Wood bison now a 'threatened' N.W.T. species

Wood bison have joined Western toads, boreal caribou and polar bears on the list of species at risk in the Northwest Territories.

Species-at-risk committee finds only 2,500 remain in the territory

They once could be found in the majority of the western N.W.T. but now wood bison are considered a species at risk of extinction in the territory.

Better drive with extra care when you see a wood bison on the side of a highway in the Northwest Territories: the burly beasts have joined Western toads, boreal caribou and polar bears on the territory's list of species at risk.

An independent committee announced Friday that the remaining 2,500 wood bison in the territory should now be considered a threatened species.

"The numbers are not that high," said Dr. Suzanne Carrière, an alternate chairperson for the N.W.T. Species at Risk Committee, an independent body of experts that reassess the biological statuses of various species.

"We do have wood bison in the thousands, but they do have quite the possibility to disappear in our children's lifetime [and] should be accounted for."

Increased predation, disease to blame 

The new label for wood bison comes as a result of "population decline in the last three bison generations and the cumulative effect of threats such as disease, increased predation, human-caused mortality and various factors contributing to the loss of wood bison habitat," according to a statement issued by the committee.

The committee rates the status of species on a seven-category scale, with the highest category branding a species as "extinct."

At "threatened," wood bison fall squarely on the middle of that scale.

According to the committee, the Northwest Territories are home to 32 per cent of the global population of wood bison. The animal once roamed the majority of the territory's western region.