[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 86 (Thursday, May 3, 2012)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 26191-26212]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-10635]


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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-R9-IA-2008-0123; FXES111309F2120D2-123-FF09E22000]
RIN 1018-AI83


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Reclassifying the 
Wood Bison Under the Endangered Species Act as Threatened Throughout 
Its Range

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Final rule.

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SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), are 
reclassifying the wood bison (Bison bison athabascae) from endangered 
to threatened. This action is based on a review of the best available 
scientific and commercial data, which indicate that the primary threat 
that led to population decline, unregulated hunting, is no longer a 
threat and that recovery actions have led to a substantial increase in 
the number of herds that have a stable or increasing trend in 
population size. Critical habitat has not been designated because free-
ranging wood bison only occur in Canada and we do not designate 
critical habitat in foreign countries.

DATES: This rule becomes effective June 4, 2012.

ADDRESSES: This final rule is available on the Internet at http://www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS-R9-IA-2008-0123 and at http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/endangered/index.htm. Comments and materials 
received, as well as supporting documentation used in the preparation 
of this rule, will be available for public inspection, by appointment, 
during normal business hours at: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska 
Regional Office, 1011 East Tudor Road, Anchorage, AK 99503; 907-786-
3856.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Marilyn Myers at U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Fisheries and Ecological Services, 1011 E. Tudor 
Road, Anchorage, AK 99503; or telephone at 907-786-3559; or facsimile 
at 907-786-3848. If you use a telecommunications device for the deaf 
(TDD), please call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800-
877-8339.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Executive Summary

    Why we need to publish a rule. We listed the wood bison as 
endangered in 1970. Since listing, the status of wood bison has 
improved because enactment and enforcement of national and 
international laws and treaties have minimized the impacts of hunting 
and trade, and reintroduction of disease-free herds has increased the 
number of free-ranging herds in Canada from 1 population of 300 in 
1978, to 7 populations totaling 4,414 bison in 2008. These free-ranging 
populations are stable or increasing. Therefore, we have determined 
that the wood bison no longer meets the definition of endangered under 
the Endangered Species Act.
    This rule changes the listing of the wood bison from endangered to 
threatened.
    Basis for our action. While we have determined that the wood bison 
no longer meets the definition of endangered under the Endangered 
Species Act, some threats to wood bison remain. Habitat loss has 
occurred in Canada from agricultural development, and we expect losses 
will continue in concert with human growth and expansion of 
agriculture, including commercial bison production. The presence of 
disease in Canada constrains herd growth, and regulatory mechanisms are 
inadequate to prevent disease transmission within Canada. However, the 
continued reintroduction of disease-free herds, the ongoing development 
and updating of management plans, the active management of herds, the 
ongoing research, and the protections provided by laws and protected 
lands provide compelling evidence that recovery actions have been 
successful in reducing the risk of extinction associated with the 
threats identified. Therefore, we are reclassifying the wood bison from 
endangered to threatened.
    The majority of comments we received support this action. The 
majority of comments (13 of 19) supported downlisting. A subset of 
these comments (7 of the 13) asserted that the Service should delist 
the species immediately. Three comments stated that wood bison should 
remain listed as endangered. The peer review comments provided very 
specific corrections to details about two of the wood bison herds in 
Canada, and we have updated our information in this rule accordingly, 
but these changes do not alter our finding.

Background

Previous Federal Actions

    The listing history for wood bison is extensive and was described 
in the proposed rule published on February 8, 2011 (76 FR 6734). Please 
refer to that proposed rule for the complete listing history. Here we 
present only the most pertinent facts.
    The wood bison became listed in the United States under the 1969 
Endangered Species Conservation Act when it was included on the first 
List of Endangered Foreign Fish and Wildlife, which was published in 
the Federal Register on June 2, 1970 (35 FR 8491). In 1974, the first 
list of federally protected species under the 1973 Endangered Species 
Act (Act; 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) appeared in the Code of Federal 
Regulations (CFR), and the wood bison appeared on this list based on 
its inclusion on the original 1969 list. Because the wood bison was 
listed under the 1969 Endangered Species Conservation Act and 
grandfathered in for protection under the Act, there is not a separate 
Federal Register notice that defined the population(s) and their range 
or analyzed threats to the species. The wood bison was classified as 
endangered and has retained that designation since the original 
listing.
    On May 14, 1998, the Service received a petition from a private 
individual requesting that the Service remove the wood bison from the 
List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, primarily because it had 
been downgraded from an Appendix I to an Appendix II species under the 
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna 
and Flora (CITES). In a 90-day finding published on November 25, 1998 
(63 FR 65164), we found that the petitioner did not provide substantial

[[Page 26192]]

information to indicate that the delisting may be warranted.
    On November 26, 2007, we received a petition from the co-chairs of 
Canada's National Wood Bison Recovery Team, requesting that we 
reclassify the wood bison from endangered to threatened. On February 3, 
2009, we published a 90-day finding (74 FR 5908) acknowledging that the 
petition provided sufficient information to indicate that 
reclassification may be warranted and that we would initiate a status 
review. On February 8, 2011, we announced the completion of our status 
review of the species, which also constituted our 5-year review under 
section 4(c)(2) of the Act, and issued a proposed rule to reclassify 
the wood bison from an endangered species to a threatened species (76 
FR 6734). This document is our final rule to reclassify the wood bison 
from endangered to threatened.

Species Information

Taxonomy and Species Description
    Wood bison (Bison bison athabascae) belongs to the family Bovidae, 
which also includes cattle, sheep, and goats. Debate over the generic 
name Bison continues with some authorities using Bos and others using 
Bison depending on the methodology used to determine relationships 
among members of the tribe Bovini (Asian water buffalo, African 
buffalo, cattle and their wild relatives, and bison) (Boyd et al. 2010, 
pp. 13-15). In this discussion, we will use Bison, which is consistent 
with ``Wild Mammals of North America'' (Reynolds et al. 2003, p. 1010), 
``Mammal Species of the World'' (Wilson and Reeder 2005, p. 689), and 
the Wood Bison Recovery Team (Gates et al. 2001, p. 25). Wood bison was 
first described as a subspecies in 1897 (Rhoads 1897, pp. 498-500). One 
other extant bison subspecies, the plains bison (B. b. bison), occurs 
in the United States and Canada. Based on the historical physical 
separation and quantifiable behavioral, morphological, and phenological 
(appearance) differences between the two subspecies, the scientific 
evidence indicates that subspecific designation is appropriate (van 
Zyll de Jong et al. 1995, p. 403; FEAP 1990, p. 24; Reynolds et al. 
2003, p. 1010; Gates et al. 2010, pp. 15-17).
    Wood bison is the largest native extant terrestrial mammal in North 
America (Reynolds et al. 2003, p. 1015). Average weight of mature males 
(age 8) is 910 kilograms (kg) (2,006 pounds (lb)) and the average 
weight of mature females (age 13) is 440 kg (970 lb) (Reynolds et al. 
2003, p. 1015). They have a large triangular head, a thin beard and 
rudimentary throat mane, and a poorly demarcated cape (Boyd et al. 
2010, p. 16). In addition, the highest point of their hump is forward 
of their front legs; they have reduced chaps on their front legs; and 
their horns usually extend above the hair on their head (Boyd et al. 
2010, p. 16). These physical characteristics distinguish them from the 
plains bison (Reynolds et al. 2003, p. 1015; Boyd et al. 2010, p. 16).
Distribution
    The exact extent of the original range of wood bison cannot be 
determined with certainty based on available information, but was 
limited to North America (Gates et al. 2001, p. 11). However, 
historically, the range of the wood bison was generally north of that 
occupied by the plains bison and included most boreal regions of 
northern Alberta, northeastern British Columbia east of Cordillera, a 
small portion of northwestern Saskatchewan, the western Northwest 
Territories south and west of Great Slave Lake, the Mackenzie River 
Valley, most of The Yukon Territory, and much of interior Alaska 
(Reynolds et al. 2003, pp. 1011-1012). Skinner and Kaisen (1947, pp. 
158, 164) suggested that the prehistorical U.S. range extended from 
Alaska to Colorado, and Stephenson et al. (2001, p. 140) concluded that 
wood bison were present within the boundaries of what is now defined as 
Alaska until their disappearance during the last few hundred years. 
Currently, there is a wild population neither in Alaska nor in the 
continental United States (Harper and Gates 2000, p. 917; Stephenson et 
al. 2001, p. 140).
    During the early 1800s, wood bison numbers were estimated at 
168,000, but by the late 1800s, the subspecies was nearly eliminated, 
with only a few hundred remaining (Gates et al. 2001, p. 11). In the 
words of Soper (1941, p. 362), wood ``bison appear to have been 
practically exterminated,'' and based on the fate of plains bison, in 
which 40 to 60 million animals were reduced to just over 1,000 animals 
in less than 100 years (Hornaday 1889; Wilson and Strobeck 1998, p. 
180), overharvest may have been the cause for the decline (Harper and 
Gates 2000, p. 915). The fact that populations began to rebound once 
protection was in place and enforced supports this idea (Soper 1941, 
pp. 362-363). In 1922, Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP) was set aside 
for the protection of the last remnant population of wood bison. Since 
that time, several additional herds have been established (Table 1).

   Table 1--Sizes of Wood Bison Herds in Canada From 1978 to 2008 (Data Provided by Canadian Wildlife Service)
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       Herd category and name           1978       1988       2000       2002       2004       2006       2008
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Free-ranging, disease-free herds:
    Mackenzie......................        300      1,718      1,908      2,000      2,000    ~ 2,000      1,600
    Nahanni........................  .........         30        160        170        399        400        400
    Aishihik.......................  .........  .........        500        530        550        700      1,100
    Hay-Zama.......................  .........  .........        130        234        350        600        750
    Nordquist......................  .........  .........         50         60        112        140        140
    Etthithun......................  .........  .........  .........         43         70        124        124
    Chitek Lake....................  .........  .........         70        100        150        225        300
Free-ranging, diseased herds:
    Wood Buffalo \1\ National Park.  .........  .........      2,178      4,050  \2\ 4,947  \3\ 5,641  \4\ 4,639
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\1\ Excluding adjacent diseased Wentzel, Wabasca, and Slave River Lowlands herds.
\2\ Population estimate for year 2003.
\3\ Population estimate for year 2005.
\4\ Population estimate for year 2007.

    Another factor that is thought to have played a role in the decline 
in wood bison is a gradual loss of meadow habitat through forest 
encroachment (Stephenson et al. 2001, p. 143; Quinlan et al. 2003, p. 
343; Strong and Gates

[[Page 26193]]

2009, p. 439). Although not quantified, it is likely that because of 
fire suppression, and subsequent forest encroachment on meadows, there 
was a net loss of suitable open meadow habitat for wood bison 
throughout their range through about 1990. More intensive fire 
management began in Canada in the early 1900s with the philosophy that 
fire was destructive and should be eliminated to protect property and 
permit proper forest management (Stocks et al. 2003, p. 2). However, 
wildfire is an integral component of boreal forest ecology (Weber and 
Flannigan 1997, p. 146; Rupp et al. 2004, p. 213; Soja et al. 2007, p. 
277). Without fire, trees encroach on meadows and eventually the meadow 
habitat is lost and replaced by forest.
Habitat
    The foraging habitats most favored by wood bison are grass and 
sedge meadows occurring on alkaline soils. These meadows are typically 
interspersed among tracts of coniferous forest, stands of poplar or 
aspen, bogs, fens, and shrublands. Meadows typically represent 5 to 20 
percent of the landscape occupied by wood bison (Larter and Gates 
1991a, p. 2682; Gates et al. 2001, p. 23). Wet meadows are rarely used 
in the summer, probably because of the energy required to maneuver 
through the mud, but they are used in late summer when they become 
drier, and in the winter when they freeze (Larter and Gates 1991b, pp. 
133, 135; Strong and Gates 2009, p. 438).
Biology
    Because wood bison can thrive on coarse grasses and sedges, they 
occupy a niche within the boreal forest that is not utilized by other 
northern herbivores such as moose or caribou (Gates et al. 2001, p. 
25). Several studies indicate that wood bison prefer sedges (Carex 
spp.), which can comprise up to 98 percent of the winter diet (Reynolds 
et al. 1978, p. 586; Smith 1990, p. 88; Larter and Gates 1991a, p. 
2679; Fortin et al. 2003, pp. 224-225). Seasonally, other important 
diet items include grasses, willow, and lichen (Reynolds et al. 1978, 
p. 586; Smith 1990, p. 88; Larter and Gates 1991a, pp. 2680-2681; 
Fortin et al. 2003, pp. 224-225).
    Free-ranging wood bison roam extensively with annual maximum 
traveling distance from each individual's center-of-activity averaging 
from 45 to 50 kilometers (km) (28 to 31 miles (mi)) (Chen and Morley 
2005, p. 430). However, some captive animals released into the wild 
have traveled over 250 km (155 mi) (Gates et al. 1992, pp. 151-152). 
Herds are fluid, and individuals interchange freely (Fuller 1960, p. 
15; Wilson et al. 2002, p. 1545). Wood bison travel between favored 
foraging habitats along direct routes including established trails, 
roads, river corridors, and transmission lines (Reynolds et al. 1978, 
p. 587; Mitchell 2002, p. 50). Bison are also powerful swimmers and 
will cross even large rivers such as the Peace, Slave, Liard, and 
Nahanni to reach forage, provided that there are low banks for entry 
and exit (Fuller 1960, p. 5; Mitchell 2002, pp. 32, 50; Larter et al. 
2003, pp. 408-412).
    The wood bison's breeding season is from July to October. The age 
of first reproduction depends on nutritional condition and disease 
status, and is therefore variable (Gates et al. 2010, p. 49). Females 
typically produce their first calf when they are 3 years old and may be 
reproductively successful up to age 20 (Wilson et al. 2002, p. 1545). 
Although capable of reproduction at age 2, males typically do not 
participate in the rut until they are 5 or 6, and reproductive success 
is at its maximum between ages 7 and 14 (Wilson et al. 2002, pp. 1538, 
1544). Bison have a polygynous mating system, in which one male mates 
with several females (Wilson et al. 2002, p. 1538). When habitat is 
adequate and there are no other limiting factors such as disease and 
predation, wood bison populations have expanded exponentially (FEAP 
1990, pp. 34-35; Gates and Larter 1990, p. 233). Consequently, newly 
introduced populations have the capacity to grow quickly, as 
demonstrated by the Mackenzie herd (Gates and Larter 1990, p. 235).
    Wood bison are susceptible to a variety of diseases that may affect 
their population dynamics. The most important are anthrax, bovine 
brucellosis, and bovine tuberculosis, none of which are endemic to wood 
bison (Gates et al. 2010, pp. 28-32). Anthrax is an infectious 
bacterial disease that is transmitted through the inhalation or 
ingestion of endospores (Gates et al. 2010, p. 28). The disease is 
rapidly fatal, with death usually occurring within several days once 
the clinical signs appear (Dragon et al. 1999, p. 209). Between 1962 
and 1993, nine outbreaks were recorded in northern Canada, killing at 
least 1,309 bison (Dragon et al. 1999, p. 209). Additional outbreaks 
continued to occur through at least 2010 (GNT 2010, p. 9). Factors 
associated with outbreaks are high ambient temperatures, high densities 
of insects, and high densities of bison as they congregate in areas of 
diminishing forage and water (Dragon et al. 1999, p. 212). Sexually 
mature males are more susceptible than cows, juveniles, or calves, 
perhaps because of elevated levels of testosterone (Dragon et al. 1999, 
p. 211). Anthrax is not treatable in free-ranging wildlife, but captive 
bison can be vaccinated effectively and treated with antibiotics (Gates 
et al. 2001, p. 22)
    Bovine brucellosis is caused by the bacterium Brucella abortus 
(Tessaro 1989, p. 416). Although the primary hosts are bovids, other 
ungulates such as elk can be infected. The disease is primarily 
transmitted through oral contact with aborted fetuses, contaminated 
placentas, and uterine discharges. Greater than 90 percent of infected 
female bison abort during their first pregnancy (Gates et al. 2010, p. 
30). Naturally acquired immunity reduces the abortion rate with 
subsequent pregnancies (Aune and Gates 2010, p. 30). Male bison 
experience inflammation of their reproductive organs and, in advanced 
cases, sterility. Both sexes are susceptible to bursitis and arthritis 
caused by concentrations of the bacterium in the joints, which may make 
them more susceptible to predation (Joly 2001, pp. 97-98). Two 
vaccines, S19 and SR B51, have been developed in an attempt to prevent 
bovine brucellosis (Aune and Gates 2010, pp. 30-31); however, 
brucellosis remains extremely difficult to eradicate in ungulates. The 
combined use of quarantine protocols, serum testing, slaughter, and 
vaccination is being explored as a means of controlling the disease 
(Nishi et al. 2002, pp. 230-233; Bienen and Tabor 2006, pp. 324-325; 
Aune and Gates 2010, p. 31).
    Bovine tuberculosis is a chronic infectious disease caused by the 
bacterium Mycobacterium bovis (Tessaro 1989, p. 417). Historical 
evidence indicates that bovine tuberculosis did not occur in bison 
prior to contact with infected domestic cattle (Tessaro 1989, p. 416). 
Wood bison were infected in the 1920s, when plains bison were 
introduced into the range of wood bison (Tessaro 1989, p. 417). 
Currently, the disease is concentrated in bison in and near WBNP 
(Wabasca, Wentzel, and Slave River Lowlands herds). The disease is 
primarily transmitted by inhalation and ingestion of the bacterium, but 
may also pass to offspring through the placenta or contaminated milk 
(FEAP 1990, p. 11). Bovine tuberculosis is a chronic disease that 
progressively becomes debilitating; advanced cases are fatal. There is 
not an effective vaccine for immunization against tuberculosis (FEAP 
1990, p. 2).
    Wood bison herds in and around WBNP, Alberta and the Northwest 
Territories, Canada, are infected with brucellosis and bovine 
tuberculosis.

[[Page 26194]]

These diseased herds account for about half of the free-ranging wood 
bison and are the only known reservoirs of tuberculosis and brucellosis 
among the herds (Gates et al. 2010, pp. 4, 35). Approximately 30 
percent of the animals in these herds test positive for brucellosis, 
and 21 to 49 percent test positive for tuberculosis. The combined 
prevalence of the two diseases is 42 percent (Tessaro et al. 1990, p. 
174; Gates et al. 2010, p. 35). Wood bison cows infected with both 
tuberculosis and brucellosis are less likely to be pregnant, and 
infected herds are more likely to have their populations regulated by 
wolf predation (Tessaro et al. 1990, p. 179; Joly and Messier 2004, p. 
1173; Joly and Messier 2005, p. 549). Unlike anthrax, which occurs in 
outbreaks in which many animals die at one time, brucellosis and 
tuberculosis are chronic diseases that weaken animals over time.
Conservation Status
    In Canada, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in 
Canada (COSEWIC) was established in 1977, to assess species' status and 
evaluate their risk of extinction. In 1978, the COSEWIC designated wood 
bison as endangered, based primarily on the fact that there were only 
about 400 disease-free wood bison: 100 in a captive herd and 300 in a 
free-ranging herd. In 1988, wood bison was downlisted to threatened in 
Canada because of data presented in a status report prepared by the 
National Wood Bison Recovery Team that documented progress towards 
recovery (Gates et al. 2001, p. 28; Gates et al. 2010, p. 65). A review 
by the COSEWIC in 2000 confirmed that ``threatened'' was the 
appropriate designation at that time (Gates et al. 2010, p. 65).
    The wood bison was listed in Appendix I of the Convention on 
International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora 
(CITES) on July 1, 1975, when the treaty first went into effect. On 
September 18, 1997, it was transferred to Appendix II, based on a 
proposal from Canada that described progress in implementation of the 
Canadian recovery plan (Government of Canada 1997, entire). CITES 
Appendix-II species are not necessarily considered to be threatened 
with extinction now but may become so unless trade in the species is 
regulated. The United States supported this change.

Recovery Actions

    Section 4(f) of the Act directs us to develop and implement 
recovery plans for the conservation and survival of endangered and 
threatened species, unless the Director determines that such a plan 
will not promote the conservation of the species. The Service has not 
developed a recovery plan for wood bison, because no wild populations 
of wood bison currently exist in the United States. In Canada, the 
National Wood Bison Recovery Team published a national recovery plan in 
2001 (Gates et al. 2001), and is currently preparing a revision to the 
plan. The purpose of the recovery plan is to advance the recovery of 
the wood bison; specific criteria for delisting under Canada's Species 
at Risk Act (SARA) were not specified. Management plans for the 
provinces support the goals and objectives of the National Recovery 
Plan (e.g., Harper and Gates 2000, p. 917; GNT 2010, p. 1). Four goals 
were established to advance the recovery of wood bison (Gates et al. 
2001):
    (1) To reestablish at least four discrete, free-ranging, disease-
free, and viable populations of 400 or more wood bison in Canada, 
emphasizing recovery in their original range, thereby enhancing the 
prospects for survival of the subspecies and contributing to the 
maintenance of ecological processes and biological diversity.
    (2) To foster the restoration of wood bison in other parts of their 
original range and in suitable habitat elsewhere, thereby ensuring 
their long-term survival.
    (3) To ensure that the genetic integrity of wood bison is 
maintained without further loss as a consequence of human intervention.
    (4) To restore disease-free wood bison herds, thereby contributing 
to the aesthetic, cultural, economic, and social well-being of local 
communities and society in general.
    Revisions to the U.S. List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife 
(adding, removing, or reclassifying a species) must reflect 
determinations made in accordance with sections 4(a)(1) and 4(b) of the 
Act. Section 4(a)(1) requires that the Secretary determine whether a 
species is endangered or threatened, as defined by the Act, because of 
one or more of the five factors outlined in section 4(a)(1). In other 
words, an analysis of the five factors under 4(a)(1) can result in a 
determination that a species is no longer endangered or threatened. 
Section 4(b) requires that the determination made under section 4(a)(1) 
be based on the best scientific and commercial data available and after 
taking into account those efforts, if any, being made by any State or 
foreign nation to protect such species. Here, we rely on the five-
factor analysis to determine if it is appropriate to reclassify wood 
bison. We also take into consideration the conservation actions that 
have occurred, are ongoing, and are planned.
    In 1978, there was one free-ranging, disease-free herd with 300 
individuals: the MacKenzie herd (see Table 1, above). By 2000, when the 
last Canadian status review was conducted, the number of disease-free 
herds had grown to 6, with a total of approximately 2,800 individuals 
(see Table 1, above). Since 2000, an additional herd has been 
established bringing the total number to 7, and the number of disease-
free, free-ranging bison has increased to approximately 4,400 (see 
Table 1, above). Four of the herds have a population of 400 or more, 
meeting recovery goal number 1 (see Table 1, above). The free-ranging, 
disease-free herds are discussed in detail below.

Free-Ranging, Disease-Free Herds

    The Mackenzie bison herd was established in 1963, with the 
translocation of 18 wood bison that were originally captured in an 
isolated area of WBNP. This herd is currently the largest free-ranging, 
disease-free herd of wood bison, with approximately 1,600 to 2,000 
animals (Reynolds et al. 2004, p. 7). The Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary was 
established in 1979, and encompasses an area of 6,300 km\2\ (2,432 
mi\2\) northwest of Great Slave Lake. The current range of the 
Mackenzie bison herd (12,000 km\2\ (4,633 mi\2\)) extends well beyond 
the boundaries of the sanctuary. In 2010, the Government of Northwest 
Territories released the final Wood Bison Management Strategy. It 
indicates that there is sufficient habitat in the Northwest Territories 
to support expanding bison populations (GNWT 2010, p. 9). Habitat 
protection within the range of the Mackenzie bison herd is facilitated 
through the Species at Risk Act (SARA), Canada's equivalent to the Act, 
and the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act of 1998. Although the 
Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act does not specifically provide 
protection to wood bison, it did create a Land and Water Board (LWB), 
which is given the power to regulate the use of land and water, 
including the issuance of land use permits and water licenses. Under 
current management, an annual harvest is allowed (described under 
Factor B below), and the Mackenzie herd size has been greater than the 
recovery target of 400 since 1987, with approximately 1,600 to 2,000 
animals (Gates and Larter 1999, p. 233; see Table 1, above). Thus, the

[[Page 26195]]

Mackenzie herd contributes to recovery goals 1 and 4.
    Five releases of wood bison totaling 170 animals from 1988 to 1991 
established the Aishihik herd in southwestern Yukon, in a remote area 
west of Whitehorse, Canada. Herd size has totaled over 400 since 1999 
(Gates et al. 2001, p. 14; see Table 1, above). With a current 
population of approximately 1,100 animals, it is the second-largest 
herd. The herd inhabits approximately 9,000 km\2\ (3,475 mi\2\) of 
largely undeveloped habitat near the community of Haines Junction, 
adjacent to Kluane National Park. Less than 5 percent of the range of 
the Aishihik herd is on private lands (First Nation Settlement Lands), 
and these landowners participate in a management planning team 
specifically for this herd. The remainder of the herd's range is owned 
by the Government of Canada, and there are no threats to habitat in 
this area (Reynolds et al. 2004, p. 9). The herd has room to expand or 
shift its range, because there are no large-scale developments east, 
west, or north of the present range for several hundred kilometers. 
Small-scale agricultural development to the south of the present range, 
however, could restrict range expansion in that direction (Reynolds et 
al. 2004, p. 9). Regulated hunting occurs on this herd (described under 
Factor B below). Other than regulated harvest, no other limiting 
factors have been identified (Reynolds et al. 2004, p. 17). The 
Aishihik herd contributes to recovery goals 1, 2, and 4.
    The Hay-Zama herd was established in 1984, when 29 wood bison were 
transferred from Elk Island National Park to the holding corral site 
near Hay-Zama Lakes, Alberta (Gates et al. 2001, p. 17). A herd of 48 
wood bison became free-ranging when portions of the corral they were 
being held in collapsed in 1993 (Gates et al. 2001, p. 17). Since then, 
the free-ranging herd has grown to approximately 750 animals (Table 1), 
thus contributing to recovery goals 1, 2, and 4. In 1995, the 
Government of Alberta established a 36,000 km\2\ (13,900 mi\2\) Bison 
Management Area around the Hay-Zama herd in the northwestern corner of 
the province. In this area, all wood bison are legally protected from 
hunting under Alberta's Wildlife Act; outside of the area they are not 
protected. Collisions with vehicles are the largest source of known 
mortality for individuals in this herd (Mitchell and Gates 2002, p. 9).
    The Nahanni herd, established in 1980 with the release of 28 wood 
bison, occurs primarily in the Northwest Territories and extends into 
southeast Yukon and northeast British Columbia. The population was 
bolstered by two supplemental releases in 1989 and 1998, of 12 and 59 
animals, respectively (Larter and Allaire 2007, p. 3). Population size 
has been approximately 400 animals or more since 2006, and, based on 
surveys, was estimated at 413 in 2010 (Larter, GNWT, 2010, pers. 
comm.). There is currently sufficient habitat to support the expanding 
population (GNT 2010, p. 9).
    The Nordquist herd was established in 1995, near the Laird River in 
northeastern British Columbia (see Table 1, above). Because the 
majority of the herd occupies habitat near the Alaska Highway, vehicle 
collisions are a source of mortality (Reynolds et al. 2009, p. 6). It 
is anticipated that the Nordquist and Nahanni herds will eventually 
coalesce into one herd because of their close proximity and the 
presence of river corridors that provide travel corridors (Gates et al. 
2001, p. 18). Although it has not yet occurred, combination of the two 
herds would create a herd with numbers that exceed the recovery 
criterion of 400 (see Table 1, above).
    The Etthithun herd was established in 2002, near Etthithun Lake, 
British Columbia. Factors limiting the size of this herd include the 
amount and location of suitable habitat, conflicts with humans and 
industrial development, and potential contact with commercial plains 
bison (BC MOE, pers. comm., 2010). Current population size is 
approximately 124 (see Table 1, above); consequently, this herd does 
not currently meet the recovery criterion of 400 individuals. However, 
it does contribute to recovery goals 2 and 4.
    The Chitek Lake herd was established in 1991, in Manitoba, Canada. 
The Chitek Lake Wood Bison Management Committee plans to maintain the 
herd at approximately 300 animals to keep the herd within carrying 
capacity of the habitat. The 100,300-hectare (ha) (25,452-acre (ac)) 
Chitek Lake Park Reserve provides habitat protection for the core range 
of the herd. Limiting factors for the herd include accidental mortality 
from drowning, starvation in bad winters, and predation from wolves 
(Manitoba Conservation, pers. comm., 2010). Although outside of the 
historic range of wood bison, Chitek Lake herd plays an important role 
in wood bison conservation because it is an isolated, disease-free herd 
and, consequently, provides security to the species through population 
redundancy, thus contributing to recovery goal 2.

Captive, Disease-Free Herds

    In addition to the free-ranging wood bison herds discussed above, 
four captive herds have been established, although only three are 
currently viable. The Elk Island National Park herd in Alberta, Canada, 
was established in 1965, from wood bison transferred from an isolated 
portion of WBNP. It is the national conservation herd and has provided 
disease-free stock for six of the free-ranging populations and several 
captive breeding herds in zoos and private commercial ranches (Gates et 
al. 1992, p. 153). Carrying capacity at Elk Island National Park is 
approximately 350 animals; animals above this number are regarded as 
surplus and are removed to establish and supplement free-roaming 
populations in former areas of their historic range (Parks Canada 
2009a, unpaginated). Although the herd is fenced, the animals are semi-
wild and spend the majority of their time roaming the 65 km\2\ (25 
mi\2\) enclosure, interacting with the environment in a largely natural 
manner (Gates et al. 2001, p. 18). The herd is rounded up annually to 
test for disease and to vaccinate for common cattle diseases. The age, 
sex, and condition of all the individuals are determined to inform 
management decisions. Using this information, individuals are selected 
for sale, donation, or the establishment of new herds, which also 
controls the population size of the herd (Parks Canada 2009b, 
unpaginated). This conservation herd contributes to recovery goals 2, 
3, and 4.
    The Hook Lake Wood Bison Recovery Project was initiated to 
establish a captive, disease-free herd from a wild herd infected with 
brucellosis and tuberculosis. The overall objective of the project was 
to determine the feasibility of genetic salvage from a diseased herd 
(Nishi et al. 2002, p. 230). Specific objectives of the project were to 
conserve the genetic integrity of the wild herd by capturing an 
adequate number of calves, provide intensive veterinary and 
preventative drug treatment to eliminate disease from the calves, and 
raise a disease-free herd from the salvaged calves (Nishi et al. 2002, 
p. 229). From 1996 to 1998, 62 calves were captured. The disease 
eradication protocol included orphaning newborn, wild-caught calves to 
minimize their exposure to B. abortus and M. bovis; testing calves for 
antibodies to brucellosis prior to inclusion in the new herd; treating 
with antimycobacterial and anti-Brucella drugs; and intensive, whole-
herd testing for both diseases (Nishi et al. 2002, p. 229). By 2002, 
the herd size was 122. In

[[Page 26196]]

2006, after 9 years of intensive management, the herd was destroyed 
because bovine tuberculosis was discovered in 2005 in 2 founding 
animals and 10 captive-born animals, even though all animals initially 
tested disease-free. The herd provided valuable information on genetic 
salvage, genetic management, captive breeding for conservation, disease 
testing, and the difficulties involved in eradicating disease (Wilson 
et al. 2003, pp. 24-35). The Hook Lake Herd contributed to recovery 
goal 3.
    In April 2006, 30 wood bison calves were transferred from Elk 
Island National Park to Lenski Stolby Nature Park near Yakutsk, Sahka 
Republic (Yakutia), Russia. An additional 30 head were transferred in 
2011. Although outside the historical range, this was an opportunity to 
create another geographically separate population that provides added 
security to the species through population redundancy, thereby 
contributing to recovery goal 2. Transfer of wood bison to Russia was 
specifically mentioned in the recovery plan because it would contribute 
to the global security of the species (Gates et al., 2001, p. 14).
    In June 2008, 53 disease-free wood bison were transferred from Elk 
Island National Park to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in 
Portage, Alaska. Consequently, this captive herd currently contributes 
to recovery goal number 2 through population redundancy. Ultimately, 
the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) plans to restore wood 
bison populations in one to three areas in interior Alaska, with 
potential herd size of 500 to 2,000 or more depending on the location 
(ADF&G 2007, p. 79). Environmental analysis of the project is currently 
under review. The National Wood Bison Recovery Team in Canada 
recommended establishing one or more populations in Alaska in areas 
that can support 400 or more animals (Gates et al. 2001, p. 31). 
Establishment of one or more herds in Alaska would be a significant 
contribution to increasing the number of secure, disease-free, free-
roaming herds.

Summary of Progress Toward Recovery

    In summary, since 1978, the number of free-ranging, disease-free 
herds has increased from 1 to 7, and the number of wood bison has 
increased from approximately 400 to over 4,000. The first recovery goal 
of establishing 4 free-ranging, disease-free herds with 400 or more 
animals has been met, and planning is underway to create one or more 
herds in Alaska. Although the number of herds needed to meet recovery 
goal 2 was not specified, progress has been made on the second goal 
with the establishment of disease-free herds in Russia; Manitoba, 
Canada; and Alaska. The Hook Lake Bison Recovery Project was a well-
planned, science-based attempt to conserve the genetic diversity of a 
diseased herd and would have contributed greatly to recovery goal 3. 
Although ultimately the project was unsuccessful, a great deal of 
knowledge was gained (Wilson et al. 2003, pp. 62-67). The wood bison 
recovery team is very aware of the need to maintain genetic diversity 
in the herds and establishes new herds with the goal of maintaining 
genetic diversity through multiple introductions (i.e., the Aishihik 
herd, Nahanni, and Hook Lake herds). The establishment of six 
additional herds on the landscape since 1978 contributes to recovery 
goal 4. In addition, the captive population at Elk Island National Park 
has provided disease-free stock for those six additional herds and two 
captive herds. It is clear that there is active management of the 
herds, and multiple avenues of research are being funded and pursued 
regarding the biology and management of wood bison. Progress towards 
the recovery goals outlined in the national recovery plan, published by 
the National Wood Bison Recovery Team, is moving forward steadily.

Summary of Comments and Recommendations

    In the proposed rule published on February 8, 2011 (76 FR 6734), we 
requested that all interested parties submit written comments on the 
proposal by April 11, 2011. We also contacted appropriate Federal and 
State agencies, scientific experts and organizations, and other 
interested parties and invited them to comment on the proposal. We did 
not receive any requests for a public hearing.
    During the comment period for the proposed rule, we received 19 
comment letters directly addressing the proposed listing of wood bison 
with threatened status. All substantive information provided during the 
comment period has either been incorporated directly into this final 
determination or addressed below. Several of the comments included 
opinions or information not directly related to the proposed rule, such 
as views relating to the reintroduction of wood bison into Alaska. We 
do not address those comments as they do not have bearing on the 
reclassification of wood bison.

Peer Review

    In accordance with our peer review policy published on July 1, 1994 
(59 FR 34270), we solicited expert opinion from three knowledgeable 
individuals with scientific expertise that included familiarity with 
wood bison and its habitat, biological needs, recovery efforts, and 
threats. We received a response from one of the peer reviewers.
    We reviewed all comments received for substantive issues and new 
information regarding the listing of wood bison. The majority of 
comments (13 of 19) supported downlisting. A subset of these commenters 
(7 of the 13) thought the Service should delist the species 
immediately. Three commenters felt that wood bison should remain listed 
as endangered. The peer reviewer comments are addressed in the 
following summary and incorporated into the final rule as appropriate.

Peer Reviewer Comments

    (1) Comment: The peer reviewer provided very specific corrections 
to details about two of the wood bison herds in Canada, the Nahanni and 
Mackenzie.
    Our Response: As the reviewer noted, and we agree, the changes do 
not alter our finding. We have incorporated the details and updates for 
the Canadian herds provided by the reviewer into this final rule.

Comments From State of Alaska

    Comments received from the State of Alaska regarding the proposal 
to reclassify the wood bison are addressed below.
    (2) Comment: The State agrees that ``endangered'' is not the 
appropriate designation for wood bison but states that the species 
should be removed from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife 
(delisted), not reclassified as threatened. Several other commenters 
came to the same conclusion. They argue that recovery efforts in Canada 
have been successful enough that delisting is warranted.
    Our Response: We agree that conservation efforts in Canada have led 
to significant increases in the number of herds and herd size. However, 
we also recognize that threats to the species, in particular disease, 
loss of habitat, and hybridization with plains bison, persist, and 
delisting is therefore not yet appropriate. We will continue to follow 
the progress of conservation efforts, and we will propose to delist 
wood bison if and when appropriate.
    (3) Comment: The State and several commenters argued that listing 
under the Act provides no conservation benefits for the species in the 
United States, and may in fact be impeding conservation by making it 
more difficult to reintroduce wood bison into Alaska.

[[Page 26197]]

    Our Response: Under section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act, the Service must 
base a status determination solely on the best scientific and 
commercial data available. Thus, we cannot and did not base the 
decision to reclassify the wood bison under the Act on the efficacy of 
this action to conserve the species. Nevertheless, we disagree that 
listing is impeding conservation by making it more difficult to 
reintroduce the species to Alaska. Under the provisions of the Act's 
section 10(j), wood bison could be reintroduced into Alaska as an 
experimental, nonessential population. We have been working with the 
Alaska Department of Fish and Game on such a proposal, and both 
agencies agree that this approach may be a viable method for the 
reintroduction. Designating wood bison as an experimental, nonessential 
population would not only provide the means for reintroducing the 
animals, it would also provide assurances that conflicts with potential 
development would be minimal. Critical habitat is not designated for 
experimental, nonessential populations.
    (4) Comment: The State commented that the only real impact from 
listing was to deny sportsmen the opportunity to import legally 
harvested wood bison trophies from Canada.
    Our Response: We recognize that regulated hunting is an important 
component of Canada's recovery plan for the species; however, as 
explained above, listing determinations are based on evaluation of the 
factors affecting the species under section 4(a)(1) of the Act, using 
the best scientific and commercial information available. It is 
important to note that, under section 9(c)(2) of the Act, when the wood 
bison is reclassified to threatened status (see DATES, above), 
importation into the United States of sport-hunted trophies taken from 
Canada would not require a permit under 50 CFR 17.32, provided that a 
CITES Appendix-II export permit issued by the Canadian government 
accompanies the trophy when it arrives into the United States.

Federal Agency (Canada) Comments

    (5) Comment: We received two responses from the Northwest 
Territories. Both included specific minor corrections regarding herds, 
and both supported downlisting.
    Our Response: The commenters stated, and we agree, that none of the 
corrections were significant in terms of the finding. We have 
incorporated the details and updates for the Canadian herds provided by 
the reviewers in this final rule.

Public Comments

    (6) Comment: A few commenters argued that wood bison should remain 
listed as endangered. In summary, the reasoning presented was that the 
populations were too small, there is not enough habitat available, and 
hunting should not be allowed because of the small population sizes.
    Our Response: The Canada's National Wood Bison Recovery Team and 
recovery plan set forth the reasoning for maintaining a minimum 
population (herd) size of 400 (Gates et al. 2001, p. 32). At this 
point, there are more than 4,000 disease-free wood bison in 7 herds and 
an additional 4,000 animals in WBNP that are subject to disease but 
have a stable population. Four separate disease-free populations have 
400 or more animals (see Table 1, above). In addition, it has been 
demonstrated that wood bison, like plains bison and cattle, are 
relatively easy to breed and their populations can be managed for 
growth either in the wild (given adequate resources) or in captivity.
    Although we agree that there has been a loss of suitable habitat, 
there has been enough suitable and available habitat for the 
reintroduction of six herds within their historical range in Canada. 
All of the herds that have been established in the wild have expanded 
in size and are self-sustaining (see Table 1, above). Regulations 
prevent excess harvest on the free-ranging herds. Regardless of 
classification type (endangered or threatened), regulation of hunting 
in Canada is outside the jurisdiction of the Act. Currently, Canada 
uses hunting of wood bison as a management tool for population control 
and to minimize the chances that disease will spread from one 
population to another. We found no evidence that hunting, as it is 
currently managed, is a threat to the species. For these reasons, we 
have concluded that wood bison are no longer on the brink of extinction 
and are, therefore, not endangered; rather, they are progressing 
steadily towards recovery.
    (7) Comment: One commenter argued that wood bison should remain 
listed as endangered because Alaska is a significant portion of the 
wood bison's range. Because wood bison are extinct in Alaska, they 
should remain endangered until they are successfully introduced back 
into Alaska.
    Our Response: The Service disagrees that the wood bison's 
historical range, which includes Alaska, constitutes a significant 
portion of the range such that the endangered classification under the 
Act must be retained because of the species' extirpation in that 
portion of the historical range. The text of the Act supports our 
conclusion that we cannot base this determination on the status of the 
species in lost historical range. As defined by the Act, a species is 
endangered only if it ``is in danger of extinction'' in all or a 
significant portion of its range. The phrase ``is in danger'' denotes a 
present-tense condition of being at risk of a current (or future) 
undesired event. Hence, to say a species ``is in danger'' in an area 
where it no longer exists--i.e., in its historical range where it has 
been extirpated--is inconsistent with common usage. Thus, we consider 
``range'' within the definition of an ``endangered species'' to mean 
current range, not historical. In addition, in determining whether a 
species is an endangered species, the Act requires the Secretary to 
consider ``present'' or ``threatened'' (i.e., future), rather than 
past, ``destruction, modification, or curtailment'' of a species' 
habitat or range (16 U.S.C. 1533(a)(1)(A)). Furthermore, additional 
support for this conclusion is found in the Act's requirement that a 
summary of a proposed listing regulation be published in a newspaper 
``in each area of the United States in which the species is believed to 
occur'' (16 U.S.C. 1533(b)(5)(D)). There is no requirement to such 
notice in areas where the species no longer occurs. For these reasons, 
Alaska cannot be a significant portion of the wood bison's range.
    (8) Comment: One commenter felt that the proposed rule was 
deficient because we did not address the status of wood bison in Alaska 
and only looked at where wood bison currently exists. Thus, we should 
have included Alaska in our analysis as part of wood bison's historical 
range.
    Our Response: As explained above in our response to Comment 7, a 
species' listing determination cannot be based on the status of the 
species within its lost historical range. Nevertheless, we did consider 
the effect of the loss of the wood bison's historical range on the 
viability of the species throughout all or a significant portion of its 
current range. Although the species has been extirpated from Alaska for 
quite some time and the historic population in Alaska is unknown, we 
conclude that the loss of species' historic range in Alaska does not 
place the species in danger of extinction throughout all or a 
significant portion of the range. As detailed more fully in our final 
determination, the wood bison populations in Canada have stabilized or 
are increasing, and are self-sustaining in the absence of a population 
in Alaska.
    (9) Comment: Two commenters argued that wood bison is not a valid

[[Page 26198]]

subspecies and that they should not be listed for that reason. One 
commenter stated that differences between wood and plains bison are 
only phenotypic (they look different), and that all wood bison are 
hybrids with plains bison. The commenter cites the work of Douglas et 
al. 2011, which concludes that based on mitochondrial sequences, wood 
and plains bison should not be considered separate subspecies.
    Our Response: In the proposed rule (76 FR 6734), we outlined our 
reasoning for concluding that wood bison are a valid subspecies. We 
also acknowledged that because of the introduction of plains bison into 
WBNP there had been some introgression of plains bison genetic material 
into the wood bison genome. However, based on the historical physical 
separation, and quantifiable behavioral, morphological, and 
phenological (appearance) differences between the two subspecies, the 
scientific evidence indicates that subspecific designation is 
appropriate (van Zyll de Jong et al. 1995, p. 403; FEAP 1990, p. 24; 
Reynolds et al. 2003, p. 1010; Gates et al. 2010, pp. 15-17).
    Douglas et al. (2011, p. 167) included mitochondrial sequences from 
only two wood bison in their analysis. Considering the history of wood 
and plains bison on the landscape, two animals cannot accurately 
represent the range of genetic variation present between wood and 
plains bison, and it is not reasonable to conclude that the two 
subspecies should be considered as one, based on a sample size of two. 
In addition, the authors (Douglas et al. 2011, p. 173) include the 
important qualifying clause, ``with respect to their mitochondrial 
genomic sequences'' B. b. bison and B. b. athabascae should not be 
considered distinct subspecies. Mitochondrial DNA is maternally 
inherited and therefore presents only a partial picture of an animal's 
total genome. Mitochondrial DNA is used primarily to look at the more 
recent divergence between species. Differences in nuclear DNA sequences 
(which represent contributions from both the male and female) are used 
to determine differences that originate further back in time. Unless a 
peer-reviewed revision of the phylogeny of the subfamily Bovinae occurs 
that indicates wood and plains bison do not vary enough genetically to 
be considered distinct subspecies, and that revision is accepted by the 
scientific community, we will continue to acknowledge the two 
subspecies of bison.
    (10) Comment: One commenter stated that we did not provide a 
convincing argument that the threats to wood bison rise to the level 
that the species is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable 
future. The commenter states, ``[t]he Proposed Rule does not show that 
these risks are both sufficiently severe and likely to justify the 
``threatened'' classification.''
    Our Response: In the proposed rule (76 FR 6734), we identified 
threats under Factors A, C, D, and E. Although we did not identify an 
individual factor that might be responsible for the extinction of wood 
bison in the future, the combination of these threats are currently 
acting on the populations and will continue into the foreseeable 
future. The species is being actively managed in Canada to address 
these threats. Of these threats, disease is the most problematic for 
the species because there is not a clear path forward on how disease 
will be handled. No effective vaccines exist for brucellosis, 
tuberculosis, or anthrax for free-ranging populations and developing 
new disease-free herds is very challenging. In addition, although 
recommendations for the management of the diseased herds in and around 
WBNP have been suggested (FEAP 1990, p. 2), they have not yet been 
implemented, it is unknown if they will be implemented, and it is 
unknown how implementation of the recommendations would affect the 
status of the subspecies. It is possible many animals could be 
purposefully euthanized if disease spreads to currently uninfected 
herds that are in proximity to commercial cattle and bison operations, 
or as a solution to the diseased herds found in and around WBNP. As 
described in the proposed rule, the Hook Lake Herd, which was initiated 
as a disease-free herd, was eliminated when disease was detected. We 
also know that Canada has not yet made the decision to delist the 
species under SARA. We will continue to evaluate the status of wood 
bison and propose to delist the species when appropriate.
    (11) Comment: One commenter said that the Service cannot conclude 
that the wood bison remains threatened without establishing a timeframe 
for the foreseeable future.
    Our Response: We disagree. In some listings we have used very 
specific timeframes for our threats analysis (e.g., polar bear, see 73 
FR 28212, May 15, 2008), especially when we are using models that are 
projecting into the future for a specific amount of time. In the case 
of wood bison, we are not relying on modeling to describe or understand 
the threats into the future. In analyzing how threats will affect the 
status of this species, we assessed the foreseeable future for the wood 
bison in terms of the threats that are currently operating on the 
populations as well as those we could reliably expect to continue to 
affect the populations.
    (12) Comment: One commenter states that bison are inherently social 
creatures and are subject to rules of group behavior. As the size of 
herds changes, so too do their actions and lifestyles. There is simply 
not enough data from small herds over a few decades about wood bison 
sociology to make any confident predictions about the future. They 
argue that there are too few wood bison to contemplate easing 
protections on the species at this time.
    Our Response: We agree that wood bison are social animals and that 
new herds have been established for a relatively short time. However, 
the growth of the herds gives ample evidence that when suitable habitat 
is present the herds will grow until controlled. In reality, the 
protections provided to a species listed as threatened do not differ 
significantly from the protections provided to an endangered species. 
Wood bison will continue to be protected under the Act as a threatened 
species.
    (13) Comment: One commenter argued that B. b. athabascae is present 
in Yellowstone National Park (YNP) and it is endangered there.
    Our Response: Peer-reviewed published papers present a compelling 
opposing view to this comment. The published literature indicates that 
the only place where free-ranging wood bison occur, or have occurred in 
the recent past (last several hundred years), is in Canada and Alaska 
(Skinner and Kaisen 1947, p. 164; Stephenson et al. 2001, pp. 137, 146; 
Wilson and Strobeck 1998, p. 186). We disagree that wood bison 
currently persists in YNP and that it is endangered there.

Summary of Changes From Proposed Rule

    We reanalyzed the data from the United Nations Environment 
Programme--World Conservation Monitoring Center CITES Trade Database 
and, for clarity, reported data in specimens rather than shipments. 
However, this change did not alter our finding. We have not made any 
substantive changes in this final rule based on the comments we 
received. Although many commenters thought that wood bison no longer 
need the protections provided by the Act and should be delisted, no new 
or compelling information was provided to support such a 
recommendation. We recognize that conservation actions are continuing 
and that the status of wood bison is improving. However, because of the 
threats that are still present,

[[Page 26199]]

delisting is premature. Therefore, just as we proposed, we are changing 
the listing of the wood bison from endangered to threatened.

Summary of Factors Affecting the Subspecies

    Section 4 of the Act and implementing regulations (50 CFR part 424) 
set forth procedures for adding species to, removing species from, or 
reclassifying species on the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened 
Wildlife and Plants. Changes in the Lists can be initiated by the 
Service or through the public petition process. Under section 4(a)(1) 
of the Act, a species may be determined to be endangered or threatened 
based on any of the following five factors:
    (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of Its habitat or range;
    (B) Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes;
    (C) Disease or predation;
    (D) The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or
    (E) Other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued 
existence.
    We must consider these same factors in downlisting a species. For 
species that are already listed as endangered or threatened, we 
evaluate both the threats currently facing the species and the threats 
that are reasonably likely to affect the species in the foreseeable 
future following the delisting or downlisting and the removal or 
reduction of the Act's protections.
    Under section 3 of the Act, a species is ``endangered'' if it is in 
danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its 
range and is ``threatened'' if it is likely to become an endangered 
species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant 
portion of its range. ``Foreseeable future'' is determined by the 
Service on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration a variety of 
species-specific factors such as lifespan, genetics, breeding behavior, 
demography, threat projections timeframes, and environmental 
variability. The word ``range'' in the phrase ``significant portion of 
its range'' (SPR) refers to the range in which the species currently 
exists, and the word ``significant'' refers to the value of that 
portion of the range being considered to the conservation of the 
species.
    For the purposes of this analysis, we will evaluate all five 
factors currently affecting, or that are likely to affect, the wood 
bison to determine whether the currently listed species is endangered 
or threatened.

A. The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment 
of Its Habitat or Range

Loss of Foraging Habitat
Fire Suppression
    Wood bison depend on a landscape that includes sufficient 
grasslands and meadows for foraging habitat (Larter and Gates 1991b, p. 
133). It appears that primarily through fire suppression, there was an 
overall loss of meadow habitat in Canada through the 1900s. More 
intensive fire management began in Canada in the early 1900s, with the 
philosophy that fire was destructive and should be eliminated to 
protect property and permit proper forest management (Stocks et al. 
2003, p. 2). However, wildfire is an integral component of boreal 
forest ecology (Weber and Flannigan 1997, p. 146; Rupp et al. 2004, p. 
213; Soja et al. 2007, p. 277). Without fire, trees encroach on meadows 
and eventually the meadow habitat is lost and replaced by forest.
    Fire alone, or in combination with grazing, can facilitate the 
conversion and maintenance of grasslands (Lewis 1982, p. 24; Chowns et 
al. 1997, p. 205; Schwarz and Wein 1997, p. 1369). Burning by Native 
groups within the range of wood bison was apparently a common practice 
through the 1940s outside WBNP but ended within the park when it was 
established in 1922 (Lewis 1982, pp. 22-31; Schwarz and Wein 1997, p. 
1369). An examination of aerial photographs taken at WBNP over time 
showed that a semi-open grassland that covered about 85 ha (210 ac) in 
1928 supported a grassland of only 3 ha (7.4 ac) in 1982 (Schwarz and 
Wein 1997, p. 1369). In addition, a number of sites previously 
identified as prairie are now dominated by trembling aspen (Schwarz and 
Wein 1997, p. 1369). Although not quantified, it is likely that because 
of fire suppression and forest encroachment on meadows, there was a net 
loss of suitable open meadow habitat for wood bison throughout their 
range through about 1990. More recently, several factors may be 
counteracting the loss of open meadow habitat including controlled 
burns, timber harvest, oil and gas development, agricultural 
development, and the effects of climate change, as discussed below.
Controlled Burns
    Controlled burns have been implemented since 1992 in wood bison 
habitat in the Northwest Territories to increase meadow habitat (Chowns 
et al. 1997, p. 206). Approximately 4,400 to 26,900 ha (10,873 to 
66,471 ac) were burned from 1992 to 1997, with some sites being burned 
up to three times (Chowns et al. 1997, pp. 206-207). In addition, 
lightning fires burned 300,000 ha (741,316 ac), or almost 20 percent of 
the wood bison range in this area, from 1994 to 1996 (Chowns et al. 
1997, p. 209). Plants favored by bison were more abundant in unburned 
areas and in meadows that had burned only once (Quinlan et al. 2003, p. 
348), indicating that prescribed burns must be used judiciously to be 
effective in creating foraging habitat for wood bison. A study of 
vegetation recovery and plains bison use after a wildfire near 
Farewell, Alaska (Campbell and Hinkes 1983, p. 18), showed that grass 
and sedge-dominated communities increased from 38 percent to 
approximately 97 percent of the study area. Plains bison use also 
increased in subsequent years after the fire, and winter distribution 
of the Farewell herd expanded due to fire-related habitat changes 
(Campbell and Hinkes 1983, pp. 18-19). Because sedges are important 
winter forage for wood bison, the amount of such habitat has a major 
influence on herd size. Newly created habitats will be used by wood 
bison when these habitats are contiguous with existing summer or winter 
ranges (Campbell and Hinkes 1983, p. 20).
    In summary, studies that have looked at the exclusion of fire or 
the effect of wildfire on wood bison habitat have concluded that fire 
is a necessary component of the landscape to maintain clearings and 
create conditions that favor forage preferred by wood bison. Controlled 
burns can have the same effect as wildfire by creating openings in the 
forest. However, repeated burns in the same location can be detrimental 
to creating suitable forage.
Timber Harvest
    The volume of timber logged in Canada rose 50 percent from 1970 to 
1997; in Alberta, the logging rate increased 423 percent, from 3.4 to 
17.8 million meters (m)\3\ (120 to 628 million feet (ft)\3\) per year 
during the same time (Timoney and Lee 2001, p. 394). These values are 
conservative because forests logged on private land and those harvested 
on government land after fire, insect outbreaks, or disease may go 
unrecorded (Timoney and Lee 2001, p. 395). The primary method of 
harvest is clearcutting (Timoney and Lee 2001, p. 394). Compared to a 
closed canopy forest, clearcuts improve the amount of suitable habitat 
available to wood bison because they create openings and increase the 
amount of summer forage available. However, the quantity and quality of 
forage is less than what is

[[Page 26200]]

found in preferred wood bison foraging habitats, and the increased 
productivity seen after a clearcut is not maintained, as woody 
vegetation becomes more dominant over time (Redburn et al. 2008, p. 
2233). In addition, clearcuts do not provide adequate winter forage 
because wood bison's preferred food, sedges, typically do not colonize 
these areas. Clearcutting is not being used as a management tool to 
increase wood bison habitat currently, and whatever gains in habitat 
that have occurred from clearcutting are most likely low.
    In summary, although timber harvest occurs throughout the range of 
wood bison, it is unclear to what extent it is creating suitable 
habitat. Clear cuts can increase summer forage, but they need to be in 
proximity to sedge meadows (wintering habitat) to increase the annual 
carrying capacity for wood bison, and the openings created by the clear 
cuts must be maintained over time. Although timber harvest has the 
potential to increase the amount of suitable habitat for wood bison, 
the amount that may have been created is most likely low and is 
undocumented.
Oil and Gas Development
    Oil and gas exploration and production in Canada has increased in 
the last 20 years (Timoney and Lee 2001, pp. 397-398). Seismic mapping 
to determine the oil and gas reserves below the surface involves 
cutting paths 5 to 8 m (16.4 to 26 ft) wide across the landscape. The 
seismic lines become persistent features in the forested boreal 
landscape (Lee and Boutin 2006, p. 249). Approximately 70 percent of 
landscape disturbance for non-renewable resource extraction in Alberta 
is due to seismic lines (Timoney and Lee 2001, p. 397). There are an 
estimated 1.5 to 1.8 million km (932,000 to 1,100,000 mi) of seismic 
lines in Alberta (Timoney and Lee 2001, p. 397). Lee and Boutin (2006, 
p. 244) found that only 8.2 percent of seismic lines in Alberta's 
northeastern forested stands recovered to greater than 50 percent woody 
vegetative cover after 35 years, and 64 percent of these seismic lines 
maintained a cover of grasses and herbs. In terms of creating forest 
openings, more suitable foraging habitat, and linear paths, seismic 
lines may be beneficial for wood bison. However, because vehicular 
routes were established in 20 percent of the seismic lines, they also 
become corridors for off-road vehicles, recreationalists, and poachers 
(Trombulak and Frissell 2000, pp. 19-20; Timoney and Lee 2001, p. 400; 
Lee and Boutin 2006, p. 244). Although wood bison are known to occupy 
linear clearings such as roads, and seismic lines have increased 
dramatically within their range, potentially creating suitable habitat, 
we do not have documentation of wood bison use of this type of habitat.
Agricultural Development
    The popularity of bison as an alternative to beef in human diets 
has led to a growth of commercial bison ranches in Canada and the 
United States (Gates et al. 1992, p. 155). Exports of bison meat from 
Canada doubled to over 2 million kilograms (2.3 tons) from 2001 to 2006 
(Statistics Canada 2009a, unpaginated). Plains bison dominate 
agricultural production in Canada because commercial production of this 
subspecies has been in place much longer than it has been for wood 
bison (Gates et al. 1992, p. 156; Harper and Gates 2000, p. 919). Bison 
production in Canada is concentrated in the western provinces, within 
the historical range of wood bison. In 2006, there were 195,728 plains 
bison on 1,898 farms reporting in the Canadian National Census; this 
amounts to an increase of 35 percent from 2001 (Statistics Canada 
2009b, unpaginated). Thus, plains bison represented approximately 95 
percent of the total bison on the landscape in Canada in 2006. 
Existence and expansion of commercial plains bison production reduce 
the amount of land available for wild wood bison populations and 
increase the risk of hybridization when plains bison escape captivity 
(Harper and Gates 2000, p. 919; Gates et al. 2001, pp. 24, 29). Demand 
currently exceeds supply; therefore, expansion of commercial plains and 
wood bison operations is expected to continue (Gates et al. 2001, p. 
24).
    Escape of plains bison from fenced enclosures within the range of 
the wood bison in Canada poses a threat to the genetic integrity of 
wood bison (Gates et al. 1992, p. 156; Gates et al. 2001, p. 24). 
Because of their size, strength, and undomesticated nature, typical 
fences are insufficient to restrain bison (FEAP 1990, p. 29; Harper and 
Gates 2000, p. 919). Maintenance of fences can be a challenge in harsh 
environments where tree-fall, snow, ice, and frost heave can impair the 
integrity of the fence and necessitate frequent repairs. The import of 
plains bison to a private ranch near Pink Mountain, British Columbia, 
led to the establishment of a free-ranging herd of plains bison after 
they escaped their enclosure (Gates et al. 1992, p. 156).
    In addition to commercial production, free-ranging, publicly 
managed plains bison herds have been established outside their 
historical range and within the historical range of wood bison in 
Alaska and Canada (Gates et al. 2010, p. 56). Because of the potential 
for hybridization, these herds limit where wood bison can be 
reintroduced. Five plains bison herds occur in Alaska and one occurs in 
British Columbia, Canada (Gates et al. 2010, p. 56). None of these 
plains bison herds occur in close proximity to free-ranging wood bison 
herds with the exception of one herd--the Pink Mountain herd, British 
Columbia--which also occupies habitat that could have been used for 
wood bison (Harper et al. 2000, p. 11). Preventing interbreeding 
between free-ranging plains bison and wood bison is a management 
objective in British Columbia and is accomplished by maintaining a 
large physical separation between the herds and having a management 
zone around the plains bison herd that allows harvest of plains bison 
within this zone (Harper et al. 2000, p. 23).
    Agricultural development, including plains bison ranching, is the 
least compatible land use for wood bison recovery (Harper and Gates 
2000, p. 921). Loss of habitat for agricultural production is a threat 
to wood bison because of the large areas involved. Agricultural 
development near Fort St. John and Fort Nelson, British Columbia, has 
reduced habitat for wood bison, and continuing expansion of agriculture 
in the north will further limit the ability to meet population recovery 
objectives (Harper and Gates 2000, p. 921). Based on a conservative 
estimate of historical habitat only in Canada, Gates et al. (1992, p. 
154) estimated that human activities and development exclude wood bison 
from approximately 34 percent of their historic range. When an updated 
Canadian historical range (Stephenson et al. 2001, p. 136) and the 
Alaskan historical range are included in the calculation, the amount of 
compromised habitat drops to approximately 16.5 percent if only Canada 
is considered, and 13 percent if the historical habitat in Canada and 
Alaska are combined (Stephenson 2010, pers. comm.). Sanderson et al. 
(2002, pp. 894-896; 2008, p. 257) found that the level of human 
influence in the range occupied by wood bison to be extremely low (less 
than 10 percent). Although human development and influence is very low 
over the majority of range occupied by wood bison, we assume that 
because of human population growth, increased commercial production of 
plains bison, and increased agricultural production, there will be 
continued loss of suitable wood bison habitat into the foreseeable 
future.

[[Page 26201]]

Climate Change
    Climate change models project that the largest temperature 
increases will occur in the upper latitudes of the northern hemisphere, 
and that there will be an increase in extreme climate events in these 
areas (IPCC 2007, p. 11.5.3.1). This area includes the boreal forest of 
Canada and Alaska in the range of wood bison. Some of the predicted 
outcomes of climate change are: An increase in temperature; an increase 
in insect outbreaks; an increase in wildfire severity, area burned, and 
fire season length with potential landscape-scale ecotype effects; and 
a shift northward of boreal forest (Hamann and Wang 2006, pp. 2780-
2782; Soja et al. 2007, p. 277). These aspects of climate change have 
the potential to increase the amount of habitat suitable for wood bison 
over the next 100 years.
    The mean annual temperature of interior Alaska and northern Canada 
has increased by 2 degrees Celsius ([deg]C) (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit 
([deg]F)) in the last four decades (Serreze et al. 2000, p. 163). 
Warming has triggered bark beetle outbreaks in western North America, 
including south-central Alaska and British Columbia. In British 
Columbia, by the end of 2006, 130,000 km\2\ (50,193 mi\2\) of forested 
lands were affected (Kurz et al. 2008, p. 987). The outbreak in British 
Columbia was an order of magnitude greater in area and severity than 
all previous recorded outbreaks (Kurz et al. 2008, p. 987).
    The effect of insect outbreaks on wood bison habitat includes a 
potential increase in suitable wood bison habitat, and an increase in 
susceptibility to fire. In insect-infested plots studied on the Kenai 
Peninsula, cover of bluejoint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis), a 
summer forage species, increased to more than 50 percent compared to 
uninfested forest stands (Werner et al. 2006, p. 198). These results 
indicate forests affected by beetle kill may become more suitable to 
wood bison by creating openings and changing the vegetative 
composition. This would be particularly true in areas where, because of 
climate change, there was a permanent change in landscape cover from 
forest to grassland (Rizzo and Wiken 1992, p. 53; Flannigan et al. 
2000, pp. 226-227). Werber and Flannigan (1997, p. 157), and 
Malmstr[ouml]m and Raffa (2000, p. 36), indicate that insect outbreaks 
increase an area's susceptibility to fire ignition and spread.
    Since the mid-1980s, wildfire frequency in western forests has 
nearly quadrupled compared to the average frequency during the period 
1970-1986. The total area burned is more than six and a half times the 
previous level (Westerling et al. 2006, p. 941). In addition, the 
average length of the fire season during 1987-2003 was 78 days longer 
compared to that during 1970-1986, and the average time between fire 
discovery and control was 29.6 days longer (Westerling et al. 2006, p. 
941). In Alaska, the largest fire on record was in 2004, and the third 
largest was in 2003 (Soja et al. 2007, p. 281).
    The area burned by forest fires in Canada has increased over the 
past four decades (Stocks et al. 2003, p. 2; Gillett et al. 2004, p. 4; 
Soja et al., 2007, p. 281). In Canada, weather/climate is the most 
important natural factor influencing forest fires (Gillett et al. 2004, 
p. 2; Flannigan et al. 2005, p. 1). Projections based on the Canadian 
and Hadley General Circulation Models, which predict future carbon 
dioxide and temperature increases, indicate that the area burned in 
boreal forests of Canada will double by the end of the century 
(Flannigan et al. 2005, pp. 11-12), the area exhibiting high to extreme 
fire danger will increase substantially, and the length of the fire 
season will increase (Stocks et al. 1998, pp. 5-11).
    In the absence of fire, vegetation changes would occur relatively 
slowly in response to relatively slow changes in the climate. Because 
of its immediate and large-scale effect, fire is seen as an agent of 
change that will hasten the modification of the landscape to a new 
equilibrium with climate. Area burned may overshadow the direct effects 
of climate change on plant species distribution and migration (Werber 
and Flannigan 1997, p. 157). The new fire regime is expected to affect 
the age class distribution, species composition, landscape mosaics, and 
boundaries, including a retraction of the southern boreal forest 
(Werber and Flannigan 1997, pp. 157, 160).
    The increase in temperature, predicted by the Canadian and Hadley 
General Circulation Models described above, is expected to cause major 
shifts in ecosystems (Rizzo and Wiken 1992, p. 37; Hogg and Schwarz 
1997, p. 527). The amount of grassland in Canada may increase by about 
7 percent and shift northward (Rizzo and Wiken 1992, p. 52). Several 
modeling efforts suggest that boreal forests will shift northward into 
the area now characterized as subarctic (Rizzo and Wiken 1992, pp. 48-
50; Rupp et al. 2002, p. 214). These changes may favor the expansion of 
suitable habitat for wood bison over the next century. Because one of 
the anticipated outcomes under climate change and the new fire regime 
is a retraction of the southern boreal forest and expansion of 
grasslands, we anticipate that habitat for wood bison, which require 
meadows intermixed with forest, will increase over the next century.
Summary of Factor A
    Our analysis of habitat threats to wood bison under Factor A 
includes management actions that are being taken (controlled burns, 
timber harvest, oil and gas development), anticipated changes to the 
landscape based on climate change (increased insect outbreaks, 
increased fire, ecotype transition), and agricultural development. In 
summary, most likely there was loss of suitable meadow foraging habitat 
for wood bison from fire suppression in the 20th century. Several 
factors, including fire, timber harvest, oil and gas exploration, and 
insect infestations, could create more forest openings and grassland 
habitat. However, neither the loss nor potential gain in habitat from 
these sources has been quantified, and the suitability of habitat for 
wood bison created as a by-product of resource development is largely 
unknown. The primary loss of habitat for wood bison has occurred from 
agricultural development (including commercial production of plains 
bison). Although the current level of human influence in the range of 
wood bison is low, we anticipate human population growth will continue, 
and loss of suitable habitat from agricultural development is expected 
in the foreseeable future. In the short term, habitat loss is expected 
to outstrip gain because of the increasing demand and production of 
commercial bison. Based on model projections of the effects of climate 
change, it is anticipated that there will be increased insect 
infestations, increased fire frequency and area burned, and warmer 
temperatures, leading to shifts in ecosystems. In the long term, these 
changes will likely create more forest openings and landscapes in early 
successional stages and may increase the amount of suitable habitat 
available to wood bison. Whether the potential gain in habitat will 
offset the loss from development in the long term is unknown. 
Consequently, based on the best scientific and commercial data 
available, we conclude that loss of habitat remains a threat to wood 
bison in the foreseeable future.

B. Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 
Educational Purposes

    Overharvesting for the fur trade and westward expansion by 
Europeans resulted in near extinction of wood bison by the late 1800s 
(Gates et al.

[[Page 26202]]

1992, pp. 143-145). Currently, the utilization of free-ranging, 
disease-free wood bison populations is closely regulated and managed 
for sustainability. Under the SARA, a species listed as threatened may 
not be killed on Federal lands such as National Parks or National 
Wildlife Areas, except where permitted under a national recovery 
strategy (GNT 2010, p. 10). Harvest is used as a recovery management 
tool to regulate herd size when other limiting factors, such as 
predation or disease, do not. Without harvest, herd size can expand 
beyond the carrying capacity of the landscape, may grow to the point 
where overlap with either plains bison or diseased herds is more 
likely, or may expand into areas such as highway rights-of-way. 
Regulated harvest is allowed from the disease-free Mackenzie herd, 
Nahanni herd (quota of two bison annually), the Aishihik herd, and the 
Hay-Zama herds under permit systems controlled by the respective 
territorial wildlife agencies, and is managed on a conservative 
sustained-yield basis. The regulated harvests for the Mackenzie, 
Aishihik, and Hay-Zama herds are described below.
    Hunting of the Mackenzie wood bison herd is regulated under a quota 
system based on population size, with consideration given to Native 
community interests in subsistence hunting through a co-management 
process with the Fort Providence Resource Management Board. Regulated 
hunting was initiated in 1987. Non-resident hunting licenses were first 
issued for the winter hunt in 1992-1993. The quota for resident and 
non-residents has been adjusted over time based on herd size and 
community input. The allowable quota for harvest has never been taken 
and has ranged from 20 to 93.6 percent of the quota (Reynolds et al. 
2004, p. 39). The current annual allowable harvest is 118 bison (http://www.justice.gov.nt.ca/PDF/REGS/WILDLIFE/Big%20Game%20Hunting.pdf, 
viewed January 23, 2012).
    Sport hunting is the primary method of regulating the growth of the 
Aishihik herd because natural predation on the herd is low. The Yukon 
Wood Bison Technical Team provides advice on wood bison management that 
is sensitive to local conditions (i.e., to remove wood bison from 
highway rights-of-way, competition of bison with other native 
ungulates) and consistent with the National Wood Bison Recovery Plan 
(Yukon Environment 2009, p. 1). The annual allowable harvest is 
determined each year based on population size and calf recruitment 
rate. Harvest from 1999 to 2007-2008 winter season ranged from 65 to 75 
animals. In the 2008-2009 winter season, the allowable harvest 
increased to 200 because the population continued to grow under the old 
quota. Increased harvest is expected to restrict the movement of wood 
bison away from their traditional range, address highway safety 
concerns, and achieve bison management objectives (Government of Yukon 
2009, p. 1). Resident, non-resident, and First Nations hunters are 
required to have a permit to hunt wood bison. Harvest regulations are 
strictly enforced by Yukon Department of Environment conservation 
officers, often in collaboration with local First Nations Game 
Guardians.
    Hunting in the Hay-Zama herd began in 2008. Hunting was initiated 
to regulate the population size, reduce wood bison conflicts with 
humans in the communities of Zama City and Chatey, reduce wood bison-
vehicle collisions on two highways, and limit wood bison distribution 
eastward, preventing potential contact with diseased bison from WBNP 
(Government of Alberta 2010a, unpaginated). Harvest removed 128 and 155 
animals in the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 seasons, respectively 
(Government of Alberta 2010b, unpaginated). Three hundred licenses were 
issued each year, 200 to Aboriginal hunters and 100 to recreational 
hunters. Because the objectives of reducing herd size and human 
conflicts have been met, the total number of licenses has been reduced 
in the 2010-2011 season to 105 (Government of Canada 2010b, 
unpaginated). Based on the success rate of the past two seasons, 
approximately 50 animals will likely be harvested. It is estimated that 
a population objective of 400-600 wood bison can be sustained by 
harvesting approximately 60 to 70 animals per season (Government of 
Canada 2010b, unpaginated).
    In addition to regulating herd size, harvest is also used to 
prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis infection in 
wood bison. Under the Northwest Territories Big-Game Hunting 
Regulations, hunters may shoot any bison sighted within the Bison 
Control Area (BCA), an area located between the WBNP diseased herd and 
the Mackenzie and Nahanni disease-free herds. The goal is to reduce the 
risk of bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis infection of the Mackenzie 
and Nahanni herds by removing infected animals dispersing from WBNP 
(see discussion under Factor C, below). Thirteen bison were removed 
from the BCA in the mid-1990s (Nishi 2002, pp. 12-13). There is 
currently no authorized harvest of wood bison in British Columbia.
    Under Canada's SARA, all collection of listed species such as wood 
bison for scientific purposes is closely regulated. Scientific research 
on disease, genetics, diet, and other aspects of wood bison life 
history can and has been done using animals that have been legally 
taken by hunters, animals that died through natural factors, or road 
kill (e.g., Tessaro et al. 1990, p. 175). Scientific research must 
relate to the conservation of the species and be conducted by qualified 
persons; the activity must benefit the species or enhance its chance of 
survival in the wild. In addition, activities affecting the species 
must be incidental to carrying out an otherwise lawful activity. 
Researchers must demonstrate awareness of the provisions of SARA, that 
measures are being taken to minimize harm to listed species, and that 
the most effective measures for minimizing harm are adopted.
    Commercial harvest of free-ranging wood bison does not occur and 
only a small number of wood bison have been sporadically taken from 
disease-free herds for display in zoos or wildlife parks. This occurs 
only when surplus animals are available, and these surplus animals have 
typically come from Elk Island National Park (Gates et al. 2010, p. 
81).
    The wood bison was placed in Appendix I of CITES on July 1, 1975, 
when the treaty first went into effect. CITES is an international 
agreement between governments to ensure that the international trade of 
CITES-listed plant and animal species does not threaten their survival 
in the wild. There are currently 175 CITES Parties (member countries or 
signatories to the Convention). Under this treaty, CITES Parties 
regulate the import, export, and reexport of CITES-listed plant and 
animal species (also see discussion under Factor D, below). Trade must 
be authorized through a system of permits and certificates that are 
provided by the designated CITES Scientific and Management Authorities 
of each CITES Party (CITES 2010, unpaginated). Species included in 
CITES Appendix I are considered threatened with extinction, and 
international trade is permitted only under exceptional circumstances, 
which generally precludes commercial trade.
    Beginning in 1993, the European Economic Community CITES Working 
Group authorized the import of wood bison trophies from the Mackenzie 
population, one of the disease-free herds with regulated harvest. On 
September 18, 1997, the wood bison was transferred to Appendix II of 
CITES

[[Page 26203]]

based on a proposal from Canada, which described progress made in 
recovery plan implementation (Government of Canada 1997, entire). The 
United States supported this change. Appendix II allows for regulated 
trade, including commercial trade, as long as the exporting country 
issues a CITES permit based on findings that the specimen was legally 
acquired and the export will not be detrimental to the survival of the 
species.
    Data obtained from the United Nations Environment Programme-World 
Conservation Monitoring Center (UNEP-WCMC) CITES Trade Database show 
that, from July 1975, when the wood bison was listed in Appendix I, 
through 2009, a total of 23,344 specimens of this subspecies were 
reported to UNEP-WCMC as (gross) exports. Of those 23,344 specimens, 
264 were live animals, 36 were skins, 10 were skin pieces, 5 were 
bodies, 26 were shoes, 21,300 were horn products, 461 were teeth, 46 
were carvings, 5 were garments, 14 were leather products, 1,074 were 
scientific specimens, 31 were trophies, 59 were parts of trophies 
(horns, skulls, bones, feet, tails, and hair), and 13 were unspecified 
specimens. An additional 1,930 kilograms of meat were reported as 
exports.
    In analyzing these data, it appears that several records may be 
over-counts due to slight differences in the manner in which the 
importing and exporting countries reported their trade. It is likely 
that the actual number of wood bison specimens in international trade 
during this period was 23,210, plus 1,074 kilograms of meat. Of the 
23,210 specimens, 264 were live animals, 34 were skins, 10 were skin 
pieces, 5 were bodies, 26 were shoes, 21,300 were horn products, 461 
were teeth, 46 were carvings, 4 were garments, 14 were leather 
products, 945 were scientific specimens, 30 were trophies, 58 were 
parts of trophies (horns, skulls, bones, feet, tails, and hair), and 13 
were unspecified specimens.
    With the information obtained from the UNEP-WCMC CITES Trade 
Database, 1,606 specimens and 1,910 kilograms of meat were reported in 
international trade since the wood bison was transferred from Appendix 
II to Appendix I in 1997. 1,398 of these specimens (87 percent) were 
reported as imported into the United States and 20 (1 percent) were 
reported as exported from the United States. Also, 1,900 of the total 
of 1,910 kilograms of meat (99 percent) were reported as imported into 
the United States. Of the 264 live wood bison reported in international 
trade between 1975 and 2009, 235 were traded since the subspecies was 
transferred from Appendix II to Appendix I in 1997. Of these 235 live 
specimens, 174 (74 percent) were reported as captive-bred or captive 
born, 13 (6 percent) were reported as ranched specimens, and 48 (20 
percent) were reported as having been obtained from the wild. There has 
been no trade in live, wild wood bison since 2006.
    As a species listed in Appendix II of CITES, commercial trade of 
wood bison is allowed. However, the Appendix-II listing requires that 
before an export can occur, a determination must be made that the 
specimens were legally obtained (in accordance with national laws) and 
that the export will not be detrimental to the survival of the species 
in the wild. Because CITES requires that all international shipments of 
wood bison must be legally obtained and not detrimental to the survival 
of the species, we believe that international trade controlled via 
valid CITES permits is not a threat to the species. Furthermore, we 
have no information indicating that illegal trade is a threat to this 
species.
Summary of Factor B
    It is possible that, with the ongoing recovery actions, a status 
review of wood bison in Canada could lead to delisting under SARA 
within the next 10 years. If this were to happen, we expect that 
regulations for recreational hunting, import of wood bison trophies, 
and permitting would change. Our ability to predict how these changes 
would affect the status of the species is limited; consequently, we can 
only reliably project for a short time into the future.
    Because harvest rates of free-ranging wood bison are based on 
sustainability, harvest is closely monitored and regulated, scientific 
collecting is tightly controlled, commercial harvest does not occur in 
wild populations, and import and export are controlled via CITES 
permits, we have determined that overutilization for commercial, 
recreational, scientific, or educational purposes is not a threat to 
wood bison now or in the foreseeable future.

C. Disease or Predation

Disease
    In the early 1920s, 6,673 plains bison were introduced into WBNP, 
Alberta, Canada, where approximately 1,500 disease-free wood bison 
resided (FEAP 1990, p. 6; Gates et al. 1992, pp. 146-147). Although 
initially separated by fairly large distances, the plains bison 
eventually co-occurred and interbred with the wood bison and also 
transmitted bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis to them (FEAP 1990, p. 
6; Gates et al. 1992, pp. 146-147). By the late 1940s and early 1950s, 
the population of wood bison in WBNP increased to between 12,500 and 
15,000 animals (Fuller, 1950, p. 450). From that level, wood bison 
numbers began to decline from 11,000 in 1971, to approximately 2,300 by 
1998 (Carbyn et al. 1998, p. 464). The reasons for the population 
decline are not known with certainty, but disease, predation by wolves, 
and habitat condition may all have played a role (Carbyn et al. 1998, 
pp. 467-468; Joly and Messier 2004, pp. 1165-1166). Population numbers 
at WBNP have stabilized at about 4,000 to 5,000 since 2002 (see Table 
1, above).
    Bovine tuberculosis and bovine brucellosis receive special 
attention because they cause production losses in domestic animals, can 
potentially infect humans, and are required to be reported under the 
Canadian Food and Inspection Agency's (CFIA) Health of Animals Act and 
Regulations (FEAP 1990, p. 7). Although wildlife is not under their 
jurisdiction, the CFIA recognizes the threat of reportable diseases to 
the commercial livestock industry and international trade. The CFIA 
follows a strict testing and eradication program for bovine 
tuberculosis and brucellosis in domestic animals, requiring that all 
infected animals and all exposed susceptible animals be destroyed 
(Canadian Food Inspection Agency 2002, unpaginated). Consequently, 
there is great concern from the Canadian cattle industry, which is 
currently recognized as disease-free, that disease will spread from 
wood bison to domestic cattle (GNT 2010, p. 8). The goal of the CFIA's 
National Bovine Tuberculosis/Brucellosis Eradication Program is to 
detect and eradicate tuberculosis and brucellosis in farmed animals in 
Canada in order to protect the health of food-producing and companion 
animals, safeguard human health, and safeguard the health of free-
roaming wildlife. Canada recognizes an obligation to detect, identify, 
report, and contain important diseases in wildlife, especially those 
with the potential to impact biodiversity, human and livestock health, 
the environment, and the economy within and beyond their borders.
    Wood bison in and around WBNP are a reservoir for bovine 
brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis. Because there is a risk that these 
diseases could spread to uninfected free-ranging bison herds or to 
commercial cattle and bison operations, limits are placed on herd 
expansion to minimize the chance that

[[Page 26204]]

the diseased animals come into contact with either free-ranging, 
disease-free herds, or with domestic cattle or bison operations. In 
addition, the diseased herds occupy suitable habitat that could be used 
for the establishment of disease-free herds of wood bison. Therefore, 
the existence of diseased bison herds in and around WBNP compromises 
further recovery of wood bison in northern Alberta, the Northwest 
Territories, and British Columbia (Gates et al. 2001, p. 29). The total 
area compromised by diseased herds is approximately 218,516 km\2\ 
(84,369 mi\2\) or about 12 percent of the original range of the wood 
bison in Canada (Gates et al. 2001, p. 24). As mentioned earlier, there 
are no effective vaccines for the treatment of animals in free-ranging 
populations.
    The disease-free herds most at risk from infection from animals at 
WBNP are the Mackenzie, Hay-Zama, and Nahanni. Regulated harvest is 
allowed from the Mackenzie herd, Nahanni herd, and the Hay-Zama herd 
under permit systems (as described above under Factor B), in part to 
prevent overlap with the diseased herd. In addition, the Governments of 
the Northwest Territories, Alberta, and British Columbia have 
designated management zones to reduce the risk of dispersing animals 
transmitting disease to disease-free herds in their provinces. In 1987, 
the Government of the Northwest Territories implemented a program to 
reduce the risk of contact between infected bison in and around WBNP 
and disease-free bison in the Mackenzie and Nahanni herds by 
establishing a Bison Free Management Area (BFMA) (Nishi 2002, pp. 5-6). 
The BFMA (39,000 km\2\ (15,058 mi\2\)) encompasses the area between the 
Alberta-Northwest Territories border and southern shoreline of the 
Mackenzie River. In 1992, the Government of the Northwest Territories 
established the Nuisance Bison Control Regulations under the Northwest 
Territories Wildlife Regulations Act, permitting eligible hunters to 
legally shoot any bison sighted in the BFMA. All bison within this area 
are presumed disease carriers. The objectives of the program are to 
detect and remove any bison, and to prevent establishment of herds in 
the management area (Nishi 2002, p. 6). No bison were observed in the 
area during annual aerial surveys in the period 1988-2006, but 13 bison 
were killed in the mid-1990s (Nishi 2002, pp. 12-13; Hartop et al. 
2009, p. 41). Aerial surveillance occurs annually.
    In 1995, the Government of Alberta established a 36,000-km\2\ 
(13,900-mi\2\) bison management area around the Hay-Zama herd to 
protect all bison from hunting. Within this area, all wood bison are 
legally protected under Alberta's Wildlife Act; outside of the area 
they are not protected and can be hunted. The area outside of the 
protected management area creates a large buffer zone between the 
disease-free Hay-Zama herd and the diseased herds within WBNP (Gates et 
al. 2001, p. 38).
    Control areas and buffer zones between diseased and non-diseased 
populations may not prevent disease transmission (Canadian Food 
Inspection Agency 2002, unpaginated) because they are sporadically 
patrolled and imperfectly enforced. As discussed earlier, fences are an 
ineffective method to contain herds long term, especially those in 
large areas (FEAP 1990, p. 29). Consequently, a long-term, more 
sustainable solution is needed to address this problem.
    A Federal Environmental Assessment Panel (FEAP) was assembled to 
evaluate four courses of action to address the diseased herds at WBNP. 
These actions were initially proposed by the Bison Disease Task Force: 
(1) Do nothing; (2) fence WBNP to contain the diseased bison and 
prevent the spread of disease; (3) use a combination of strategically 
placed fences, buffer zones exterior to the Park from which all bison 
would be eliminated, and land-use restrictions on cattle grazing; and 
(4) phased elimination of the diseased herd and replacement with 
disease-free wood bison (FEAP 1990, p. 15). After public hearings, and 
consultation with technical experts, the panel recommended eradication 
of the existing diseased bison population to eliminate the risk of 
transmission of disease from bison in and around WBNP to domestic 
cattle, wood bison, and humans (FEAP 1990, p. 2). Public response to 
this recommendation was largely negative (Carbyn et al. 1998, p. 464). 
The recommendation was not implemented; consequently, control of 
disease spread currently depends on the buffer zones.
    Annual examinations and serological studies of bison harvested from 
the Mackenzie herd indicate that the herd continues to be disease-free 
(Nishi 2002, p. 23). Over 220 samples were received from harvested 
bison from the Hay-Zama herd that could be tested for disease. All 
samples tested negative (Government of Canada 2010a, unpaginated). 
There is also no evidence of bovine brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis 
in reintroduced herds in the Yukon Territory, British Columbia, western 
Alberta, or Manitoba. Free-ranging, disease-free herds currently 
include approximately 4,414 wood bison (see Table 1, above). Because of 
their distance from WBNP, the Aishihik and Chitek Lake herds are the 
most secure from disease.
    Recovery and conservation efforts for wood bison emphasize the 
importance of preventing the spread of tuberculosis and brucellosis to 
disease-free populations and eliminating diseases in infected 
populations (Gates et al. 2001, p. 30). The focus on disease prevention 
and control is consistent with the recovery goals of increasing the 
number of disease-free populations. Parks Canada, through Elk Island 
National Park, has worked with the recovery team and others to develop 
and maintain a disease-free, captive-breeding herd, which has provided 
healthy stock for several restoration projects (Gates et al. 2001, p. 
18).
    Because the northern latitudes are experiencing the greatest 
changes in climate, this area may also be at the greatest risk for the 
emergence of diseases and parasites that may threaten the stability of 
wildlife populations (Kutz et al. 2004, pp. 109, 114). Warming may be 
of particular concern for wildlife in northern regions because the 
life-history patterns of most hosts and parasites are currently 
constrained by climatic conditions (Kutz et al. 2004, p. 114). 
Researchers have hypothesized that climate change will accelerate 
pathogen development rates, lead to greater overwinter survival of 
pathogens, and modify host susceptibility to infection in such a way 
that the effects of disease will increase (Ytrehus et al. 2008, p. 
214). Wood bison are susceptible to many diseases and parasites 
(Reynolds et al. 2003, pp. 1030-1032). How climate change may affect 
the number of animals infected, a pathogen's virulence, and, 
consequently, wood bison viability is unknown.
    One potential effect of climate change may be an increase in 
anthrax outbreaks because of increased summer air temperatures. Between 
1962 and 1993, nine anthrax outbreaks were recorded in northern Canada, 
killing at least 1,309 wood bison (Dragon et al. 1999, p. 209). 
Additional outbreaks continued to occur through at least 2010 (GNT 
2010, p. 9). Wood bison appear most susceptible to outbreaks when they 
are stressed, including heat stress and high densities of biting 
insects (Dragon et al. 1999, p. 212; Gates et al. 2010, p. 28). In 
addition, if climate change leads to widespread or intense drought, 
there could be changes in the quality and availability of forage that 
may cause animals to concentrate around available food and water. These 
factors could contribute to stress levels and increase

[[Page 26205]]

susceptibility to anthrax (Dragon et al. 1999, p. 212; Gates et al. 
2010, p. 28). Although isolated anthrax outbreaks occur currently, it 
is possible that outbreaks may become more frequent, become more 
widespread, or affect a greater number of animals in the future. Thus 
far, anthrax outbreaks have occurred sporadically when the necessary 
factors have come together to affect portions of one herd at a time. 
Anthrax is not currently having a population-level effect, and we do 
not have enough information to predict with confidence if anthrax will 
have a population-level effect on wood bison in the future as a result 
of climate change.
Predation
    Wolf predation can be a significant limiting factor for diseased 
populations of wood bison (Reynolds et al. 1978, p. 581; Van Camp 1987, 
p. 25). Wood bison were the principle food of two wolf packs from 1975 
to 1977 in the Slave River lowlands (Van Camp 1987, pp. 29, 32). Of the 
adult and subadult wood bison that died in 1976-1977, wolves killed 31 
percent; however, hunters killed 39.3 percent (Van Camp 1987, p. 33). 
Joly and Messier (2004, p. 1173) found that productivity of the 
diseased WBNP herd was insufficient to offset losses to both predation 
and disease, but that in the absence of either factor, positive 
population growth was possible. Presence of disease likely increased 
the killing success of wolves through bison debilitation (Joly and 
Messier 2004, p. 1174). Wood bison evolved with wolves, and we have no 
data showing that predation by wolves is limiting the recovery of any 
of the disease-free herds or would cause the extirpation of a herd 
(ADF&G 2007, p. 98).
Summary of Factor C
    The presence of disease and diseased herds is recognized as a 
factor limiting recovery (Mitchell and Gates 2002, p. 12). The 
effectiveness of current management actions such as maintaining spatial 
separation between diseased and disease-free herds by limiting herd 
size is yet to be determined over long timeframes. Research is 
continuing on creation of disease-free herds. No effective vaccines 
exist for brucellosis, tuberculosis, or anthrax for free-ranging 
populations. In addition, although recommendations for the management 
of the diseased herds in and around WBNP have been suggested (FEAP 
1990, p. 2), they have not yet been implemented, it is unknown if they 
will be implemented, and it is unknown how implementation of the 
recommendations would affect the status of the subspecies.
    Predation by wolves is a natural threat that will persist 
indefinitely into the future. Although diseased herds may be more 
susceptible to predation, healthy herds, which now represent 
approximately half of the free-ranging wood bison, are not. As long as 
wolves are present on the landscape, they will present an ongoing, low 
level of threat, especially to diseased herds.
    The presence of disease in the largest potential donor population 
of wood bison (WBNP herd) has limited the number of animals available 
for establishing or augmenting herds throughout the wood bison's 
historical range and has removed otherwise optimal habitat from 
consideration for expansion of wild populations. The presence of 
reportable diseases will continue to lead to actions that impact 
conservation, in particular restriction of herd expansion and the 
reintroduction of herds in particular areas. Although brucellosis and 
tuberculosis may limit wood bison population growth and productivity in 
some herds, they are unlikely to cause extirpation of any population 
(Bradley and Wilmshurst 2005, p. 1204; Gates et al. 2010, p. 60), but 
when combined with predation, herd size can be limited. Anthrax 
outbreaks occur sporadically when critical factors come together. 
Climate change could affect the frequency of outbreaks if increased 
temperatures or drought cause increased levels of stress in the 
animals, especially during the rut. Because disease constrains and 
inhibits full recovery of the species, until a solution for the 
diseased animals at WBNP is found, or effective vaccines are discovered 
and used, disease will continue to be a threat to wood bison now and in 
the foreseeable future.

D. The Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

Canada's Federal Regulatory Mechanisms
    The first protective legislation for wood bison, making it illegal 
for anyone to molest the species, was passed by the Canadian Government 
in 1877, but not until the law was enforced beginning in 1897 did the 
population increase (Soper 1941, pp. 362-363; Gates et al. 2001, p. 
12).
    Canada's Species at Risk Act (SARA), enacted on December 12, 2002, 
became fully effective on June 1, 2004, and is the Canadian counterpart 
to the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The purpose of SARA is to prevent 
listed wildlife species from becoming extinct or lost from the wild 
(extirpated); to help in the recovery of extirpated, endangered, or 
threatened species; and to ensure that species of special concern do 
not become endangered or threatened. The SARA also requires the 
development of recovery strategies and action plans for covered 
species. In the SARA, the COSEWIC was established as the scientific 
body that identifies and assesses a species' status; however, the 
government makes the final decision on whether to list a species.
    Species such as wood bison that were designated as endangered or 
threatened by the COSEWIC before SARA was enacted had to be reassessed 
before being included on the official list of wildlife species under 
SARA. The wood bison is currently listed as a threatened species under 
Schedule 1 of SARA. The National Recovery Plan for wood bison was 
published in 2001 (Gates et al. 2001) and is currently under revision. 
As discussed in the Recovery Actions section above, many recovery 
actions have been implemented and more are in progress. As discussed 
under Factor B (above), SARA requires permits for all scientific 
collection of listed species.
    The SARA covers all species on Federal lands such as national 
parks, national wildlife areas, Prairie Farm Rehabilitation 
Administration pastures, aboriginal reserve lands, and military 
training areas. It prohibits the killing, harming, harassing, or taking 
of extirpated, endangered, or threatened species, and the destruction 
of their residences (e.g., nest or den) on Federal lands, except where 
permitted under a national recovery strategy (GNT 2010, p. 10). Because 
the recovery strategy includes managing herd size for the health of the 
habitat and herds (Gates et al. 2001, pp. 35-39), bison hunting is 
allowed under a quota system in the Nahanni, MacKenzie, and Aishihik 
herds (described above under Factor B). The Northwest Territories Big 
Game Hunting Regulations consider bison in the Slave River Lowlands to 
be hybrids, which General Hunting License holders may hunt without 
limit or closed season. In the Yukon, the Aishihik herd size is managed 
through hunting. In Alberta, Hay-Zama herd size is managed by hunting 
to reduce the likelihood that the herd will come into contact with 
animals from WBNP (GNT 2010, p. 7).
    Habitat protection within the range of the Mackenzie bison herd is 
facilitated through the SARA and the Mackenzie Valley Resource 
Management Act of 1998. Although the Mackenzie Valley Resource 
Management Act does not specifically provide protection to wood bison, 
it did create a Land and Water Board (LWB), which is given the power to 
regulate the use of land and water,

[[Page 26206]]

including the issuance of land use permits and water licenses. The 
LWB's Environmental Impact Review Board is the main instrument in the 
Mackenzie Valley for the examination of the environmental impact of 
proposed developments. The LWB's Land Use Planning Board is given the 
power to develop land use plans and to ensure that future use of lands 
is carried out in conformity with those plans.
    As described below, several wood bison herds occur wholly or 
partially in National Parks, ecological reserves, or Provincial Parks 
(Table 2). In 1922, WBNP was established in Alberta and the Northwest 
Territories for the protection of wood bison. Habitat protection of 
44,807 km\2\ (17,300 mi\2\) within WBNP occurs through the Canada 
National Parks Act, the purpose of which is to maintain or restore the 
ecological integrity of parks, through the protection of natural 
resources and natural processes. With respect to a park, ecological 
integrity means a condition characteristic of its natural region, 
including abiotic (nonliving) components and the composition and 
abundance of native species and biological communities. Renewable 
harvest activities can be regulated or prohibited, and is enforced 
through this legislation (Canada National Parks Act, 2000). National 
parks are protected by Federal legislation from all forms of extractive 
resource use such as mining, forestry, agriculture, and sport hunting. 
Only activities consistent with the protection of park resources are 
allowed. Efforts are directed at maintaining the physical environment 
in as natural a state as possible. Sport hunting is prohibited; 
however, traditional subsistence-level harvesting by First Nations is 
allowed in some areas as long as the resources are conserved (The 
Canadian Encyclopedia 2010a, unpaginated).

  Table 2--Free-Ranging Wood Bison Herds and Land Management Units That
                       Provide Protection to Them
------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Herd category and name      Canadian province      Protected area
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Free-ranging, disease-free
 herds:
    Mackenzie.................  Northwest          Mackenzie Bison
                                 Territories.       Sanctuary.
    Aishihik..................  Yukon............  None identified, but
                                                    occupied habitat is
                                                    government-owned.
    Hay-Zama..................  Alberta..........  Wildlife Management
                                                    Area.
    Nahanni...................  Northwest          None identified, but
                                 Territories,       occupied habitat is
                                 southeast Yukon,   government-owned.
                                 northeast
                                 British
                                 Columbia.
    Nordquist.................  British Columbia.  Portage Brule Rapids
                                                    Ecological Reserve,
                                                    Smith River
                                                    Ecological Reserve,
                                                    Smith River Falls-
                                                    Fort Halkett Park,
                                                    Liard River Corridor
                                                    Park, Liard River
                                                    Hotsprings Park,
                                                    Liard River West
                                                    Corridor Park, Liard
                                                    River Corridor
                                                    Protected Area,
                                                    Hyland River Park,
                                                    Muncho Lake Park,
                                                    and Milligan Hills
                                                    Park.
    Etthithun.................  British Columbia.
    Chitek Lake...............  Manitoba.........  Chitek Lake Reserve.
Free-ranging, diseased herds:
    Wood Buffalo National Park  Alberta,           Wood Buffalo National
                                 Northwest          Park.
                                 Territories.
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Ecological reserves are established in part for the protection of 
rare and endangered plants and animals in their natural habitat; 
preservation of unique, rare, or outstanding botanical, zoological, or 
geological phenomena; and perpetuation of important genetic resources. 
Research and educational functions are the primary uses for ecological 
reserves, but are open to the public for non-consumptive, observational 
uses. Plans are developed by the Ministry of Environment to provide 
protection and management to ensure long-term maintenance. Resource 
use, such as tree cutting, hunting, fishing, mining, domestic grazing, 
camping, lighting of fires and removal of materials, plants or animals, 
and the use of motorized vehicles are prohibited (British Columbia 
2010, unpaginated).
    Although there are numerous parks and ecological reserves 
throughout the range of the wood bison, these areas do not necessarily 
encompass all of the individuals of a herd. Individuals frequently move 
into and out of these areas; therefore, wood bison herds are only 
afforded protection while within the boundaries of the park or 
ecological reserve.
    The Federal Environmental Assessment and Review Process (EARP) was 
introduced in Canada in 1973. In 1995, the Canadian Environmental 
Assessment Act replaced EARP and strengthened the Environmental Impact 
Assessment (EIA). The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act outlines 
responsibilities and procedures for the EIA of projects for which the 
Canadian Government holds decision-making authority. The purposes of 
EIAs are to minimize or avoid adverse environmental effects before they 
occur and to incorporate environmental factors into decision making. 
All projects in National Parks must have an EIA. An EIA is also 
required under the law of the provinces and territories. Municipalities 
and corporations are subject to the EIA requirements of their 
respective provincial, territorial, or land claim jurisdictions, and 
are also subject to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act if the 
Canadian Government holds some decision-making authority concerning the 
proposed development or the acceptability of its impacts. This 
legislation ensures that any projects conducted on Canada's government-
owned lands, including National Parks, are carefully reviewed before 
Canadian authorities take action so that projects do not cause 
significant adverse environmental effects, including areas surrounding 
the project. It encourages Canadian authorities to take actions that 
promote sustainable development (Canadian Environmental Assessment 
Agency 2010, unpaginated). If a project is likely to cause significant 
adverse environmental effects that cannot be justified in the 
circumstances, even after taking into account appropriate mitigation 
measures, the project will not be carried out in whole or in part 
(Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (20)(b) and (37)(b)).
Canada's Provincial and Territorial Regulatory Mechanisms
    Provincial and territorial governments within Canada can use the 
Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and 
Interprovincial Trade

[[Page 26207]]

Act (WAPPRIITA) to control transport of wood bison across their 
borders. This law applies to wood bison because it is on the CITES 
control list (CITES is discussed below, under ``International 
Regulatory Mechanisms''). The WAPPRIITA prohibits the import, export, 
and interprovincial transportation of CITES-listed species or any 
Canadian species whose capture, possession, and transportation are 
regulated by provincial or territorial laws, unless the specimens are 
accompanied by the appropriate documents (licenses, permits). In all 
cases, the WAPPRIITA applies to the animal, alive or dead, as well as 
to its parts and any derived products (Environment Canada 2010, p.1).
    In addition to national-level legislation that provides protection 
to wood bison, there is also protection at the provincial level. 
Alberta, the Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Manitoba, and the 
Yukon Territory classify wood bison as wildlife, which is the property 
of the provincial or territorial government. In 1995, the Government of 
Alberta established a Wildlife Management Area to protect the Hay-Zama 
herd and listed the wood bison as endangered within the protected area 
under the Alberta Wildlife Act (Gates et al. 2010, p. 71). In this 
area, all wood bison are legally protected from hunting; outside of the 
area they are not protected.
    The Northwest Territories Wildlife Act enables the Minister of 
Environment and Natural Resources to prohibit the importation of any 
wildlife into the Northwest Territories without a permit. This 
prohibits uncontrolled importation of plains bison. In May 1964, wood 
bison were declared in danger of becoming extinct under the Northwest 
Territories Act and are now designated as a protected species in the 
Northwest Territories. As such, sport hunting and subsistence hunting 
by aboriginal people may occur, but is regulated.
    Wood bison are on British Columbia's Red List of species and 
subspecies that are candidates for legal designation as endangered or 
threatened under the Wildlife Act (Harper 2002, p. 3). Wood bison are 
an endangered species under the Yukon Act, a ``specially protected 
species'' under the Wildlife Act (Yukon legislation), and are listed as 
protected under Manitoba's Wildlife Act. Bison are considered domestic 
when held in captivity under permit or license for game farming 
purposes. If a wood bison escapes captivity, the provincial or 
territorial government acquires ownership of the animal, and it, 
therefore, becomes protected (Harper and Gates 2000, p. 919).
Other Canadian Regulatory Mechanisms
    Although there is tight control over the transmission of disease 
across the Canadian border, control of disease within Canada is more 
challenging. As explained above (Factor C), there is a program to 
detect and eradicate tuberculosis and brucellosis in farmed animals in 
Canada in order to protect the health of food-producing and companion 
animals, safeguard human health, and safeguard the health of free-
roaming wildlife. In addition, buffer zones in which dispersing animals 
may be harvested have been created around the diseased herds to reduce 
the risk of bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis infection of the 
Mackenzie and Nahanni herds, which are most at risk from infection from 
animals at WBNP. In addition, the Governments of the Northwest 
Territories, Alberta, and British Columbia have designated management 
zones to reduce the risk of dispersing animals transmitting disease to 
disease-free herds in their provinces. However, as noted above, buffer 
zones are not ideal for preventing the spread of disease because they 
are sporadically patrolled and imperfectly enforced. Existing 
regulations and policies address the transmission of disease within 
Canada, but it is impossible to regulate the movement of wild animals 
across a large, mostly uninhabited landscape. Thus, we conclude that 
regulatory mechanisms are in place to minimize the spread of disease 
but because of the difficulty in containing herds of wild animals, the 
mechanisms are inadequate to prevent the spread of disease.
    Under Factor E, we conclude that loss of genetic integrity through 
hybridization is a threat to wood bison. Preventing hybridization 
between plains bison and free-roaming wood bison is a goal of the 
recovery plan and is important to the conservation of the subspecies 
(Gates et al. 2001, p. 33). There is one free-ranging plains bison herd 
in Canada, in British Columbia, which was established as a result of 
the plains bison escaping from their enclosure. Preventing 
interbreeding between free-ranging plains bison and wood bison is a 
management objective in British Columbia and is accomplished by 
maintaining a large physical separation between the herds and having a 
management zone around the plains bison herd that allows harvest of 
plains bison within this zone (Harper et al. 2000, p. 23).
    As discussed earlier under Factor A, plains bison presence on the 
landscape is increasing and commercial plains bison operations in 
Canada are expanding. The presence of plains bison within the 
historical range of wood bison increases the probability that wood 
bison will come into contact with them. Ranchers are most likely highly 
motivated by economics to prevent the escape of their animals and to 
recapture them if they do escape. It is unlikely that additional 
government regulations would improve on this basic incentive; 
therefore, although there may not be specific regulations regarding how 
plains bison should be contained, such regulations are not viewed as 
necessary or effectual. As mentioned above, buffer zones are not ideal 
for preventing the movement of free-ranging bison. Thus, although 
regulations are in place by which the Pink Mountain plains bison herd 
(a free-ranging herd) can be managed, and there is no indication that 
they have not been effective, they may not be 100 percent effective in 
preventing hybridization in the future because of the difficulty of 
managing wild animals over large areas of forested landscape.
U.S. Regulatory Mechanisms
    In the United States, as an endangered species under the Act, pure 
wood bison can be imported only by permit for scientific research or 
enhancement of propagation or survival of the species. Wood/plains 
bison hybrids, however, are not protected by the Act and can be 
imported if the required CITES Foreign Export Permits are obtained from 
Canada prior to the import. When the wood bison is reclassified to 
threatened (see DATES, above), import of trophies legally taken and 
properly permitted can also occur. Because of the regulations in place 
in Canada for all hunts and the permits required for import and export 
under CITES, we do not anticipate that reclassification will cause any 
increase in the number of animals killed or have any effect on the 
herds that are hunted.
International Regulatory Mechanisms
    The wood bison is listed on Appendix II of CITES. CITES, an 
international treaty among 175 nations, including Canada and the United 
States, became effective in 1975. In the United States, CITES is 
implemented through the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The Secretary of 
the Interior has delegated the Department of the Interior's 
responsibility for CITES to the Director of the Service and established 
the CITES Scientific and Management Authorities to implement the 
treaty.
    CITES provides varying degrees of protection to more than 32,000 
species of animals and plants that are traded as whole specimens, 
parts, or products.

[[Page 26208]]

Under this treaty, member countries work together to ensure that 
international trade in animal and plant species is not detrimental to 
the survival of wild populations by regulating the import, export, and 
reexport of CITES-listed animal and plant species (USFWS 2010, 
unpaginated). Under CITES, a species is listed on an Appendix and 
receives varying levels of regulation of international trade through 
permit and certification requirements depending upon the particular 
Appendix in which the species is listed (CITES 2010b, unpaginated). 
CITES Appendix-II species are not necessarily considered to be 
threatened with extinction now but may become so unless trade in the 
species is regulated. Appendix II allows for regulated trade, including 
commercial trade, as long as the exporting country issues a CITES 
permit based on findings that the specimen was legally acquired and the 
export will not be detrimental to the survival of the species. As 
discussed above under Factor B, we do not consider international trade 
to be a threat impacting the wood bison. Therefore, protection under 
this treaty is an adequate regulatory mechanism.
Summary of Factor D
    The wood bison is currently protected through a variety of 
regulatory mechanisms, and we anticipate those protections to continue. 
The wood bison and its habitat is protected by Canadian Federal, 
provincial, and territorial law. Internationally, its trade is 
regulated by CITES. International trade is limited to animals surplus 
to recovery needs in Canada, as determined under guidance of the 
National Wood Bison Recovery Team. In the United States, activities 
involving wood bison are regulated by the Endangered Species Act, and 
with reclassification, they will continue to be regulated. Federal 
agencies will need to consult with the Service on activities within the 
United States that may affect the species, and Federal permits will be 
required for scientific collection or any other form of take.
    Disease and hybridization have been identified as threats to wood 
bison. Although buffer zones have been established and regulations 
implemented for the management of the buffer zones to minimize the 
potential of disease spread and hybridization, buffer zones have 
limitations and are an imperfect means by which to prevent animal 
movement. Therefore, we conclude that existing regulatory mechanisms 
are inadequate to completely protect wood bison from these threats.

E. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued Existence

Accidental Mortality
    Because bison follow linear landmarks and prefer open areas, 
vehicles on roads and other linear developments, such as railroad 
lines, present a hazard to wood bison. Collisions with vehicles are the 
largest source of known mortality for individuals in the Hay-Zama herd 
(Mitchell and Gates 2002, p. 9). For the Nordquist herd, vehicle 
collisions are a significant mortality factor (Wildlife Collision 
Prevention Program. 2010, pp. 22-23). The herd was established in the 
Nordquist Flats area, near the Liard River in northeastern British 
Columbia; however, individuals, and then the majority of the herd, 
moved to the Alaska Highway corridor. In January 2007, a limited aerial 
survey counted 97 wood bison, all of which were on the highway right-
of-way, except for four bulls, which were observed within 500 m (1,640 
ft) of the road (Reynolds et al. 2009, p. 6). Three of 15 wood bison 
introduced to the Etthithun Lake area in 1996 were killed in collisions 
with industrial road traffic during the first winter (Harper and Gates 
2000, p. 921). The Yukon government has a ``bison-free'' policy in the 
vicinity of the Alaska Highway that includes deterrence, capture, and 
ultimately the destruction of problem animals (Yukon Fish and Wildlife 
Co-management undated, p. 1). During the growth phase of the Aishihik 
herd from 1988 to 1993, 49 wood bison were removed from the Alaska 
Highway right-of-way because of vehicle collisions and problem wildlife 
complaints (Boyd 2003, p. 187). Of these, 36 were captured and moved to 
a game farm, 8 were killed in collisions, and 5 were intentionally 
killed (Wildlife Collision Prevention Program 2010, unpaginated). From 
1989 to 2007, collisions with vehicles killed from 1 to 30 wood bison 
annually from three herds combined in the Northwest Territories; fewer 
than 10 were killed annually in 11 of the 18 years (Wildlife Collision 
Prevention Program 2010, unpaginated).
    Because of continued or increased resource development, tourism, 
and off-road vehicle use, it is anticipated that mortality from 
collisions with vehicles will be a source of individual mortality for 
several populations. Because mortality from road collisions represents 
a small portion of the total subspecies population, and efforts are 
made to reduce bison/highway conflicts, this source of mortality is not 
expected to have a significant impact at the subspecies population 
level.
    Spring flooding in the Peace-Athabasca River Delta in 1958, 1961, 
and 1974 killed approximately 500, 1,100, and 3,000 wood bison, 
respectively (Reynolds et al. 2003, p. 1029). Autumn flooding in the 
same area in 1959 killed an estimated 3,000 wood bison (Reynolds et al. 
2003, p. 1029). This region is within WBNP where the diseased herds 
reside. Most likely a small number of animals drown each year when 
caught by floods or when they break through ice (Soper 1941, p. 403; 
Larter et al. 2003, p. 411). Large drowning events have not been 
documented from other rivers, and no large mortality events have been 
documented in recent years. Drowning is also recognized as a cause of 
mortality in the Chitek Lake, Mackenzie, and Nahanni herds (Larter et 
al. 2003, p. 411). Because mortality due to drowning typically affects 
only a portion of a herd and herd sizes are increasing (see Table 1, 
above), drowning does not appear to be having a population-level effect 
on wood bison.
    Although wood bison are hardy and very cold tolerant (Gates et al. 
2010, p. 24), above-average snowfall, long periods of sub-zero 
temperatures, and midwinter thaws followed by freezing can cause 
mortality. Such severe winter conditions reduce forage availability 
(Reynolds et al. 2003, p. 1030). Rain-on-snow events can also form an 
ice layer that creates a barrier to forage for herbivores (Putkonen 
2009, p. 221). Freezing rain in autumn that causes ground-fast ice to 
form before snow cover accumulates, ice layering in the snow cover, 
crusting of the snow, and the formation of ground-fast ice in spring 
increase the energy required to obtain forage or make forage 
unobtainable (Gunn and Dragon 2002, p. 58). Soper (1941, pp. 403-404) 
recounts several stories in which excessive snowfall caused mass 
mortalities of wood bison, and Van Camp and Calef (1987, p. 23) report 
that 33 percent of the diseased wood bison herd in the Slave River 
lowlands was lost during the severe winter of 1974-1975. Starvation in 
bad winters is recognized as a source of mortality for wood bison in 
the Chitek Lake herd. We have no information indicating that starvation 
is having a population-level effect on any of the herds currently.
    Rain-on-snow events may increase in the face of climate change 
(Rennert et al. 2009, p. 2312). A doubling of carbon dioxide is 
estimated to cause a 40 percent increase in the area impacted by rain-
on-snow events in the Arctic by 2080 (Rennert et al. 2009, p. 2312). 
Rain-on-snow events may become more prevalent primarily in northwestern

[[Page 26209]]

Canada, Alaska, and eastern Russia (Rennert et al. 2009, p. 2312). We 
have no reports that rain-on-snow events have led to the deaths of 
bison, but they could be susceptible to starvation by such events.
Genetic Issues
    Genetic diversity in wood bison has been reduced through the large 
historic reduction in overall population size and the starting of new 
populations with very few individuals (founder effect). Genetic 
diversity is the primary means by which organisms can adapt to changing 
environmental conditions over time. Low levels of genetic diversity can 
reduce the ability of a population to respond to environmental changes. 
Current wood bison herds were established from relatively few founders 
(Wilson and Strobeck 1999, pp. 484-486). For example, the Elk Island 
National Park herd was started from 11 individuals, and the Mackenzie 
herd was started from 16 (Gates et al. 1992, p. 150; Wilson and 
Strobeck 1999, p. 494). Inbreeding, the mating of related individuals, 
can lead to lower fecundity, increased abnormalities, reduced growth 
rates, and other issues. Although inbreeding is more likely to occur in 
small herds or in herds that are isolated, it has not been documented 
in wood bison. Starting new populations with multiple groups of animals 
is one way to avoid or minimize the founder effect as was done in the 
establishment of the Aishihik and Nahanni herds. Moving disease-free 
animals from one herd to another is another method to maintain genetic 
diversity. One of the wood bison recovery goals is to ensure that the 
genetic integrity of wood bison is maintained. Because no effects of 
inbreeding have been documented and management actions have been shown 
to be effective, we conclude that loss of genetic diversity is not a 
threat to wood bison now or in the foreseeable future.
    Hybridization occurs when individuals from genetically distinct 
groups such as wood bison and plains bison interbreed. The introduction 
of plains bison to WBNP in the 1920s put the two distinct subspecies in 
contact with each other and threatened the genetic purity of wood bison 
(Gates et al. 2010, p. 17). The discovery of an isolated subpopulation 
of wood bison in 1957, and subsequent translocation of individuals, 
created the Mackenzie and Elk Island National Park herds, which were 
thought to be pure wood bison. Genetic analysis has indicated that 
these bison did have limited contact with plains bison, but it was 
minimal enough that the animals exhibit predominantly wood bison traits 
and wood bison herds originating from these founders are genetically 
more similar to one another than they are to plains bison (van Zyll de 
Jong et al. 1995, pp. 401-404; Wilson and Strobeck 1999, p. 493). 
Although recovery actions emphasize maintaining the genetic integrity 
of wood bison (i.e., recovery goal number 3) (Gates et al. 2001, p. 
33), as discussed earlier under Factor A, the presence of plains bison 
on the landscape is increasing. Commercial plains bison operations in 
Canada are expanding, and the Pink Mountain plains bison herd was 
established in British Columbia as a result of plains bison escaping 
from an enclosure. The commercial plains bison operations and plains 
bison herds remove potential habitat for wood bison, and the presence 
of plains bison within the historical range of wood bison increases the 
probability that wood bison will come into contact with them. For these 
reasons, loss of genetic integrity through hybridization is a threat to 
wood bison and will remain so in the foreseeable future.
Summary of Factor E
    Accidental mortality typically occurs randomly and cannot be 
predicted. We expect accidents to continue at the same rate and scale 
as they have in the past, into the future, but only expect this to 
affect individuals and not be significant enough to affect the species 
as a whole. Relative to genetic diversity, inbreeding in wood bison has 
not been documented, and management actions are in place to prevent 
further loss of genetic diversity. The status of genetic issues 
relating to hybridization could change relatively rapidly, especially 
if plains bison were to escape from captivity in close proximity to a 
wood bison herd. Currently, free-ranging wood bison and plains bison 
herds are widely separated from one another, but as herd size grows, 
the separation shrinks, increasing the odds that they may come into 
contact with one another. Furthermore, bison are difficult animals to 
contain, they can travel long distances, and the wood and plains bison 
can readily interbreed.
    In summary, accidental mortality will continue to occur regularly, 
primarily through collisions with vehicles and drowning. In addition, 
climate change may create localized weather conditions such as above-
average snowfall, long periods of sub-zero temperatures, or ground-fast 
ice formation that can lead to winter mortality of portions of herds. 
Given the number of herds and their wide distribution across the 
landscape, we conclude that accidental mortality and starvation are not 
threats to wood bison now or in the foreseeable future. It is 
recognized that genetic diversity in wood bison is relatively low, and 
that the herds must be managed to maintain genetic diversity. Loss of 
genetic diversity is a factor that may limit the ability of wood bison 
to adapt to changing conditions in the future, but the magnitude of 
that limitation, if it exists, is unknown. Lack of genetic diversity is 
potentially limiting over the long term, depending on the magnitude of 
environmental change wood bison may face. Because no effects of 
inbreeding have been documented and management actions have been shown 
to be effective, we conclude that loss of genetic diversity is not a 
threat to wood bison now or in the foreseeable future. Hybridization 
with plains bison is a threat that most likely will increase in the 
future. Because of consumer demand for bison meat, we expect commercial 
bison production will continue to expand, removing suitable habitat for 
wood bison recovery herds, and increasing the probability that escaped 
plains bison will be free on the landscape. Hybridization is a threat 
to wood bison now and in the foreseeable future.

Finding

    As required by the Act, we considered the five factors in assessing 
whether the wood bison is endangered or threatened throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range. We reviewed the petition, information 
available in our files, comments and information we received after the 
publication of our 90-day finding (74 FR 5908, February 3, 2009), 
comments and information we received after the publication of our 
proposed rule to reclassify wood bison (76 FR 6734, February 8, 2011), 
and other available published and unpublished information. We also 
consulted with recognized experts. We have carefully assessed the best 
available scientific and commercial data regarding the past, present, 
and future threats faced by wood bison. We found that threats to wood 
bison are still present in factors A, C, D, and E. Habitat loss has 
occurred from agricultural development, and we expect losses will 
continue in concert with human growth and expansion of agriculture, 
including commercial bison production. The presence of bovine 
brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis constrains herd growth as: Managers 
attempt to maintain physical separation between diseased and disease-
free wood bison and cattle herds, the diseased herds are occupying 
habitat that could be restored with disease-free herds, and disease in 
the largest potential donor population (WBNP herd) prevents those 
animals from being used in

[[Page 26210]]

reintroduction projects. Plains bison are commercially produced in 
historical wood bison habitat. These operations remove potential 
habitat from wood bison recovery efforts, and the escape of plains 
bison poses a threat to wood bison because of hybridization and the 
loss of genetic integrity. Finally, we found that regulatory mechanisms 
are inadequate to prevent disease transmission and hybridization within 
Canada.
    In addition to the five-factor analysis, we took into consideration 
the conservation actions that have occurred, are ongoing, and are 
planned. Since listing, the subspecies' status has improved as a result 
of the following:
     Enactment and enforcement of national and international 
laws and treaties have minimized the impacts of hunting and trade.
     Reintroduction of disease-free herds has increased the 
number of free-ranging herds from 1 population of 300 in 1978, to 7 
populations totaling 4,414 bison in 2008.
     Diseased and disease-free, free-ranging populations are 
stable or increasing.
    In sum, the continued reintroduction of disease-free herds, the 
ongoing development and updating of management plans, the active 
management of herds, the ongoing research, and the protections provided 
by laws and protected lands provide compelling evidence that recovery 
actions have been successful in reducing the risk of extinction 
associated with the threats identified. We anticipate that continued 
growth and expansion of the herds would further reduce the risk of 
extinction in the future.
    The primary factor that led to the listing of the wood bison was 
the small number of free-ranging, disease-free animals on the 
landscape. However, the trend today is towards increasing numbers of 
disease-free herds and population sizes. We find that the threats 
identified under factors A, C, D, and E, when combined with the 
increase in number of herds and population sizes, ongoing active 
management, and protections provided by laws, are not of sufficient 
imminence, intensity, or magnitude to indicate that the wood bison is 
presently in danger of extinction. The wood bison therefore no longer 
meets the definition of endangered under the Act. However, threats to 
wood bison still exist and will likely continue into the foreseeable 
future. In particular, there are no easy solutions for dealing with the 
diseased animals. No effective vaccines exist for brucellosis, 
tuberculosis, or anthrax for free-ranging populations. In addition, 
although recommendations for the management of the diseased herds in 
and around WBNP have been suggested (FEAP 1990, p. 2), they have not 
yet been implemented, it is unknown if they will be implemented, and it 
is unknown how implementation of the recommendations would affect the 
status of the subspecies. Therefore, we have determined that the wood 
bison meets the definition of threatened under the Act. Consequently, 
we are reclassifying the wood bison's listing status from endangered to 
threatened with this rule.
    In our February 8, 2011, proposed rule (76 FR 6734), we determined 
that the Aishihik and Chitek Lake herds are discrete under our Distinct 
Vertebrate Population Segment policy (61 FR 4722, February 7, 1996), 
but are not significant, and therefore, did not qualify as a distinct 
population segment. In that proposed rule, we also considered whether 
there is a significant portion of the range where the wood bison is in 
danger of extinction and did not identify any area or herd whose loss 
would result in a decrease in the ability to conserve the species as a 
whole. Consequently, as described in the proposed rule, we are not 
listing a distinct population segment of wood bison and we have not 
identified a portion of the range that is so significant to the species 
that threats there imperil the species as a whole.

Available Conservation Measures

    Conservation measures provided to species listed as endangered or 
threatened under the Act include recognition, requirements for Federal 
protection, and prohibitions against certain practices. Recognition 
through listing results in public awareness, and encourages and results 
in conservation actions by Federal governments, private agencies and 
groups, and individuals. The Act encourages cooperation with the States 
and requires that recovery actions be carried out for all listed 
species. The protection measures required of Federal agencies and the 
prohibitions against certain activities are discussed, in part, below.
    Section 7(a) of the Act, as amended, and as implemented by 
regulations at 50 CFR part 402, requires Federal agencies to evaluate 
their actions within the United States or on the high seas with respect 
to any species that is proposed or listed as endangered or threatened, 
and with respect to its critical habitat, if any is being designated. 
If a species is listed subsequently, section 7(a)(2) of the Act 
requires Federal agencies to ensure that activities they authorize, 
fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence 
of the species or destroy or adversely modify its critical habitat. 
However, given that there are no wild populations of wood bison in the 
United States, critical habitat is not being designated for this 
species under section 4 of the Act.
    Section 8(a) of the Act authorizes limited financial assistance for 
the development and management of programs that the Secretary of the 
Interior determines to be necessary or useful for the conservation of 
endangered and threatened species in foreign countries. Sections 8(b) 
and 8(c) of the Act authorize the Secretary to encourage conservation 
programs for foreign endangered species and to provide assistance for 
such programs in the form of personnel and the training of personnel.
    The Act and its implementing regulations set forth a series of 
general prohibitions and exceptions that apply to all endangered and 
threatened wildlife. As such, these prohibitions are, and will continue 
to be when this rule is effective (see DATES, above), applicable to the 
wood bison. These prohibitions, under 50 CFR 17.21 (50 CFR 17.31 for 
threatened wildlife species), make it illegal for any person subject to 
the jurisdiction of the United States to ``take'' (take includes 
harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, collect, 
or to attempt any of these) within the United States or upon the high 
seas, import or export, deliver, receive, carry, transport, or ship in 
interstate or foreign commerce in the course of a commercial activity, 
or to sell or offer for sale in interstate or foreign commerce, any 
endangered wildlife species. It also is illegal to possess, sell, 
deliver, carry, transport, or ship any such wildlife that has been 
taken in violation of the Act. Certain exceptions apply to agents of 
the Service and State conservation agencies.
    We may issue permits to carry out otherwise prohibited activities 
involving endangered and threatened wildlife species under certain 
circumstances. Regulations governing permits are codified at 50 CFR 
17.22 for endangered species, and at 50 CFR 17.32 for threatened 
species. With regard to endangered wildlife, a permit must be issued 
for the following purposes: for scientific purposes, to enhance the 
propagation or survival of the species, and for incidental take in 
connection with otherwise lawful activities. For threatened species, a 
permit may be issued for the same activities, as well as zoological

[[Page 26211]]

exhibition, education, and special purposes consistent with the Act.

Effects of This Rule

    This final rule revises 50 CFR 17.11(h) to reclassify the wood 
bison from endangered to threatened. This rule formally recognizes that 
this species is no longer presently in danger of extinction throughout 
all or a significant portion of its range. However, this 
reclassification does not significantly change the protection afforded 
this species under the Act. The regulatory protections of section 9 and 
section 7 of the Act remain in place. Anyone taking, attempting to 
take, or otherwise possessing a wood bison, or parts thereof, in 
violation of section 9 of the Act is still subject to a penalty under 
section 11 of the Act, unless their action is covered under a special 
rule under section 4(d) of the Act. We are not currently publishing a 
special rule under section 4(d) of the Act for the wood bison at this 
time. However, section 9(c)(2) of the ESA sets out an exemption to the 
general import prohibition for threatened, Appendix-II wildlife, both 
live and dead, when: (1) The taking and export meet all provisions of 
CITES; (2) all other import and reporting requirements under section 9 
of the ESA are met; and (3) the import is not made in the course of a 
commercial activity. Since the wood bison is currently listed in 
Appendix II of CITES, upon the effective date of this publication, and 
the reclassification of the wood bison from endangered to threatened, 
this ESA exemption is generally applicable. Because a sport-hunted 
trophy is not a specimen obtained or imported in the course of a 
commercial activity, the section 9(c)(2) ESA exemption would typically 
apply to the import of sport-hunted trophies, provided that all other 
requirements of section 9(c)(2) of the ESA are met.
    Under section 7 of the Act, Federal agencies must ensure that any 
actions they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize 
the continued existence of the wood bison. Because no free-ranging 
herds of wood bison occur in Alaska or any other State, we do not 
anticipate that there will be an additional regulatory responsibility 
because of this rule.

Required Determinations

Paperwork Reduction Act

    This rule does not contain any new information collections or 
recordkeeping requirements for which Office of Management and Budget 
(OMB) approval is required under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 
(44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq.). We may not conduct or sponsor, and a person 
is not required to respond to, a collection of information unless it 
displays a currently valid OMB control number.

National Environmental Policy Act

    We have determined that we do not need to prepare an environmental 
assessment or environmental impact statement, as defined under the 
authority of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 
4321 et seq.), in connection with regulations adopted pursuant to 
section 4(a) of the Endangered Species Act. We published a notice 
outlining our reasons for this determination in the Federal Register on 
October 25, 1983 (48 FR 49244).

References Cited

    A complete list of the references cited is available at http://www.regulations.gov at Docket No. FWS-R9-IA-2008-0123 or upon request 
from the Alaska Regional Office (see ADDRESSES).

Author

    The primary author of this rule is Marilyn Myers, Ph.D., Fisheries 
and Ecological Services, Alaska Regional Office, 1011 E. Tudor Road, 
Anchorage, AK 99503; 907-786-3559.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and 
recordkeeping requirements, Transportation.

Regulation Promulgation

    Accordingly we amend part 17, subchapter B of chapter I, title 50 
of the Code of Federal Regulations, as set forth below:

PART 17--[AMENDED]

0
1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361-1407; 16 U.S.C. 1531-1544; 16 U.S.C. 
4201-4245; Pub. L. 99-625, 100 Stat. 3500; unless otherwise noted.


0
2. Amend Sec.  17.11(h) by revising the entry for ``Bison, wood'' under 
MAMMALS in the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife to read as 
follows:


Sec.  17.11  Endangered and threatened wildlife.

* * * * *
    (h) * * *

[[Page 26212]]



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                        Species                                                    Vertebrate
--------------------------------------------------------                        population where                                  Critical     Special
                                                            Historic range       endangered or         Status      When listed    habitat       rules
           Common name                Scientific name                              threatened
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
             Mammals
 
                                                                      * * * * * * *
Bison, wood......................  Bison bison           Canada, Alaska.....  Entire.............  T                     3,803           NA           NA
                                    athabascae.
 
                                                                      * * * * * * *
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Dated: April 24, 2012.
Daniel M. Ashe,
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2012-10635 Filed 5-2-12; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4310-55-P