HomeOutdoorsNewsOne-third of Alaskan Bison Herd Starves to Death Amid Brutal Winter Conditions

One-third of Alaskan Bison Herd Starves to Death Amid Brutal Winter Conditions

by Emily Morgan
Photo by: Lowell Georgia

Alaska had to pause this year’s bison season as a staggering one-third of the animals died because of last winter’s extreme weather. As a result, only 50 bison were harvested this season. Last year, the area was pummeled with heavy snow and ice. Sadly, the harsh condition wiped out a third of the Delta Junction bison herd.

Typically, the Delta Junction bison hunt goes from October to March. However, for this season, it was restricted to just two weeks.

For many hunters, it was a massive letdown as bison hunting is extremely popular in Alaska. Last year, some 44,000 hopeful bison hunters submitted applications, hoping to get a permit to try their hand at tagging one of the beasts. At the time, there were 120 bison set for the hunt.

“That’s definitely the highest ever,” said Alaska Department of Fish and Game Delta-area wildlife biologist Bob Schmidt.

According to Schmidt, state managers had to scramble to come up with an idea for this year’s hunt after learning that 180 bison, or nearly a third of the 600-pack herd, died of starvation last winter— a figure three times what they expected.

As Schmidt describes, the bison starved because winter storms left a thick layer of ice and snow on top of the grass that the bison used as a food source.

“Last winter was a winter like we’ve never seen,” he admitted about the unprecedented storms. “And it was really the rainstorm right after Christmas that was really hard on wildlife across much of Interior Alaska, and particularly bison.”

Schmidt added that the vastness of the die-off became evident in the spring. “They looked really bad well into the summer,” he said. “Even the survivors were really skinny and in poor shape.”

Alaska wildlife officials restrict bison hunting quota and cut down length of the season

To remedy the tragedy, game managers decided to reduce the number of bison hunters could take this season from 120 to 50. In addition, they also decided to cut down the length of the hunt from half a year to two weeks. However, according to Schmidt, hunters hit that quota during the hunt last month.

“Normally, they’d be hunting all the way ’til March,” he said. “But this time it was, y’know, ‘Get up here, wham, bam, get it done.’ Y’know, no messing around kind of deal.”

Despite the tragedy of the die-off, not all hope is lost. In fact, Schmidt says he cane visible improvements in the Delta Junction herd. If so, the wildlife agency will probably extend the season in the next year or two. However, the main goal now is to maintain a sustainable herd of about 360 bison

“We probably don’t want to let it get all the way back to 600,” he said. “There are some agreements we’ve got in place with the ag community to try and stay closer to that 360.”