The first legislation to protect bison in Canada was passed in 1877. In 1964, wood bison was declared a "protected species" under the Northwest Territories Act allowing for management and restriction of all hunting. In 1977, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) designated wood bison as Endangered. Population increases over the following decade resulted in COSEWIC downlisting wood bison to Threatened in 1988. The status was again revisited by COSEWIC in 2000 and was confirmed as Threatened. Wood bison was legally listed as Threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act in June 2004. In 2013 COSEWIC assessed wood bison as Special Concern.
A national recovery strategy for wood bison was released in 2018 and is available at www.sararegistry.gc.ca.
In 2016, the NWT Species at Risk Committee assessed wood bison as Threatened in the NWT because of its small population size and recent population declines. In 2017, wood bison was listed as Threatened in the NWT under the territorial Species at Risk (NWT) Act. This listing triggered a requirement to develop a NWT recovery strategy for the species within two years.
A population-specific management plan has been completed for the Mackenzie population of wood bison. Management plans for Nahanni and Slave River Lowlands bison are currently being developed.