History & Status of Bison Health

History & Status of Bison Health Natural Resource Report Cover
History & Status of Bison Health Natural Resource Report Cover

NPS Report Cover

The North American plains bison once numbered in the tens of millions, but only around 1,000 individuals remained by the late 1800s. Through the actions of private individuals and organizations, the establishment of a few protected, federally managed, herds saved the subspecies from extinction and today the Department of the Interior (DOI) supports approximately 11,000 plains bison in 19 herds across 12 states.

DOI chartered the Bison Conservation Initiative in 2008, which established a framework for bison conservation and restoration on appropriate lands within the species’ historical range. With the recent announcement of the 2020 DOI Bison Conservation Initiative, DOI outlined a diverse range of accomplishments made under the 2008 Initiative and reaffirmed the commitment to work with partners in support of managing bison as native wildlife. Both the 2008 and 2020 DOI Bison Conservation Initiatives endorse a holistic approach, addressing health and genetic considerations, and recommend managing DOI bison herds together as a metapopulation to conserve genetic diversity by restoring gene flow. Bison conservation and restoration efforts must consider the significance of disease in bison herds and apply a multi-jurisdictional, multi-stakeholder approach to the management of bison on large landscapes. Robust herd health surveillance programs, both in the donor and recipient herds, along with strong partnerships and communication, are needed to protect the century-long success of DOI bison conservation and stewardship. This report discusses overarching principles affecting bison health decisions in DOI herds and provides detailed baseline herd health history and management, providing a foundation upon which the 2020 Bison Conservation Initiative vision for DOI bison stewardship can be realized.

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Badlands National Park, Chickasaw National Recreation Area, Grand Canyon National Park, Grand Teton National Park

Last updated: November 6, 2023