Bison roam Banff National Park again after century-long absence
Parks Canada reintroduced 16 wild Plains Bison to a remote valley in Banff National Park on Feb. 1.
The bison population collapsed in the 1870s. Banff National Park Superintendent Dave McDonough said: “History has come full circle.”
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said the historic moment is the perfect way to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation.
"By returning plains bison to Banff National Park, Parks Canada is taking an important step towards restoring the full diversity of species and natural processes to the park's ecosystems while providing new opportunities for Canadians and visitors to connect with the story of this iconic species," she said in a release.
In order to get the bison to their new home, Parks Canada first captured the 16 bison—10 pregnant cows and six young bulls – from Elk Island National Park. The animals were then fitted with rubber hoses to cover their horns and screened for disease. Finally, they were loaded into modified shipping containers and airlifted to a remote valley in the eastern part of Banff.
Parks Canada’s Karsten Hauer said told CTV Calgary that careful planning ensured that “everything went smoothly” on a day “when there were a lot of things that could have gone wrong.”
The reintroduction was the first step in the $6.4-million five-year long pilot project, which aims to inform future decisions regarding restoring wild bison in Banff long-term.
The bison will remain in a protected pasture for about 16 months with the hopes that the herd will double to more than 30 animals by the time they are free to roam a vast 1,200 square kilometre range.
“[The land] could potentially support hundreds … but we're really reluctant to consider that a target – it’s more a ceiling," said Parks Canada biologist David Gummer.
The reintroduction won’t just help the bison but will also have a far reaching impact on the rest of the ecosystem. Their hoof prints and droppings will begin to change the landscape and help the animals that live there.
“The landscape has been missing it and all the other species in between, so that’s why we’re bringing them back,” said Marie Even Marchand from Bison Belong initiative backed by The Eleanor Luxton Foundation.
“Those first bison born in Banff, because they will know nowhere else … will be totally bound to the land," she added.
With a report from CTV Calgary’s Bill Macfarlane and files from The Canadian Press