Status Review and Conservation Initiatives for American Bison: A Continental Perspective

Scientific Disciplines
Biological Sciences - Terrestrial
Wildlife conservation
American bison society
North american grassland ecosystems
american bison
wood bison
plains bison
Wildlife Conservation Society
North America
conservation initiatives for American Bison
decimation of American Bison
Volume 16, No. 4

Status review and conservation initiatives for american 
bison: a continental perspective

Keith Aune and Kevin Ellison,* Wildlife Conservation Society, Bozeman, Montana 59718
Five hundred years ago, there were tens of millions of American bison (Bison bison
roaming free on the plains of North America from Alaska to northern Mexico. 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. As of 
2008, there were ~ 400,000 bison in commercial herds in North America, some 93 percent 
of the continental population. There were 61 plains bison conservation herds containing 
~ 20,500 animals, and 11 conservation herds of wood bison, containing nearly 11,000 
animals. Little progress has been made in recent decades to increase the number of animals 
in conservation herds. Many factors affect survival of bison populations, 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 key to recovery 
of this species is recognition that the American bison is a wildlife species and needs to be 
conserved as wildlife.  Recently a new conservation strategy was developed by the IUCN 
bison specialist group and a new vision for the ecological restoration of bison was described 
by the Wildlife Conservation Society under our American Bison Society initiative. A new 
Continental vision for the American bison is inspiring a second recovery and helping to 
restore functional grassland ecosystems.