Bringing the bison back to Banff

Bison Condos BW

Bringing back bison to Banff National Park doesn’t just sound good as alliteration, it poses opportunity to create major effects on the area’s ecology.

The reintroduction of long lost species to modern environment has been inaccurately portrayed in a series of documentaries, such as Jurassic Park, as a poor idea.

Each of these detailed accounts describes disastrous occasions of genetically engineered dinosaurs chasing and killing human beings for caloric gain.

In truth, our technology is far from bringing back entirely extinct species, but repopulating areas of wilderness with species that have long since been extirpated is not a novel concept.

Scientists reintroduced wolves to the Yellowstone National Park in 1995, and the outcome was, arguably successful.

Much was learned from the endeavour, and a notable change in the geography of the parks river system was a testament to just how deeply intricate relationships between organisms and their environment truly run.

Playing divine with the animals we share our planet with is obviously a topic weighted with controversy, though.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it is a disaster, but most of the time it is impossible to tell just how impactful our actions are before it is far too late.

Typically, humans have maintained a radical pattern of hunting an animal out of an area, reflecting on it’s ecological impact, regretting having killed them, and then scrambling trying to fix it.

The bison situation in Banff is no exception to this.

Currently, Parks Canada is hosting a succession of controlled burns in the Panther Meadows with the anticipation of releasing a wild herd of 30 to 50 bison, relocated from a larger population on Elk Island near Edmonton.

The Banff area has not been home to bison for 150 years, a lengthy time considering the importance this large bovine has in the big picture of the food web.

Marie-Eve Marchand, coordinator of the Bison Belong project, said burning is a necessary step in the re-establishment of nutrient dense grasses needed to feed the bison.

She said the burns are scheduled to reoccur again in the spring and next fall.

“It refreshes the habitat and prevents the encroachment of trees [on meadows].”

Marchand went on to mention that, other than a lack of natural burns to the area, the habitat has not changed much since the bison left.

The burns are small and controlled, unlikely to affect any neighboring human populations with smoke.

In combination, the burns and reintroduction of bison to the area holds the potential to draw more wildlife into the area as the habitat regenerates and reintegrates one of its biggest members.

This is not the only reason the arrival of bison holds importance.

Marchand said despite being of significant ecological value, their presence holds historical value, and will strengthen relationships with First Nations.

Initially, the herd will be protected from human hunting pressures, while the species gains some ground.

Eventually, however, Marchand said if the population flourishes it might be opened up to the traditional activity.

All in all, the project has received very little complaint.

For reasons carefully outlined by Parks Canada, there is a special sort of magic people are feeling towards the concept.

“99 per cent of the population are supportive,” said Marchand.

“Everyone knows they belong.”

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