Arizona Game and Fish Commission sign historic agreement for Arizona bison conservation

A bison at the Grand Canyon. Photo/Roy Rauch/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A bison at the Grand Canyon. Photo/Roy Rauch/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) will soon be part of a new chapter in the conservation history of the iconic American bison.

The Game and Fish Commission recently signed a memorandum of agreement with the U.S. Department of Interior, National Park Service and Wind Cave National Park (WICA) in western South Dakota to establish a Plains Bison Conservation Herd, with WICA genetic lineage, at the Raymond Wildlife Area (RWA) in northern Arizona. The commission-owned location was identified to be part of a national effort to conserve bison lineages that have high genetic purity, genetic diversity and rare bison genes.

The goal is to establish an ecologically and genetically restored conservation herd of WICA bison at RWA, while maintaining the population at levels which provide diverse recreational opportunities and avoid adverse impacts to the habitat.

"The department is fortunate to be a part of the national effort to conserve the exceptional WICA lineage of bison at RWA," said Craig McMullen, Flagstaff regional supervisor for game and fish. "We will be managing two different lineages of Plains Bison in Arizona and making a significant contribution to the conservation of this iconic species. Both lineages reflect important elements of the near extirpation and recovery of the species."

AZGFD currently manages two herds of bison, including one at House Rock, east of the Kaibab Plateau. Both herds are descendants from an unsuccessful bison-cattle, cross-breeding effort more than 100 years ago. Results of genetic testing show that both herds have high levels of cattle DNA, as do most remaining bison lineages, but it does not diminish their value as bison to the public.

Replacement of the RWA bison herd will be complete in fall 2017. The department will carefully manage the new bison herd, to allow for wildlife viewing opportunities, habitat management and closely managed public hunts.

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