Young wood bison released to the wild in the western Interior

Exterior: a herd of wood bison.
Young wood bison that were transported to join a herd seeded along the Innoko River in 2015. (Alaska Department Of Fish And Game)

A group of 28 yearling wood bison from Canada that were transported to the western Interior in July have been released into the wild.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game Wood Bison biologist Tom Seaton said the yearlings were barged 750 miles along the Tanana, Yukon and Innoko rivers over four days, and then released into a large pen set up along the lower Innoko River on July 24.

“The grass was deep, you know, it’s about 4- or 5-foot tall grass there, sometimes 6-foot tall,” he said. “It’s pretty crazy. So they just kind of disappeared into it and started eating away. And they quickly kind of recovered and calmed down from their trip.”

The animals stayed in the holding pen until adult cow wood bison showed up in the area late last week. The young wood bison were set free to join them.

“So that they can just become part of the herd and learn everything they need to know from those wild animals,” said Seaton.

Young wood bison and adult females naturally group together.

Connecting the yearlings to the herd initially seeded with Canadian animals in 2015 is the latest step in a decades-long effort to reestablish wood bison in Alaska. The 28 yearlings increase the Western Alaska Wood Bison herd to about 160 animals.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.