It’s official. Bison have returned to the backcountry of Banff National Park. After an absence of over a century, bison will once again roam the valleys of Canada’s first national park. They will carve new paths and seek new adventures. They will cross rivers and meet wolves and bears. And most importantly, they will call Banff their home.
Plains bison once filled the air of the Great Plains with grunts and the thunder of hoof steps. Numbering as many as 30 million, their herds sometimes stretched far into the distant horizon. For 10,000 years, small numbers of these animals even wandered what is now Banff National Park. But unfortunately, within a single human lifetime, bison were nearly driven to extinction.
Their story didn’t end there. For over a century, Parks Canada has been leading the charge to restore wild bison in Canada. In 2017, the Agency added a new chapter to this conservation story through the reintroduction of bison from Elk Island National Park to Banff National Park.
For the past year and a half, Parks Canada has cared for the animals as they adapted to their new home in Panther Valley in a remote area of Banff National Park. They were held in a soft-release pasture to anchor them to the location and help prepare them for their new life in the mountains.
Now, the bison are ready for the next phase of the journey: free-roaming. We released the herd from the soft-release pasture and bison are now free to roam a 1200 sq km reintroduction zone in Banff’s eastern slopes. They will start to fulfill their role in the ecosystem as a “keystone species” by creating a vibrant mosaic of habitats that benefits bugs to birds to bears, and hundreds of other species.
As bison explore their new home, we will use GPS collars to track their movements across the landscape and their interactions with other native species.Over time, we hope to learn how bison integrate into the ecosystem and understand their impact on the surrounding landscape. At the end of the pilot project in 2022, we will evaluate the success of the project and determine the future of bison restoration in Banff.
You can follow the herd as the project evolves on this blog, on the Parks Canada YouTube channel and on our Banff National Park Twitter and Facebook channels. We can’t wait to share this exciting new chapter in the reintroduction with you.
Source: Parks Canada – Banff