How Many Bison Are Left In North America?

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.

The estimated number of bison harvested in the United States and Canada in 2020 is 69,000. (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.

There is a significant recovery of American bison.

Nearly 30 million American bison (Bison bison) inhabited the Great Plains between the Rocky Mountains in the West and the Appalachian Mountains in the East not too long ago—roughly 150 years ago. However, as the number of white settlers in the area increased dramatically in the late 19th century, hunters drastically reduced the bison population by killing about 5,000 of the animals per day in 1871 and 1872. As cities, farms, and cattle pastures were built in the shadow of bison habitat, the habitat for these animals progressively deteriorated. The rest was taken care of by novel diseases.

By 1889, there were almost no free-ranging bison left. A century of bison-free Great Plains began with this population decline of more than 99.9%. Indigenous cultures, grasslands, other animal species, and natural habitats all suffered. Early in the 20th century, a small group of herds under federal management saved the bison from extinction. The Department of the Interior is currently the primary conservation custodian for North American Plains bison on 4.6 million acres of National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management sites in 12 states, with around 11,000 Plains bison in 19 herds.

Are there still any bison roaming free in America?

Before a mass slaughter started in the early 1800s, about 150 years ago, the Great Plains were home to close to 30 million bison. There were less than 1,000 bison left by the late 1880s.

As a keystone species, bison contribute to the creation of habitat on the Great Plains for numerous other species, such as grassland birds and numerous plant species. When bison feed, they spread native seeds and aerate the soil with their hooves, which promotes plant growth and helps to maintain a healthy and balanced ecology.

The conservation community has made substantial contributions over the past ten years to bison conservation, aiding in the reintroduction of America’s national mammal. The bison is thought to be ecologically extinct because there are no longer millions of animals migrating across the plains, but conservation herds of 1,000 or more bison are being created to create a metapopulation, allowing the species to once again play a significant ecological role on our prairie grasslands.

Defenders promotes the preservation of bison on both tribal and public grounds. We collaborate with national parks including Yellowstone, Badlands, and Wind Cave that are home to bison.

Additionally, we aid in the preservation efforts for bison at the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area in Colorado and the American Prairie Reserve in Montana. The Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of Fort Peck, the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine tribes of Fort Belknap, and the Blackfeet Nation have all established significant buffalo herds in Montana as a result of our relationships with Native American tribes over the years.

Together with state and federal agencies, we are planning for land and natural resources and pushing for better recognition of bison as a threatened species on Forest Service grounds.

By launching the Yellowstone Bison Coexistence Program in 2011 as a joint effort targeted at assisting landowners in coexisting with wild bison on the landscape outside the Park, Defenders and our partners are also paving the road for Yellowstone bison just outside park borders.

Genetic variety, antipathy toward humans, habitat degradation, and habitat fragmentation all pose threats to bison.

By contacting your senators, representatives, and the governor of the state where wild bison are found, you can help us advocate for them. Encourage management of their habitat similar to that of other wild species.

Except for a few national parks and other limited wildlife areas, bison are “ecologically extinct” as a wild animal over most of their historic range, despite the fact that they previously roamed much of North America. Inhabitants of the Indian Reservations of Fort Peck and Fort Belknap include two tiny herds of untamed Yellowstone bison.

About 20,000 plains bison are kept as wildlife, and 5,000 of them are unfenced and free of disease.

Bison, who are known for covering a lot of ground, move around constantly while they eat and aerate the soil, creating an ideal environment for a variety of different species. The Great Plains’ severe weather, from summer heat to winter cold and blizzards, is no match for the adaptations that bison have developed.

Until breeding season, bulls and cows do not mix. Bulls that are in charge “tend” to cows by following them around until the cow decides to mate.

For the most part, bison consume grasses and sedges. Even in the winter, bison can use their heads to burrow through thick snow and reach the vegetation below.

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. Managers should track movements and focus removals 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.

Are American bison regaining popularity?

The National Bison Association claims that the Great American Bison is making a return as a result of an innovative partnership.

We work with public agencies, public herd managers, conservation groups, and we’re all together restoring the species back to its native landscape here in North America. “We work very closely with tribal entities, who are also restoring bison to their tribal lands for commercial and cultural reasons, as well as conservationists,” said Jim Matheson.

Because they were never tamed, bison are still naturally regenerators. Because of this, their meat had little to no fat, making them a protein that was rich in nutrients.

In the late 19th century, there were about 30 million bison, but they were nearly all killed to extinction. There are currently over 400,000 head in the United States.

Are any 100% bison still available?

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).

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.

Will bison return in the future?

Today, approximately 6,000 areas, including public grounds, private ranches, and Native American lands, have seen the restoration of almost 500,000 bison. Researchers like me are learning more about their significant ecological and conservation worth when they return.

In Yellowstone, how many bison are there?

In Yellowstone National Park, how many bison are there? The bison population varies between 2,300 and 5,500 animals and is divided into two subpopulations according to where they congregate for breeding. The Lamar Valley and the surrounding high plateaus are breeding grounds for the northern herd. Hayden Valley is where the center herd breeds.