Great news from the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center as they work out a wood bison over population predicament with help from generous partners.
With delays in releasing wood bison into the wild, the breeding herd inPortage has been, well, breeding. Increasing from just 13 animals in 2003, AWCC is now home to 135 wood bison. While we are all familiar with the birds and the bees, here's how bison grow at AWCC in 10 years.
In 2003 the wood bison reintroduction program began at the center with just 13 young Yukon Territory wood bison. These 13 bison had wandered out of their range and had made a home along the Alaskan Highway. For their own protection as they would eventually get hit by vehicle they were removed and sent to AWCC. On May 18, 2005 the first wood bison calf to be born inAlaska in over 100 years was born at AWCC in Portage. Later that summer another calf was born.
Anticipating releasing herds of 30-40 animals into the wild in the near future, more animals were needed to increase the herd size. In 2008, 52 wood bison were transferred from Elk Island National Park in Alberta, to AWCC. With almost 70 wood bison at AWCC, breeding started to take off. 13 calves were born the following season and 21 the season after. Soon, AWCC was seeing birth rates almost double with 30+ calves born each year.
With the State & Federal permit process taking longer than expected AWCC was running out of land. In 2012, AWCC had no other option than to control breeding.
AWCC met with the USFS, Glacier Ranger District and discussed the situation. Through public comment and process, District Ranger Tim Charnon made available a 15 year lease of 165 acres of USFS property for the wood bison program. The lease of land adjacent to the wildlife center and along the Placer River is free as Tim said the USFS would rather be a partner than a landlord.
To prepare the land for wood bison pasture, 3 miles of fence line clearing was completed in April. The next step is erecting the fencing, but building an 8 foot tall fence strong enough to hold bison is very expensive.
AWCC met with Judith Crotty a Wells Fargo employee, friend of AWCC, and long time resident of Indian to discuss this problem. Judith assisted AWCC in securing the funding for the fence. Judith recognized the importance to not only the local Turnagain Arm area, but also the State of Alaska. She assisted AWCC in applying for a Wells Fargo & National Fish & Wildlife Foundation grant. On May 22nd, Earth Day, Judith called with the good news and that a $75,000 request was approved.
ConocoPhillips who has been a strong supporter of the wildlife center donated a truckload of drilling pipe that will be cut into fence post. Carlile Transportation Systems who donates free trucking of hay, equipment and anything that has to do with the wood bison project has generously hauled the pipe down from Deadhorse free of charge. Anchorage Fire Department firemen have volunteered and are cutting the pipe into fence post. STG Construction in Anchorage is donating the equipment and labor to drive the 1,200 fence posts. Hundreds of volunteers from Wells Fargo, Safari Club and the Tribal Community Civilian Corps. will assist AWCC with raising the wire mesh and tying it to the post.
The new USFS property along with property already enclosed will give AWCC a total of 265 acres of wood bison habitat. With this much habitat the Center will be able to return to full breeding this fall.
Wood bison were brought to extinction in Alaska around 1920. Wood bison are a northern geographical adaptation of the plains bison that are found in the lower 48 states. Wood Bison are the largest land mammal in north America. The wood bison at the Center are the only wood bison in the country. Once released the bison will procreate to tens of thousands of free ranging Alaska wood bison. The reintroduction of wood bison into Alaska isAmerica’s largest contribution to wildlife conservation of this century and it is happening in your own backyard.
AWCC invites everyone to get involved with this great effort by assisting with raising the fence in June. Someday, future generations will wonder, who were these people who made possible the return of wood bison to Alaska? AWCC invites you to be one of those people. Volunteers can sign up email@example.com
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
PO Box 949, Mile 79 Seward Highway
Portage, AK 99587