The Aishihik Wood Bison Herd is, “biologically speaking, doing very well,” says Tom Jung, senior wildlife biologist with Environment Yukon. One-hundred and seventy animals were reintroduced to the Haines Junction, Yukon area through a federally supported project between between 1988 and 1992. Since then, the population has expanded to 1,500 animals, one of the largest populations of wild bison in North America.
“The population is in a growth phase,” says Jung, “which is expected in new ungulate populations. They will eventually taper off growth and stabilize…Bison have a long history in this part of the world – they were here (in the south west Yukon) alongside woolly mammoths.”
Bison once ranged all across North America, from the Great Lakes to the Pacific Ocean, as far south as New Mexico and as far North as Old Crow in the Yukon. While overhunting and environmental changes decimated populations in much of North America to near total-extinction, bison went extinct in the Haines Junction area earlier than in other areas, says Jung, about 350 years ago. Why they went extinct in the southwest Yukon – populations persisted in the south east until the 1930s – is uncertain; but several theories – habitat loss, disease, hunting pressures – abound. Jung says he personally thinks it was probably a combination of factors.