Our featured species this newsletter is the ejıe (Wood Bison) which is the largest land mammal in North America. Ejıe can be found in northern Alberta, northeastern British Columbia as well as southwestern Northwest Territories. The ejıe in the NWT are divided into 3 subspecies, the Mackenzie Population, which is in Wek'èezhìı, the Nahanni, and the Greater Wood Buffalo ecosystem population.
Ejıe graze on grasses and sedges, as well as willow and lichen. Ejıe face many challenges including things like habitat loss, overharvesting, a lack of genetic diversity, exotic bovine diseases such as brucellosis and tuberculosis, the possibility of drowning as a result of spring flooding, and specifically in the NWT, falling through thin ice. Ejıe numbers have also been decimated in recent years through outbreaks of anthrax, which is a naturally occurring disease. Due to periodic outbreaks, the populations in the NWT have struggled. To a lesser extent, ejıe numbers have also been impacted by social and cultural factors, hybridization, agriculture, human conflicts and car accidents.
Ejıe were given ‘protected species’ status in 1964 through the Northwest Territories Act, which permitted management plans to be put in place as well as limits on harvest. In 1977, ejıe were assessed as Endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). By 1988, this status had been downgraded to Threatened following a population resurgence. In June of 2004, ejıe were given the legal status of Threatened under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Their status was reassessed in 2013 as Special Concern by COSEWIC.
The Northwest Territories Species at Risk Committee assessed ejıe as Threatened in the NWT in 2016 due to the low population numbers and resent declines. They were legally listed as Threatened in 2017 in the NWT’s Species at Risk Act, which triggered requirements for developing a territorial strategy for recovery for this species within two years.
The Draft Proposed Recovery Strategy for Wood Bison (Bison bison athabascae) in the Northwest Territories has gone through a public consultation period and is scheduled to be approved by the Conference of Management Authorities by April 2019. A management plan has already been established for the Mackenzie Bison herd and management plans for the Nahanni and Slave River Lowlands populations are nearing completion.