How Many Bison Are In America?

Across all of the public lands in the United States, there are about 15,000 different species of animals. The Nature Conservancy’s private herds are among those that house the last bison populations.

Western bison

The bison species known as the American bison (Bison bison) is indigenous to North America. It is one of two living species of bison, along with the European bison, and is referred to informally at times as a “buffalo” (a different lineage of bovine). The great bison belt, a region of fertile grassland that stretched from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico, east to the Atlantic Seaboard (near the Atlantic tidewater in some areas), as far north as New York, south to Georgia, and, according to some sources, even further south to Florida, is described as its historical range by 9000 BC. Sightings in North Carolina near Buffalo Ford on the Catawba River as late as 1750 are also recorded for this region. The animal, which once roamed in large herds, was on the verge of extinction due to a combination of commercial hunting, slaughter, and the introduction of bovine illnesses from domestic cattle in the 19th century. The species had around 60 million individuals in the late 18th century, but by 1889 there were just 541 left. Mid-20th century expansion of recovery efforts led to a rebound of about 31,000 wild bison as of March 2019. The population was mainly concentrated in a few national parks and reserves for a long time. The species has been repeatedly reintroduced and is currently found in the wild freely roaming in a number of areas throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico. It has also been brought to Yakutia in Russia.

The plains bison (B. b. bison), which is smaller and has a more rounded hump, and the wood bison (B. b. athabascae), which is the bigger of the two and has a higher, squarer hump, have both been classified as ecotypes. A third subspecies of the plains bison, the southern plains (B. b. bison) and the northern plains (B. b. montanae), have also been proposed. This, however, is typically not encouraged. Only the Asian gaur is larger than the wood bison in terms of size among extant wild bovid species. The bison is the largest, longest, and second-tallest living terrestrial animal in North America, behind the moose.

By the Numbers: Bison

According to the 2017 USDA census, there are 183,780 bison living on private ranches and farms in the United States.

According to the 2017 USDA census, there are 1,775 private ranches and farms in the United States that raise bison.

According to the 2016 Canadian Census of Ag, the size of the private bison herd in Canada is 119,314.

Estimated bison population before 1900, before measures to protect and rehabilitate the animal were established.

69,000: Approximate amount of bison harvested in the U.S. and Canada in 2020. (In contrast, US Beef kills around 125,000 animals per day.)

63,056: Federal inspection of the 2020 U.S. bison harvest. The overall number of bison harvested in the United States is increased by 15% when the slaughter is state-inspected.

Exactly where to Find Bison

Bison are now found in almost every state in the United States, but Yellowstone National Park is the best spot to witness wild herds. Over time, most bison have mated with cattle, but the ones in Yellowstone are still entirely purebred.

The only area where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times is Yellowstone, and their herd, which numbers close to 5,000, is the greatest collection of free-range bison.

The National Bison Range in Moiese, Montana; Catalina Island near Los Angeles, California; Land Between the Lakes Elk and Bison Prairie in Golden Pond, Kentucky; Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, North Dakota; and Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California are just a few of the protected locations in the USA where you can find bison.

Bison are now found in almost every state in the United States, but Yellowstone National Park is the best spot to witness wild herds.

What Remains of the American Bison?

With the killing and eradication of the gigantic creatures, which had numbered in the tens of millions, bison managed to squeeze through a dangerously small genetic bottleneck in the late 1800s, according to the AP. Less than 1,000 people managed to survive at one point.

In reality, the amount was considerably lower. According to one research, there were approximately 250 Canadian bison living in five private herds, including wood bison, and 100 American bison descended from plains stock.

However, restoration efforts were successful, and there are currently roughly 11,000 bison in the nation that are genetically unmixed. However, because they are separated into small, isolated herds, the majority of which have a few hundred animals, those animals are vulnerable to inbreeding and genetic drift. Small herds that have been classified as threatened include those that can be found at an educational exhibit in North Dakota, an Oklahoma game preserve, and an Alaska national park.

A small herd’s genetic decline could be slowed by trading a few bison between herds once every ten years or so, but the issue of genetic variety would still exist. For that, the species requires more enormous herds like the one found in Yellowstone, according to Cynthia Hartway, a conservation scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society. Another option might include using frozen embryos or in vitro fertilization, although doing so would shield the current herds from natural selection.

Native bison are also in danger because many of them have been crossed with domestic cattle over the years to create a breed with greater meat and docile demeanor. A 2007 study that used DNA markers indicated that conservation herds that were managed as pure bison herds had little cow ancestry.

Which brings us back to Yellowstone and the relatively recent discovery that the imposing bison that block traffic on the road between Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower Junction are more significant biologically than the average tourist realizes. Aside from those bison, there is only one other herd—at a national park in South Dakota—that scientists are reasonably confident is devoid of cattle ancestry.

According to a National Park Service article, “Bisons have survived and continue to thrive both in wild herds and in domestic production herds, despite the considerably reduced genetic chances.”

According to some geneticists, this is because the last bison from the historic range survived in several geographically distinct areas, the bottleneck preserved significant ‘adaptability’ genes from throughout the historic range, and new genetic variation may have been introduced through some early 20th-century efforts to hybridize captive bison with domestic cattle (although most would argue this was ultimately detrimental to the wild species).

In the US in 2020, how many bison are there?

There is no list of threatened or endangered species that includes bison. In North America, there are 30,000 bison living in private and public herds that are maintained for conservation. Though over 400,000 bison are reared as livestock, wild bison are uncommon.

In the US in 2022, how many bison are there?

The NPS advised culling 600–900 bison for the winter of 2021–2022, bringing the population down to 4,300–4,700 animals at the end of the season and 5,200–5,700 animals following calving. Only in areas of the northern park where animals from the central and northern herds mix should removals take place. Monitoring migrations will help managers concentrate removal efforts on the northern herd. Up to 200 extra animals could be harvested or trapped in late winter if early removal targets are accomplished and the number of bison leaving the park exceeds what can be tolerated.

Where can I find the most bison?

Custer State Park in South Dakota is well-known for its annual roundup of buffalo. There are thousands of bison held by tribes and privately in South Dakota, but the two major publicly owned herds are there and at Badlands National Park. In fact, according to the most recent U.S. Census of Agriculture, which was finished in 2012, South Dakota has more bison than any other state. The top five states for bison, along with the number of bison in each, are listed below.

A buffalo is it a bison?

Buffalo and bison are different animals even though the phrases are frequently used interchangeably. Water buffalo and Cape buffalo are two of the Old World species that are indigenous to Asia and Africa. Both North America and Europe are home to bison.

Although they both belong to the bovidae family, bison and buffalo are not closely related to one another.

How did the names become so confused? Though the specifics are hazy, historians argue that early European explorers are to blame. The National Park Service speculates that it may have originated from the French term for meat, boeuf. Others claim that the term was inspired by the fact that buff jackets, then-common among military men, looked like bison hides. Regardless, the incorrect term has persisted.

The largest bison ever recorded is what?

It’s National Bison Day on November 6th! This day honors the American bison, also referred to as the buffalo or the bison (Bison bison). Historically, vast herds of this migratory species traversed the plains of North America. Before the middle of the 1800s, an estimated 30 to 60 million bison may have roamed North America. National parks and preserves now still have herds of bison that are allowed to graze freely.

To find out all about American bison, scroll down:

1. Male bison can reach heights of over 6 feet and lengths of over 11 feet.

Buffalo typically weigh between 701 and 2,205 pounds on average, but the heaviest bison ever weighed more than 3,800 pounds!

2. A wild bison lives for approximately 25 years.

Bison kept in captivity may live longer than wild bison, which typically reach the age of 25. A bull (male) bison in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park was 30 years old when it became the oldest bison ever documented.

3. Horses can’t run as fast as bison

Even though they are enormous, bison are quite athletic! They are capable of leaping over 6 feet and running at speeds close to 35 mph.

4. Horns on bison grow on both sexes.

Although both men and females develop horns, these horns can be used to distinguish between the sexes. When compared to a bull’s, the horn on a cow (female) will be more C-shaped and slender. A bison mother and her calf are visible above.

5. Bison can use their heads to “plow” snow

To make moving around and grazing simpler when the snowfall becomes too great, bison will move snow with their heads. Yellowstone National Park is a frequent location for this type of conduct!

6. Until they are a few months old, baby bison are an orange-red tint.

Cows may only have one calf at a time and start reproducing at the age of two. Do not be misled by the name “baby”; newborn bison calves can weigh up to 70 pounds!

7. The only area in North America where bison have resided continuously since prehistoric times is Yellowstone National Park (ID, MT, & WY).

In Yellowstone, where the population ranges from 2,300 to over 5,500, the largest bison herd in the nation is found on public land. The accompanying graphic contrasts the Interagency Bison Control Plan management zones with the seasonal distribution of Yellowstone bison.

8. Bison have poor vision.

Even though buffalo have weak eyesight, they have exceptional senses of hearing. Bulls can be heard bellowing across great distances during mating season, and cows and calves communicate with pig-like grunts.

9. The American bison serves as the nation’s national mammal.

President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act into law in 2016, designating the American bison the country’s official national mammal after receiving years of public support.

Our woolly mascot, Buddy Bison, who stands in for our Youth and Family Programs, exhorts young people all around the nation to “discover outdoors, the parks are yours!”