First Wood Bison Calves Spotted

by Adrian Wagner on April 28, 2016

13063206_1026207080779597_4143309282961091683_oWood bison, recently reintroduced by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game into Western Alaska, have begun to rome throughout the region and have even been spotted near Bethel. We could be seeing a lot more of them with the first wild born animals just documented.

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The first sighting of wood bison calves born in the wild could mean big changes in the ecosystem of Western Alaska.

“Helps me a little bit if I pull up a bison photo. Keeps me on track here,” Tom Seaton, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said while pulling up a picture of a calf on his computer screen.

The sighting last week of the newborn animals comes after Fish and Game released about 130 wood bison in 2015, an effort Seaton says has been in the works for more than 25 years.

Since the reintroduction, the herd has had its ups and downs. Even though 19 of the bison born in captivity died once released into the wild, Seaton says, “The bison are completely functioning as wild animals and being successful at it.”

However, the true test of how well the creatures can adapt, Seaton says, is in the survival of the calves.

“Most of the animals out there now spent most of their life in captivity, and they’re doing a great job of being wild bison. But they’ll never be as good as these animals that were bred and born in the wild,” Seaton said.

The deaths of the 19 bison have not been the only challenges. The captivity-born bison sometimes have trouble being independent from humans.

“First it was kind of a thrill to see them,” Chief Ivan Demientieff of Grayling said, who came home one day to find six wood bison in his yard.

“I made jokes saying that I don’t need no grass cutter anymore,” Demientieff said.

But things changed when one bison began to cause trouble.

“It got to the point where it wouldn’t leave, and I had to chase it out of the yard. Then it started living in my shop,” Demientieff said.

Eventually authorities removed the bison. But Seaton says he’s not concerned about this behavior, because the next generation of bison will most likely be more afraid of humans and be able to seek out food in the wilderness instead of people’s yards.

When people start hunting the wood bison, which Seaton says will happen when and if the herd more than doubles in size, that will be the final push into the wild to make the animals feel less domestic.

The opportunity for Native Alaskans to hunt the wood bison is a big selling point says Seaton, who hopes the bison’s progression will resemble another animal that’s become a staple food in Western Alaska.

“Moose didn’t occur in Western Alaska until about a 100 years ago,” Seaton said.

The animals migrated from Eastern Alaska in the early 1900’s.

“But today moose are a big part of the culture and food supply of people in Western Alaska,” Seaton said. “And if we look a hundred years in the future, it’s possible that wood bison could also be a part of the culture and food supply of people in Alaska.”

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