ESRD is suspending the 2013/14 Hay-Zama bison hunting season

This past winter, unusually severe conditions throughout the Hay-Zama bison range west of High Level has resulted in the starvation deaths of an estimated 75 to 100 bison. The population objective for the Hay-Zama herd is between 400 to 600 bison. The estimated mortality has reduced the overall population to the lower threshold of the population goal (400), resulting in a need to suspend the hunting season.

A population survey conducted March 5 found 529 bison in the herd. During that survey a number of bison appeared to have died from starvation and many others were showing signs of stress (emaciation and weakness).

Concerns over the potential impact of ongoing winter mortality on the herd resulted in additional surveys on March 26 and May 3. Fifty one (51) bison carcasses were located during these surveys, resulting in a total estimated mortality of 75 to 100 bison. These results mean that there are no surplus animals for harvest this year.

This extent of winter mortality has not been recorded in the Hay-Zama area since the start of the annual bison population surveys in 1994. The winter severity is attributed to the approximately two metre snow depths and the duration of deep snow conditions since October.

Hunting seasons for the Hay-Zama bison herd began in 2008 when the population was nearing 700 animals. This unique hunt, designated for an endangered species and Alberta’s only Wood Bison Recovery Herd, is designed to contain this disease-free and free-ranging herd to the Hay-Zama area, and to ensure that numbers ranged from 400 to 600.

The lower goal of 400 bison is designed to ensure that there are enough healthy and genetically diverse adults for breeding. The upper goal of 600 ensures that bison are not forced out of the Hay-Zama range by overpopulation and risk contact with diseased bison to the east in Wood Buffalo National Park. The hunt provides additional benefits by reducing the risks to humans of bison on roads and in communities.

Since 2008, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal hunters have harvested in excess of 500 bison.

Over 7,000 Albertans typically apply annually for this limited hunting opportunity.

The total mortality will not be known until another population survey can be conducted next winter. The hunt will resume as soon as the population recovers.

Updated: June 5, 2013