History of Bison in Banff National Park:
- For thousands of years, vast herds of plains bison roamed the Great Plains and the eastern slopes of the Continental Divide. Although wild, free-roaming bison have been absent from the landscape for over a century, bison were historically dominant grazers that helped shape the montane and sub-alpine ecosystems of what is now Banff National Park.
- Explorer accounts, archaeological evidence, Indigenous traditional knowledge, and local fur trade records indicate that bison were present in this area, representing the western edge of the species’ range. Their numbers and movement across the landscape are thought to have been heavily influenced by Indigenous Peoples who, in addition to hunting bison, actively burned forests and meadows to maintain attractive habitat for bison and other animals.
Parks Canada’s Bison Story
- Parks Canada’s leadership in bison conservation started in 1897 when Banff National Park (then Rocky Mountains Park) protected some of the few remaining wild bison left in North America as a display herd (the enclosure and the bison were removed in 1997 to facilitate wildlife movement around the Town of Banff).
- Another ~700 plains bison from the last wild herds were bought by the Government of Canada (1907) and were shipped to Elk Island National Park. They are now the primary source of animals for reintroduction projects around the world. The same Elk Island population of plains bison will be the source of animals for the Banff reintroduction.
- Parks Canada manages bison at six other national parks across the country: Elk Island, Grasslands, Prince Albert, Wood Buffalo, Riding Mountain and Waterton Lakes national parks.
Bison Translocation Summary
- In early 2017, Parks Canada selected 16 healthy bison (primarily pregnant two-year olds) for transfer to Banff. Prior to transfer, these animals were quarantined for three weeks and underwent health testing to ensure they were free of diseases of concern (e.g. bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis).
- Prior to their departure in late January, the animals were loaded into shipping containers, custom modified to safely transport bison. They were transported overnight by truck approximately 400 km to the government-owned Ya Ha Tinda Ranch near the border of Banff National Park.
- The shipping containers were airlifted by helicopter to a “soft-release” pasture in Banff’s Panther Valley where the animals were released. Parks Canada staff will continue to monitor the health of the herd and ensure the new arrivals have access to food and water.
- The bison will be kept in the soft release pasture for approximately 16 months before being released in 2018 to roam freely in the reintroduction zone within Banff National Park.
- Parks Canada will closely monitor the herd using radio collars and assess its influence on the landscape to inform management decisions. Meadow burning to create attractive habitat, gentle herding techniques and short stretches of wildlife-friendly fencing (approx. 8 km) will encourage the animals to remain within the reintroduction zone.
Why Bring Bison to Banff?
Parks Canada is returning bison to Banff for the following reasons:
- Ecological Restoration
As “ecosystem engineers,” bison influence the landscape in ways that benefit many plant and animal communities.
- Cultural Reconnection
Bison are an icon of Canada’s history. They were an integral part of the lives of Indigenous Peoples and Canada’s pioneers, and they still
have an important role in the culture of Indigenous Peoples. Restoring bison to the landscape is an opportunity to renew cultural
and historical connections.
- Inspiring Discovery
Successfully reintroducing bison will create new opportunities for visitors, neighbours and the public at large to learn about the
ecological and cultural importance of bison.
- Alignment with Parks Canada Mandate
Parks Canada manages some of the finest and most extensive systems of protected natural and cultural heritage areas in the world. In
managing national parks, Parks Canada maintains or restores ecological integrity and provides Canadians with opportunities to discover
and enjoy them. Integral to this work is restoring the full suite of native species to the lands and waters that make up the national
park system. This helps ensure that these places will be there for present and future generations to appreciate and experience.
- The 2010 Banff National Park Management Plan states that Parks Canada will “re-introduce a breeding population of extirpated plains bison, a keystone species that has been absent from the park since its establishment, and to work with stakeholders and neighboring jurisdictions to address potential concerns through joint management strategies before reintroduction”.
- Parks Canada has committed $6.4 million to reintroduce a herd of plains bison in Banff National Park as a five-year reversible pilot project to test the feasibility of managing wild bison in Banff.
- In developing the reintroduction approach, Parks Canada reviewed the best-practices for successful reintroductions, experiences of other national parks with multi-jurisdictional management of free-ranging bison, and conferred with technical experts and stakeholder groups.
- Parks Canada has a long history of managing healthy plains bison at sites across the country including Elk Island, Grasslands and Riding Mountain national parks.
- The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative completed a disease risk assessment (2012), estimating a negligible-to-low probability of bison introducing or being exposed to diseases such as bovine tuberculosis, brucellosis or anthrax in Banff National Park.
- To mitigate any potential risk, Parks Canada has completed a Bison Health Monitoring and Disease Response Plan in coordination with provincial authorities.
- The bison reintroduction to Banff has been and will continue to be built through collaboration and cooperation, and its future success relies on involvement of Canadians, stakeholders and Indigenous Peoples.
- Reintroducing a breeding population of plains bison to Banff National Park was first introduced to Canadians in the 2010 Banff National Park Management Plan, where it received overwhelming support.
- In 2012, the launch of a phased consultation process on the reintroduction of plains bison to Banff National Park was announced.
- Throughout the consultation process, Parks Canada received high levels of support for the reintroduction.
- In the early stages of development, Parks Canada committed that the reintroduction plan would undergo an environmental impact analysis (DEIA), which would be available for additional public review and feedback. The DEIA process ensured Parks Canada has a clear understanding of the potential project impacts, both positive and negative, and is prepared to address any risks or adverse impacts.
- The DEIA included a public comment period that was open for November 2016, where the public was invited to share thoughts and concerns related to the potential bison reintroduction. We thank all who participated in this process.
- At the close of the public comment period, Parks Canada carefully reviewed and analyzed all feedback received. This information was used to make a number of changes and refinements to the project and to finalise the DEIA.
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