Plains Bison reintroduced to Banff National Park
On February 1, 2017, plains bison were successfully reintroduced to Banff National Park after a 140-150 year absence. Free roaming plains bison (as opposed to wood bison) were driven from the area in 1885, when the national park was created (initially called Rocky Mountain National Park).
A small herd of genetically pure plains bison was protected by the Canadian Government in the early 1900’s, and ended up in Elk Island National Park by Edmonton. A few animals from this herd were selected and transported via truck to the government owned Ya Ha Tinda Ranch, where they were airlifted an additional 25 kilometers to the backcountry, an enclosed pasture in Panther River Valley. The herd has been blessed by local indigenous leaders and has great support from that community. These bison are not only ecologically important, but have great spiritual meaning for indigenous people.
These bison used to be dominant grazers which helped shape the natural ecosystem of Banff park. Establishing the herd in the region will have many ecological benefits, and will most importantly in the long term establish a wild population within the animals historic range and will contribute to international and national bison conservation.
Each bison had rubber tubing taped to their horns to prevent them from injuring themselves, as bison are known to charge one another when stressed. Each animal was sedated during the trip, however there were a few animals in the herd that never really settled down for the ride.
There were 16 bison in total that were transported, including 6 bulls and 10 pregnant females. The herd will spend 16 months in the first pasture, which Parks staff can monitor the herd from a warden cabin, making sure there is drinking water in troughs as well as providing hay for feeding, and of course collecting data. After this, the herd will be released into a 1200 square kilometer reintroduction zone in the summer of 2018. The zone is in a remote area on the eastern slopes of the Park.
You can watch the video of the release here. There is even video showing the bison inside the crates as they are flown via helicopter! The best part of the video is when they are finally realeased after their long travels.
Can you go see the bison?
According to Parks Canada, if you want to see the bison, it’s not as easy as a day hike. It’ll take you two days to get into the area and the public are welcome to do it. You’ll have to ski, hike or go on horseback. The bison were placed in a remote area, so it’s a big undertaking to get in.
The re-introduction of the bison to the park coincides with the 150th anniversary of Confederation, which the government has decided to celebrate by giving free access to the National Parks in 2017.
Read more at Parks Canada.
For those not familiar with the area, Banff National Park is located in southwestern Alberta near Calgary.