Plains bison

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Plains bison
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Bovidae
Subfamily: Bovinae
Genus: Bison
B. b. bison
Trinomial name
Bison bison bison
IUCN range of the two American bison subspecies.
  Plains bison (Bison bison subsp. bison)
  Wood bison (Bison bison subsp. athabascae)

Bison bison montanae

The Plains bison (Bison bison bison) is one of two subspecies/ecotypes of the American bison, the other being the wood bison (B. b. athabascae).[2][3][4][5][6][a] A natural population of Plains bison survives in Yellowstone National Park (the Yellowstone Park bison herd consisting of an estimated 4,800 bison) and multiple smaller reintroduced herds of bison in many places in the United States as well as southern portions of the Canadian Prairies.

Near extinction and reintroduction[edit]

At least 25 million American bison were once spread across the United States and Canada, but by the late 1880s the total number of bison in the United States had been reduced to fewer than 600. Most of which lived on private ranches. The last known free-roaming population of bison consisted of fewer than 30 in the area that later became Yellowstone National Park. Although farmers and ranchers considered bison to be a nuisance, some people were concerned about the demise of this "North American icon", so individual landowners and zoos took steps to protect them. Some people saved bison with the express purpose of ranching or hunting them (see Antelope Island bison herd). Others, such as the American Bison Society, were also formed with the idea of saving the species and reintroducing them to natural range. Plains bison have since been reintroduced into a number of locations in North America. Five main foundation herds of American bison supplied animals intended to save them from extinction.[9] The northernmost introduction occurred in 1928 when the Alaska Game Commission brought bison to the area of present-day Delta Junction. Bison taken from this transplant were also introduced to other Alaskan locations, including Farewell and Chitina.[10] The Delta Junction herd prospered the most, with a population of several hundred throughout the late 20th century. This herd is popular with hunters interested in hundreds of pounds of high-quality meat, but has been a problem for farming operations in the area. Though American bison generally prefer grasslands and plains habitats, they are quite adaptable and live in conditions ranging from desert, as in the case of the Henry Mountains bison herd, to forested areas, such as those of the Yellowstone Park bison herd; yet, they are all of the same subspecies Bison bison bison. Currently, over 500,000 bison are spread over the United States and Canada, but most of these are on private ranches, and some of them have small amounts of hybridized cattle genes.[11] Significant public bison herds that do not appear to have hybridized domestic cattle genes are the Yellowstone Park, the Henry Mountains, the Custer State Park, the Wind Cave, and the Wood Buffalo National Park bison herds and subsidiary herds descended from it in Canada.

Park officials transferred Plains bison from Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge to Theodore Roosevelt National Park's South Unit in 1956 and its North Unit in 1962 for population increase.

Herd of Plains bison of various ages resting in Elk Island Park, Alberta

In 1969, Plains bison from Elk Island National Park were released into Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan, creating the Sturgeon River bison herd. At a population around 300 animals, they form a free herd able to wander where they please. The bison are spread throughout Prince Albert National Park's southwestern corner, as well as some crown and private land in the area.[12] In 2006, Plains bison from Elk Island National Park in Alberta were released into Saskatchewan's Grasslands National Park. This marks the first time they have wandered the shortgrass prairies of Canada since their near extinction at the turn of the 20th century. According to the national agency Parks Canada, the entire breeding population of these wild and "semiwild" bison is descended from just eight individuals that survived the period of near extinction, due to overhunting and tuberculosis infecting the herd.[13]

A herd of about 650 of these animals lives in, and can be seen at, the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge near Lawton, Oklahoma. The herd was started in 1907 with stock from the New York Zoological Park, now known as the Bronx Zoo and located in the Bronx Park. Fifteen animals were shipped to Oklahoma, where bison had already become extinct due to excessive hunting and overharvesting by non-native commercial buffalo hunters from 1874 to 1878.[14] Some of these specimens have been released in other areas of the United States, such as Paynes Prairie in Florida.

American bison skeleton (Museum of Osteology)

Only one southern plains bison herd was established in Texas. A remnant of the last of this relict herd had been saved in 1876. "Molly" Goodnight had encouraged her rancher husband, Charles Goodnight, to save some of the last bison which were taking refuge in the Texas Panhandle. By saving these few plains bison, she was able to establish a buffalo herd near the Palo Duro Canyon. This herd peaked at 250 in 1933.[15] Bison of this herd were introduced into the Yellowstone National Park in 1902 and into the larger zoos and ranches throughout the nation. A herd of around 80 of these animals lives in the Caprock Canyons State Park near Quitaque, Texas, located about 50 miles northeast of Plainview, Texas.[9]

Ted Turner owns America's largest secured bison herd in Cimarron, New Mexico's Vermejo Park Ranch. Boy Scouts of America own a private bison herd in Cimarron's Philmont Scout Ranch.[16]

In 2013, bison were reintroduced to Fort Belknap Indian Reservation from Yellowstone National Park.[17]

In 2019 a herd was established in Pleistocene Park in Northern Siberia.

A herd of plains bison were successfully reintroduced to Banff National Park in Alberta in early 2017. The bison were kept under observation in an enclosed pasture of the park until the summer of 2018, after which they have been allowed to roam free. Observation is to be continued until 2022 according to Parks Canada.[18]


Besides using the meat, fat, and organs for food, plains tribes have traditionally created a wide variety of tools and items from bison. These include arrow points, awls, beads, berry pounders, hide scrapers, hoes, needles from bones, spoons from the horns, bow strings and thread from the sinew, waterproof containers from the bladder, paint brushes from the tail and bones with intact marrow, and cooking oil from tallow.[19] Skulls can be used ceremonially as altars. Rawhide is used for parfleches, shield covers, and moccasin soles. Hides with the fur are used for blankets, wraps, and warm clothing. Tanned hides, the finest of which are tanned with the animal's brains and then smoked, are used in clothing, moccasins, tipi covers, calendars, and artwork.[20][21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ It has been suggested that the Plains bison consists of a northern (B. b. montanae) and a southern subspecies, bringing the total to three.[7][8] However, this is generally not supported.


  1. ^ Gates, C. & Aune, K. 2008. Bison bison. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. Downloaded September 6, 2012.
  2. ^ Geist V. (1991). "Phantom subspecies: the wood bison, Bison bison "athabascae" Rhoads 1897, is not a valid taxon, but an ecotype". Arctic. 44 (4): 283–300. doi:10.14430/arctic1552.
  3. ^ Kay, Charles E.; Clifford A. White (2001). "Reintroduction of bison into the Rocky Mountain parks of Canada: historical and archaeological evidence" (PDF). Crossing Boundaries in Park Management: Proceedings of the 11th Conference on Research and Resource Management in Parks and on Public Lands. Hancock, Michigan: The George Wright Society, Inc. pp. 143–151. Retrieved December 2, 2009.
  4. ^ Bork, A. M., C. M. Strobeck, F. C. Yeh, R. J. Hudson, & R. K. Salmon (1991). "Genetic relationship of wood and plains bison based on restriction fragment length polymorphisms". Canadian Journal of Zoology. 69 (1): 43–48. doi:10.1139/z91-007.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. ^ Wilson, G. A., & C. Strobeck (1999). "Genetic variation within and relatedness among wood and plains bison populations". Genome. 42 (3): 483–496. doi:10.1139/gen-42-3-483. PMID 10382295. Archived from the original on July 1, 2012.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ Boyd, Delaney P. (2003). Conservation of North American Bison: Status and Recommendations (PDF) (MS thesis). University of Calgary. doi:10.11575/PRISM/22701. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 28, 2007. Retrieved December 2, 2009.
  7. ^ Halbert, Natalie D., Terje Raudsepp, Bhanu P. Chowdhary, & James N. Derr (2004). "Conservation Genetic Analysis of the Texas State Bison Herd". Journal of Mammalogy. 85 (5): 924–931. doi:10.1644/BER-029.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ Wildlife, State of Texas, Parks and. "State Bison Herd Released Into New Territory -November 2011- TPW magazine".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ a b "Texas State Bison Herd to Once Again Freely Roam the Caprock" (Press release). Texas Parks and Wildlife. September 6, 2011.
  10. ^ "Alaska Hunting and Trapping Information, Alaska Department of Fish and Game". Retrieved April 21, 2012.
  11. ^ Remove Threats to Irreplaceable Bison Herd at Wind Cave National Park. FY 2006 Challenge Cost Share Program. Final Project Report. September 30, 2007. Retrieved on September 16, 2011.
  12. ^ "Sturgeon River plains bison population stabilizing - Local - the Prince Albert Daily Herald". Archived from the original on 2015-04-06. Retrieved 2021-06-23.
  13. ^ Parks Canada pamphlet titled Parks Canada and Plains Bison, no date, no stated author, available online
  14. ^ "History of the Bison Herd - Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge". 2012-04-13. Archived from the original on 2012-04-13. Retrieved April 21, 2012.
  15. ^ John Cornyn, The Winkler Post, Molly Goodnight Archived June 17, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ "Wildlife". Archived from the original on 2019-12-15. Retrieved 2019-12-15.
  17. ^ "Indian Country today 23 August 2013". Archived from the original on 14 November 2016. Retrieved 25 August 2013.
  18. ^ Parks Canada Agency, Government of Canada (2020-03-20). "Plains Bison Reintroduction - Banff National Park". Retrieved 2021-06-23.
  19. ^ Hunt, David. Native Indian Wild Game, Fish, and Wild Foods Cookbook. Lancaster, PA: Fox Chapel Publishing, 1992: 41. ISBN 1-56523-008-6.
  20. ^ "What Can You Make from a Buffalo?". Smithsonian Natural Museum of American History. Archived from the original on May 9, 2017. Retrieved June 6, 2017.
  21. ^ "American Bison and American Indian Nations". Smithsonian National Zoological Park Conservation Biology Institute. April 25, 2016. Retrieved June 6, 2017.

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