The Wildlife Conservation Society held a 3 day conference on the Ecological Future of the North American Bison in Denver in Oct 2006. The meeting explored the idea of extensively reintroducing wild bison into the North American plains ecosystem within the next 100 years. The idea is to improve the biodiversity of the plains ecosystem, restoring it to health and viability. Currently about 1/20th of North America's approximately 400,000 bison are considered wild.
Rewilding is controversial. Some advocates want to reintroduce other species, long extinct to the prairies, such as lions and elephants. Somehow I doubt that we’ll be seeing such exotic big game on the US plains anytime soon.
But there is a long-distance wild bison reintroduction that is underway right now! As the first step in turning the tundra back into a more steppe like grassland ecosystem, Canadian bison have been transported to Siberia where they have been extinct for 5,000 years. 30 Canadian wood buffalo calves have been moved from their home at Elk Island National Park east of Edmonton to the 194,000-acre Lenskiye-Stolby Nature Park, aka Pleistocene Park, in the Republic of Sakha in north east Russia.
The calves were prepped for the 12-14 hour flight with a regimen of good nutrition and electrolytes (hay, alfalfa cubes, molasses loaded with vitamins, and a sort of bison "Gatorade"). A supply of their familiar pelleted alfalfa diet was sent along with them to allow a gradual, low stress transition to local food. The plan is for them to stay at the Park for a year under study and observation, then 24 of them will be released into the Verkhoyansk Range north of Yakutsk. The other 6 will remain at the park.
I’ll keep an eye out for word of the progress of this experiment as it develops.