have a larger cape and more pronounced, forward shoulder hump. 


Plains bison have longer and fuller beards and longer, shaggier hair on their forelegs.


There are an estimated 400,000 Plains bison in the U.S. and Canada, more than 95 percent of them privately owned.

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