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Wood Bison in the NWT

Wood bison (Bison bison athabascae) are North America's largest land mammal. In Dogrib, bison are called Dechita goji / enareh goji and in North Slavey they are ?ejire.

The Wood Bison Management Strategy for the Northwest Territories (Strategy) provides long-term vision, goals and principles for the management of wood bison in the Northwest Territories (NWT) during the next ten years.

It will guide the development of population-specific management plans for each of the wood bison populations in the NWT. The management plans, developed in partnership with Tlicho Government, Wildlife Management Boards and community stakeholders, will contain technical objectives and action to achieve the goals of the Strategy.

Wood bison are found in these free-ranging populations in:
Photo of a bison grazing
  • Mackenzie: The Mackenzie population is a disease-free population primarily distributed between Fort Providence and Yellowknife.
  • Nahanni: The Nahanni population is a disease-free population which is primarily distributed along the Liard River Valley south into northeastern British Columbia and southeastern Yukon Territory.
  • The greater Wood Buffalo National Park population, which includes the Slave River Lowlands.


The Bison Control Area, an area which is kept free of bison, was established to lower the risk of diseased herds coming in contact with healthy herds.



Three major bacterial diseases affect wild bison: brucellosis, bovine tuberculosis, and anthrax. Brucellosis and tuberculosis are prevalent in bison in WBNP and in the Slave River Lowlands.

  • Brucellosis causes abortions, still births, reduced calf birth weights, and can cause crippling arthritis in infected joints.
  • Bovine tuberculosis is a chronic, infectious disease that usually progresses slowly in bison. Over the years it weakens the bison and may eventually result in death.
  • Anthrax is the other serious disease affecting bison in the NWT. The most recent outbreak was in the Mills Lake area used by the Mackenzie bison population. By the time the outbreak ended in late August 2012, a total of 440 bison had died. The disease is managed by reducing the number of spores found in the environment that can cause future cases of anthrax through targeted surveillance and carcass treatment / incineration.

    For more information on wildlife diseases, please click here.


Between 1968 and 1977, resident sport hunters took an average of 123 bison per year during regulated seasons in the Slave River Lowlands. At the same time, hunting by General Hunting Licence (GHL) holders had no season or quota limit. Between 1973 and 1976, the bison population declined and sport hunting was closed in 1977, but GHL hunting has remained opened. 

All harvesting in the Mackenzie wood bison range is closed effective November 1, 2012. No harvesting of Mackenzie wood bison in the range is allowed. For more information contact your local ENR office.

Hunting for bison is not permitted in Wood Buffalo National Park.

Established Population in the NWT

Disease-Free Herds (Free-Ranging)  Approx. Number  Trend 
Mackenzie Bison 700 Reduced, trend unknown
Nahanni  400 Stable

Diseased Herds (Free-Roaming)  Number  Trend 
Wood Buffalo National Park 5,000  Stable/Increasing 
Slave River Lowlands  1,700 Stable/Increasing 

Wood bison have been listed as a Threatened species in Canada. For more information read the Species at Risk Fact Sheet - Wood Bison.

Updated: 21 October 2013 

Wood Bison Documents 
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