Manitoba

Plains bison stays off endangered list

Although some experts say wild plains bison is a threatened species, they will not be added to the government's list of animals that are endangered, Ottawa has decided.

Although some experts say wild plains bison is a threatened species, they will not be added to the government's list of animals that are endangered, Ottawa has decided.

Once numbering in the millions, plains bison, the largest mammals in North America, were hunted to near-extinction in the late 1800s.

More than 250,000 plains bison now live on commercial ranches in Canada, but according to scientists, only about 750 of the animals live in their natural setting, mostly in national parks in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

The wild animals are considered vulnerable because of a lack of room to roam.

Earlier this week, federal Environment Minister Stephane Dion decided special protection through the endangered list was not necessary for the plains bison, citing the "economic implications" to the country's $50-million bison industry.

"If we were to list plains bison, that would mean that plains bison could no longer be killed, threatened, harassed, possessed or traded or harmed in any way in this country," said Trevor Swerdfager, a spokesperson for the department. "That would make it very difficult to conduct a bison-ranching industry."

Bison ranchers welcomed the news, saying even if the animals could still be farmed, consumers would be reluctant to buy the meat of animals considered to be "at risk."

"Nobody wants to see bison thrive more than the Canadian Bison Association and its members," said Canadian Bison Association president Mark Silzer.

"I think we've done a good job in the bringing the numbers back. It's been because of private individuals, private ranchers that initially saved these animals from extinction."

Federal officials note that efforts are being made to increase wild bison populations in areas such as Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan.

However, environmental groups like the Alberta Wilderness Association were upset by the decision to leave bison off the list, saying it will hamper recovery plans for the animal in the grassland region.

The plains bison is distinguished from the wood bison, which is found further north in wooded areas. The wood bison is a protected species.

The federal government added 39 species to the "at-risk" list, including the northern prairie skink – found only in southwestern Manitoba – and a subspecies of loggerhead shrike that lives on the southern Prairies.

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