Some of Elk Island National Park's wood bison are finding a new home with a northern neighbour.

On Thursday (Apr. 21,) Minister of Environment and Climate Change and the Minister responsible for Parks Canada, Steven Guilbeault, announced that 40 wood bison from Elk Island National Park (EINP) had been translocated to Alaska. 

The transfer of the bison will help contribute to the Alaska wood bison restoration project.

Wood bison are a distinct subspecies once thought to be lost; however, a small isolated wood bison population was rediscovered in Wood Buffalo Park in Northern Alberta. 

In 1965, 22 wood bison were transferred from Wood Buffalo National Park to EINP, where they were used to start a conservation herd free of disease and separate from the plains bison. 

BisonA wood bison calf undergoing disease testing at the Elk Island National Park Wood Bison Handling Facility. Photo credit: Parks Canada

Due to their long history of disease-free status, the bison in Elk Island is sought after for national and international conservation projects. 

"Our government is committed to the recovery of bison. The survival of bison from near-extinction is one of Canada's conservation success stories, where populations of plains and wood bison have been established across North America," said Guilbeault. 

"This transfer of Canadian bison to help populate Alaska is a historic step in ensuring bison continue to thrive for generations to come." 

In 2008, the park sent 53 wood bison to Alaska, later forming the lower Yukon-Innoko herd in western Alaska. Currently, there are over 100 wood bison in the wild in Alaska, and around 70 in captivity, with plans to release more into the wild.  

"The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, as directed by the citizens of Alaska, has been pursuing the restoration of wood bison in portions of their original range since 1994," stated Tom Seaton of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's Wood Bison Project Biologist Division. 

"The State of Alaska will be forever grateful that the government of Canada took the steps to save the last remaining wood bison and later established a disease-free population at Elk Island National Park to propagate wood bison for release elsewhere." 

Supporting the relocation of bison has been a longstanding feature of the nearby national park's mission. Over the past century, the park has translocated nearly 3000 plains and wood bison to various partners in bison conservation, including several Indigenous groups. 

In April, The Métis Nation of Alberta recently coordinated the transfer of 20 wood bison from Elk Island National Park to the Wildlife Park at Métis Crossing, near Smoky Lake.