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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Saturday, March 10, 2012

After more than 100 years of extinction in Alaska, Wood Bison have found their way back to the state..... The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center imported the first Bison in November 2003 from the Yukon Territory in Canada and is part of a wood bison recovery program designed to reintroduce the species to Alaska............... AWCC is home to the only wood bison herd in the United States...... Wood bison hold the distinction as the largest land animal in North America...... The first wood bison calves born in the state of Alaska in over 100 years were born at AWCC in 2005..... In 2008, AWCC received 50 calves from Canada and have placed them within the current herd..... Since 2006, AWCC has seen the birth of multiple calves every spring and are working towards a.restoration back into the interior of the State.......This restoration will be a fantastic new ingredient added back into the circle of life in Alaska with every creature from trophic carnivores to small mammals, birds, and reptiles benefiting from this keystone creature returning to the wild


Bringing back the wood bison is not just about the restoration of a charismatic mega-vertebrate. Indeed, the wood bison–the larger of the two subspecies of the American bison–is a magnificent beast and reintroducing the subspecies is a heck of an achievement. But its return to Wild Alaska signifies much more.

I'm privileged to be able to watch a herd of over a hundred head of this endangered subspecies just outside my office window everyday as they romp around and plow through the snow in their paddock, perhaps eager that Spring is just around the corner. But they very much thrive in the cold and are well suited for it, just as they are really adapted for all kinds of climates.

Bulls and subadult males are separated from the cows and calves this time of year. They play and mock fight–testing each others' strength and then spend much of the day grazing on supplemental feed (i.e., hay) or chewing their cud and resting to conserve heat during colder periods of the year.
This is the largest, and perhaps most sustainable captive herd of wood bison in the world and soon many of them will be prepared for a soft release at designated sites in the Interior of Alaska.

But the collaborative conservation effort between the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is not just about returning one species, although clearly a flagship species, to the wild here in Alaska. The restoration of this giant, grazing herbivore will change the landscape of Alaska's interior region, returning it to an ecosystem continually modified by these large bovids.

We know from recent research that bison are a keystone species for conservation and habitat restoration. These large bovids have proven to increase biodiversity on the landscape by altering the temporal and spatial characteristics of vegetative growth. They also promote the restoration of subterranean carbohydrate reserves, alter soil composition, inhibit woody plant growth, catalyze nitrogen cycles, and influence the impact of wild fires on the environment.

Furthermore, because bison are both selective grazers within a grassland ecosystem and with respect to the species they consume while foraging, and as I alluded to, they alter the floristic characteristics of the landscape, providing opportunities for different plant species to coexist in the same general locale. In the prairie, for example plains bison prefer the most dominant plant group (i.e., grasses) to feed on, giving disadvantaged species like forbs an opportunity to flourish.

Wood bison

Not only do they continually modify their environment horning, rubbing, and trampling things day after day, they leave behind opportunities for new life creating microhabitats and some cases altering the immediate large scale environment or macrohabitat. As they paw at the ground they create large divits, exposing the soil. They then roll around creating a depression in the ground.

These wallows may be used over and over again by several individual bison. Wallows often reach more than 15 ft in diameter and a foot in depth. The packed soil reduces the infiltration of rain water and encourages water retention such that large pools evolve into aquatic ecosystems complete with invertebrate fauna, small ectothermic vertebrates and freshwater vegetation. In addition, the wallows become watering holes for an array of larger bird and mammal species.

As a consequential benefit, restoring wood bison will not only provide additional prey for predators and potentially subsistence hunters, but as mentioned, it will balance an ecosystem which has been inappropriately manipulated by people for hundreds of years.

Everyone involved with this project is very anxious to see these animals returned to the wild. Mike Miller, the Executive Director of the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center acknowledges this great conservation achievement stating that "this is was one of America's most monumental conservation efforts in the the country's history." He often says that "it is an opportunity to undo a wrong."

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