Wild Plains bison (Bison bison)

Principal Biologist(s)

Mike Phillips

Project Location

Historical range of wild plains bison with a differential emphasis on Montana and the Rocky Mountain West

Conservation Problem

Wild plains bison are exceedingly rare.

Conservation Status

  • Not listed under the ESA
  • IUCN Red List – near threatened in 2008
  • Listed as livestock in some states; others apply a dual status as wildlife and livestock

Project Goals

We aim to improve the conservation status of wild plains bison without negatively impacting the bison livestock industry.

Project Background

The wild plains bison (Bison bison) once had the widest distribution of any large herbivore in North America, ranging from the arid grasslands of Mexico to the extensive meadows of interior Alaska. By the late 19th century, the species had nearly been driven to extinction. By then, due to wanton destruction for myriad reasons, wild bison only persisted in two locations: south of Great Slave Lake in what is now Wood Buffalo National Park (about 300 individuals) and in the remote Pelican Valley in the Absaroka Mountains deep in Yellowstone National Park.

While fitful conservation efforts throughout the 20th century prevented the species’ total extinction, by the early part of the 21st century wild plains bison remained extirpated throughout all but a small fraction of its historical range.