Dr. James Teer did not live to see it, but the wood bison was downlisted to threatened on May 3, 2012. It was reclassified from “endangered” to “threatened” by US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the downlisting is effective as of June 4, 2012. That means:
1.) It is importable
2.) No import permit is necessary
3.) You still need an Appendix II CITES export permit from Canada, which is a mere formality.
The Final Rule was due February, 2012, and we noticed the intent to sue again, but did not file because the USFWS assured us they would finally make the determination in May, as they did.
The wood bison is larger than the plains bison of the United States, substantially larger, and has a different appearance. In fact, it is “the largest native extant terrestrial mammal in North America” according to the Final Rule. The average weight of a mature bull of eight years of age is 2,006 pounds! For those interested, the Final Rule discusses the status of every herd and can be found at 77 FR 26191-26211 and on Conservation Force’s website under Updates and Alerts at http://www.conservationforce.org/news.html. It can also be found at http://www.regulations.gov/
under Docket No. FWS-R9-IA-2008-0123 and at http://alaska.fws.gov/fisheries/endangered/index.htm
This is the culmination of 12 years of work. It commenced in 1999 when the Yukon authorities authorized nonresident hunting after their population recovered. Even before that, it was downlisted from Appendix I to II of CITES to facilitate trophy trade in September 1997. That is when our first efforts began. It grew from one population in Canada of 300 in 1978 to totaling 4,414 bison in 2008. “At this point there are more than 4,000 disease-free wood bison in 7 herds and an additional 4,000 animals in Wood Bison National Park,” according to the USFWS. It was originally listed as endangered in the 1969 Endangered Species Conservation Act and just carried over into the ESA of today in 1973. Conservation interest prevailed upon Conservation Force to file the first test import permit applications in 2000. Those applications languished unprocessed until our recent suits when they were denied, and then the denial was overturned by the Court. Also, the USFWS had long promised to begin a downlisting on its own. As years passed, yours truly prevailed upon Canadian interests that if it was ever to be downlisted they would have to file their own petition. When they filed it, a series of notices of intent to sue and suits were necessary to keep it moving forward to the very end. For a number of reasons, the USFWS only downlisted instead of delisting it completely. The USFWS again, as it did originally, states it will itself “propose to delist wood bison if and when appropriate.” When it becomes appropriate, I don’t suggest waiting on the USFWS to initiate the complete downlisting.
According to the USFWS, a number of commenters to the proposed downlisting “argued that listing under the Act (ESA) provides no conservation benefits…and may in fact be impeding conservation….” The Service responded that “we cannot and did not base the decision to reclassify the wood bison…on the efficacy of this action to conserve the species.” This rings like the same statement in the polar bear listing Final Rule. The ESA needs a Congressional fix for the ESA to be rational.
The USFWS “recognize(d) that regulated hunting is an important component of Canada’s recovery plan for the species,” but then said that was not a consideration in the downlisting determination. In fact, Canadian officials have asked for the downlisting all along and made it clear that the ESA listing was obstructing its conservation strategy, but the USFWS has turned a deaf ear to that plea in this instance as in the polar bear case that is also being litigated. What happened to the clause in the listing section of the ESA that in the case of foreign species the programs of the foreign nation should be taken into account in delisting determinations?
The USFWS recognized that “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,” (to keep them apart). It “found no evidence that hunting, as it is currently managed, is a threat to the species.” This was important because unregulated hunting, it said, was the initial cause of the bison’s decline. The hunting keeps the purebred wood bison separate from the growing number of plains bison that are being commercially farmed. It also keeps the diseased herds separated from those that are disease-free. Both hybridization with plains bison and disease (bovine brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis) are reasons the bison remain threatened. It is ironic that these functions of hunting were not recognized as enhancement in the import permit cases that were overturned by the Federal Court. In fact, a number of conclusions in the downlisting contradict the import permit application denials that the Court has already overturned.
The USFWS also considered climate change separately as a separate habitat-related issue in its decision process. Contrary to claims of one protectionist commenter, it found that forecasted climate change will improve the bison’s status over the next 100 years because its habitat will improve, i.e. increase in insects and tree disease outbreaks will increase the forest “susceptibility to fire” and beetles may kill trees, both of which would create openings that benefit the bison.
We still have wood bison motions and appeals pending in various District and Appellate Courts. It will take time to unravel them, but the principle mission has been accomplished. Help support the program and the native, First Nation people of Canada. Get yourself a giant bison.