Gland, Switzerland, Tuesday 2 March
2010 (IUCN) –
The next 10 to 20 years could be extremely significant for restoring
wild populations of American bison to their original roaming grounds. But for
this to happen, more land must be made available for herds to roam free,
government policies must be updated and the public must change its attitude
towards bison. A new publication by IUCN, ‘American Bison: Status Survey and Conservation Guidelines 2010’,
reports on the current status of American bison, in the wild and in
conservation herds, and makes recommendations on how to ensure that the species
is conserved for the future.
“Although the effort to restore bison to the
plains of North America is considered to be one of the most ambitious and
complex undertakings in species conservation efforts in North America, it will
only succeed if legislation is introduced at a local and national level, with
significant funding and a shift in attitude towards the animal,” says Simon
Stuart, Chair, IUCN Species Survival Commission.
Five hundred years ago, tens of millions of American
bison roamed free on the plains of North America, from Alaska to northern
Mexico. Now the American bison – which includes both plains and wood
bison - is listed as Near Threatened on IUCN’s Red List of Threatened
Species™. As of 2008, there were approximately 400,000 bison in
commercial herds in North America, some 93 percent of the continental
population. But little progress has been made in recent decades to increase the
number of animals in conservation herds, which are managed carefully for their genetic
diversity and ecological roles. In 2008, there were 61 plains bison
conservation herds in North America containing about 20,500 animals, and 11
conservation herds of wood bison, containing nearly 11,000 animals.
“While substantial progress in saving bison
from extinction was made in the 20th Century, much work remains to
restore conservation herds throughout their vast geographical range,” says University
of Calgary Environmental Design Professor and co-editor of the study, Dr.
Cormack Gates, who is also co-Chair of the IUCN/SSC Bison Specialist Group.
“The key is recognition that the bison
is a wildlife species and to be conserved as wildlife, it needs land and
supportive government policies.”
The survival of bison populations is affected by many factors,
including limited habitat and severe winters. Yet the greatest challenge is to overcome
the common perception that the bison, which has had a profound influence on the
human history of North America, socially, culturally and ecologically, no
longer belongs on the landscape.
“The decimation of the American
Bison in the late 1800s inspired the first recovery of bison and an entire
conservation movement that protected wildlife and wild places across North
America,” says Keith Aune, Senior Conservation Scientist, Wildlife Conservation Society.
“The IUCN Status Survey and
Conservation Guidelines provide a new framework for inspiring a second recovery
of bison and restoring functional grassland ecosystems.”
Bison have the best chance of full recovery as wildlife by being
allowed to roam freely across hundreds of thousands or even millions of
hectares. Making this possible poses one of the biggest challenges for
restoring bison herds as both public and private landowners will need to give
“The bison is the largest land
mammal in North America, and yet it is perhaps the most neglected icon,” says Steve Forrest, WWF Northern Great Plains Manager for
“These guidelines provide a roadmap
for bringing the bison back to its rightful place as a keystone of the great
Status Survey and Conservation Guidelines 2010 was edited by Cormack Gates,
Curtis Freese, Peter Gogan and Mandy Kotzman, and is the product of more than
three years of cooperative effort by numerous contributors.
The production of the
report was made possible with funding from several
non-governmental organizations and government agencies including the World
Wildlife Fund, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the University of Calgary
Faculty of Environmental Design, the American Bison Society, the US Geological
Survey and the US National Parks Service.
PDF version of the report and photos available at: www.iucn.org/?4750
Nicki Chadwick, Media
Relations Officer, IUCN, t. +41 22 999 0229, m +41 76 771 4208, e firstname.lastname@example.org
Vanessa Ferreira, Media
Relations, the University of Calgary Faculty of Environmental Design, t. +1 403-210-6854, e email@example.com
Mara Johnson, Media Relations,
World Wildlife Fund, t. +1 406 585 3022, e firstname.lastname@example.org
Stephen Sautner, Director of
Communications, Wildlife Conservation Society, t. +1 718 220 3682, e email@example.com
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About University of
Calgary Faculty of Environmental Designwww.ucalgary.ca/evds
American Bison Societywww.americanbisonsocietyonline.org
About US Geological
About US National