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Government gives go-ahead to long-awaited bison project

By Lauren Maxwell 6:34 PM May 7, 2014

Wood bison to be released into Interior Alaska next spring

PORTAGE –

An animal that went extinct in Alaska may soon be roaming free again. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has given the go-ahead for a long-awaited reintroduction of the wood bison.

Wood bison lived in the state’s Interior for thousands of years, but by the early 1900s they were gone. Today, the only place you can see wood bison in the U.S. is at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage.

The center has been working with Alaska Fish and Game on a project to reintroduce the animals back into the wild. It’s been complicated by the fact that the bison are on the endangered species list. Now, after more than a decade, the center has gotten word from the federal government that the bison project can move forward.

“It’s all new and sort of intimidating,” said AWCC Director Mike Miller of the decision. “It’s like you hoped for so many years and now, all of a sudden, you are happy because you got the green, light but you’re intimidated because you have to do it.”

The project is intimidating because it has never been tried in Alaska. The plan is to take about 100 of the bison at the wildlife center and move them to an area near the village of Shageluk in Interior Alaska. Because there are no roads, the animals will have to fly in a C-130 airplane.

“Special trailers have to be built,” Miller said. “Special trailers that fit perfectly into a C-130 so you use up all the space in there so you put as many buffalo in there as you can.”

Considering the males can weigh over 2,000 pounds, the flight may be a challenge.

Once there, Miller says the animals will be released gradually into the wild once it’s clear they will be able to survive on their own.

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