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Wood bison herd in Portage to be culled over space, money concerns

Alaska Dispatch

Four years ago, wood bison were imported from Canada with the intention of releasing the big creatures into the wilds of Alaska. But so far, they remain in captivity at the Wildlife Conservation Center at Portage, about an hour's drive south of Anchorage. Now state game officials will take steps to cull the herd, due to space and money concerns, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports.

The herd numbers 135 animals after 35 calves were born last spring. Ten of the older bulls, described as “ornery” by state wildlife biologist Tom Seaton, will be killed to maintain healthy population levels in a place with limited space and pasture. Their meat will be donated to charities in the same way that road-kill moose are donated by Alaska State Troopers. The herd will remain capped at 135, and officials will take steps to decrease bison breeding in future years.

Another issue facing officials is cash flow. “It costs money to hold those animals,” Alaska Department of Fish and Game Wildlife Division Director Doug Vincent-Lang told the News-Miner. U.S. Fish and Wildlife doled out the $200,000 it costs to maintain the animals last year, but the state is picking up the cost this year.

Officials had hoped to release the animals into the wild in 2010, but they ran into multiple delays. Proposals at both Yukon Flats and Minto Flats were ditched due to various concerns.

Officials are hoping the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will approve a special rule that would designate wood bison as “nonessential experimental population” that would allow hunting of the animals and ensure their presence didn't obstruct future development. This would allow them to be released at Innoko Flats in Southwest Alaska.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services are still working on the rule, under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act.

Read more in the News-Miner.