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Plains Bison

Overview

  • Status
    Near Threatened
  • Population
    20,504
  • Scientific Name
    Bison bison bison
  • Weight
    701 to 2,000 pounds
  • Length
    7-12 ft.
  • Habitats
    Grasslands

Symbols of strength and determination, bison are Ice Age survivors. Clearing away snow and brush with their massive heads, they weigh up to 2,000 pounds and can run up to 40 miles per hour. Once numbering 30-60 million in North America, their numbers were decimated in a decade as expansion pressed westward. No other species on Earth has declined so quickly. For bison to grow in number, they need room to roam vast grasslands.

How Bison Survive Winter in the Northern Great Plains

Despite roaming vast distances in the Northern Great Plains, bison do not move south as the weather grows cold and inhospitable, though they may move to lower elevations where snow is not so deep. Temperatures plummet well below zero, bitter winds whip across the landscape, and bison still remain.

bison covered in snow

Why They Matter

  • Historically bison were the dominant grazer on the Northern Great Plains landscape. This dominance shaped the landscape by affecting the pattern and structure of the grasses and vegetation that grew, and it was this vegetation pattern that allowed animals to flourish.

Threats

  • Population 20,504
  • Extinction Risk Near Threatened
    1. EX
      Extinct

      No reasonable doubt that the last individual has died

    2. EW
      Extinct in the Wild

      Known only to survive in cultivation, in captivity or as a naturalised population

    3. CR
      Critically Endangered

      Facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the Wild

    4. EN
      Endangered

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    5. VU
      Vulnerable

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    6. NT
      Near Threatened

      Likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future

    7. LC
      Least Concern

      Does not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, or Near Threatened

Plains Bison

What WWF Is Doing

Plains Bison

WWF is identifying opportunities and creating places where bison can thrive in large herds (numbering over 1000 bison) on vast landscapes in the Northern Great Plains, the heart of the plains bison’s historic range. We are partnering with the Oglala Lakota to create the nation’s first tribal national park and restore a herd of bison to ancestral homelands. We work with Fort Peck Reservation, Fort Belknap Reservation, and Yellowstone National Park to reduce the annual slaughter and ensure that the park’s genetically important bison expand to new landscapes. We also engage in research and public outreach activities aimed at reminding the American public why bison, symbols of strength and determination, are so critical to the restoration of the American prairie.

Experts

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