Wood Bison Restoration in Alaska
Disappearance from Alaska and Near Extinction

Steppe bison lived in North America and Siberia for several hundred thousand years. Bison have been abundant on the Alaskan landscape for most of the last 100,000 years, and wood bison were the last subspecies to occupy Alaska and adjacent regions. Long-horned bison like the steppe bison evolved into the short-horn bison groups like the modern-day plains and wood bison about 10,000 years ago, as Alaska was changing from a dry, cold, windy grassland (Pleistocene epoch) to the wetter, more wooded environment we see today (Holocene epoch).

Wood bison evolved to succeed in more northern environments, and plains bison adapted to environments further south. Historical information indicates that wood bison disappeared from Alaska and most of Canada during the last few hundred years, probably because of the combined effects of changes in the distribution of habitat and harvest by humans. Wood bison apparently disappeared from Alaska at roughly the same time as muskoxen. The most recent skeletal remains of wood bison recovered in Alaska are estimated to be about 170 years old, based on radiocarbon dating. The last reported sightings of wood bison in Alaska were in the early 1900s. Historic accounts from Alaska Native elders indicate that wood bison were a resource for Alaska's indigenous people as recently as 200 years ago.

Wood bison persisted in Canada and provided the source for the wild wood bison in Alaska today.