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American Bison (Bison bison) Fact Sheet: Distribution & Habitat

American Bison (Bison bison)


  • Beginning around 5,000 years ago, Bison bison occupied grasslands and parklands of central United States and Canada.
    • Wood Bison (B. b. athabascae) mainly inhabited western forests of Canada to eastern Alaska.
    • Plains Bison (B. b. bison) in general occupied territories to the south of the Wood Bison, south across the United States to northern Mexico.
  • By around 2,000 years ago Bison bison reached its maximum range. (Meagher 1986)
  • When modern Europeans arrived in North America, an estimated 50 million bison inhabited the continent. (Nowak 1999)
  • By 1903, fewer than 2,000 were known to survive in zoos and private collections, plus isolated wild populations in Canada and the United Sates.
  • Occur today in geographically isolated populations in parks and preserves.
  • Largest free-ranging populations:
    • In Canada (Mackenzie Sanctuary, Wood Buffalo National Park and Slave River lowlands)
    • In the United States (Yellowstone National Park)


American Wood Bison

American Plains Bison

  • More open grasslands, mainly in the central U.S.

Distribution Map

distribution map of American Bison

American bison distribution.

Adapted from according to IUCN fact sheet. Click here or on map for detailed distribution (IUCN).

Page Citations

McDonald (1981)
Meagher (1986)
Nowak (1999)

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