Elk Island National Park Wood Bison Translocation

Backgrounder

 

Wood bison and Parks Canada

·  As North America’s largest land mammal, millions of bison once ranged across the continent from Alaska to Mexico and were an important resource for Indigenous peoples who lived on the plains.

·  Bison are considered a pillar of ecosystem health, providing numerous benefits to nature and other animals.

·  Parks Canada is committed to the recovery of species of conservation concern. In restoring wood bison across North America, the global survival and wellbeing of an iconic and majestic animal can be ensured and cultural, historical, and ecological connections can be renewed.

·  Parks Canada strives to maintain a balanced herd with enough grazing land to keep them healthy, while also leaving vegetation and rangeland for other species. Periodically, bison must be translocated out of the park to ensure the habitat is not over-grazed, creating an opportunity to provide bison to conservation projects in North America.

·  Throughout Elk Island National Park’s history, surplus bison have been provided to other national parks, to conservation projects in Canada and the United States, to Indigenous nations and for auction where they have contributed to Canada’s successful bison ranching industry. Most wood bison in Canada today are descended from members of the Elk Island herd.

·  Parks Canada manages wood bison at three other national parks across the country: Wood Buffalo, Kluane and Nahanni national parks.


History of wood bison conservation in Elk Island National Park

 

·  At the turn of the 20th century, wild wood bison were nearing extinction. Populations fell to a few hundred in what is now Wood Buffalo National Park.

·  Wood bison as a distinct subspecies were once thought completely lost due to mixed breeding with plains bison. However, in 1958 a small isolated wood bison population was rediscovered in Wood Buffalo National Park.

·  In 1965, 22 wood bison were transferred from Wood Buffalo National Park to Elk Island National Park, where they were used to start a tuberculosis- and brucellosis-free conservation herd separated from the plains bison herd. Elk Island National Park wood bison have since been contributed to new free-ranging bison herds in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Alaska, and Russia.

·  In an effort to create an “insurance” herd for the subspecies recovery, the small herd was placed in a former isolation area south of the Yellowhead Highway, which had been cleared of all its plains bison and other ungulates, considered as potential disease-carriers.

·  Both bison herds grow approximately 20-25% each year. As the only completely fenced national park in Canada, bison here have few natural predators which has helped the herd grow steadily, putting pressure on the park’s limited grassland habitat’s ability to support them. Translocating bison out of the park simulates predation, supports a healthy bison population and helps ensure the grassland is not over-grazed by reducing the herd.

 

Significance of sending bison to Alaska

This project contributes to the global security of wood bison. It is considered an additional opportunity to secure survival of the subspecies within a geographically separate population.

Parks Canada was pleased to once again enter into an agreement with the State of Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game. This was the second such agreement implemented, with Elk Island National Park having sent 53 wood bison to Alaska in 2008. The State of Alaska received 40 surplus wood bison calves from Elk Island National Park in April 2022, with future transfers identified for 2024, 2026 and 2028.

 

Why is the restoration of bison important?

Parks Canada supports the bison conservation for the following reasons:

·  Ecological Restoration: As “ecosystem engineers,” bison influence the landscape in ways that benefit many plant and animal communities. For example, bison create “wallows” – bowl-like depressions made by rolling on dry ground – that provide habitat for other animals. They deposit droppings that act as fertilizer for plants and support insect populations, which in turn feed bird species and a source of food for predators

·  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 many Indigenous cultures to this day. Restoring bison to the landscape is an opportunity to renew cultural and historical connections.

·  Inspiring Discovery: Bison create opportunities for visitors to Elk Island National Park to learn about the ecological and cultural importance of bison.

·  Alignment with Parks Canada Mandate: Parks Canada manages an extensive system of protected natural and cultural heritage areas. In managing national parks, Parks Canada maintains or restores ecological integrity and provides Canadians with opportunities to discover and enjoy them. Protecting the wildlife, lands and waters that make up the national park system helps to ensure these places are here for present and future generations to appreciate and experience.

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