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After 140 years, plains bison are once again roaming their historical range in Banff’s Eastern Slopes, reported Calgary Herald.
Parks Canada has successfully relocated 16 wild bison from Elk Island National Park to the remote Panther Valley in Banff National Park.
For 16 months, the bison will remain in an enclosed pasture in the valley 40 kilometres north of Banff, and will be monitored by Parks Canada. In summer 2018, the herd will be released to explore a 1,200-square-kilometre zone in the Red Deer and Cascade river valleys where they will be free to interact with other native species and forage for food. Natural barriers and stretches of wildlife fencing will hopefully discourage the bison from leaving the zone.
“It’s a great event to have a keystone species return to one of our nation’s most iconic places,” Banff National Park superintendent Dave McDonough said at the official announcement Monday. “It’s a perfect way to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation.
“I’m proud to say that history has come full circle and wild bison are once again in Banff National Park.”
More than a century ago, bison grazed on the land that is now Banff National Park. Bringing them back to Banff restores a keystone species to the landscape and provides a cultural connection to First Nations who once hunted the animal. At one time, there were as many as 30 million bison on the plains but they nearly became extinct due to overhunting. The Canadian government bought one of the last surviving herds in the early 1900s and they were protected in a paddock at the base of Cascade Mountain for almost 100 years. They were removed in 1997.
“Today is a great day in the history of wildlife conservation in North America and a great day in the history of Canada’s National Parks,” says Harvey Locke, trustee of Eleanor Luxton Historical Foundation and author of The Last of the Buffalo Return to the Wild, 2016.
“It rights the historical wrong of the elimination of this magnificent animal. The return of bison to the landscape represents hope for nature and is an important step toward reconciliation with Indigenous people.”
The Samson Cree Nation hosted a send-off ceremony at Elk Island National Park on Jan. 29 and other First Nations celebrated their return.
“The restoration of wild bison to Banff National Park is a great leap forward for buffalo peoples,” said Leroy Little Bear, a Blood Tribe member integral to the historic 2014 Buffalo Treaty signed by 21 First Nations.
Over the course of the $6.5-million five-year trial project, Parks staff will evaluate the health of the herd, their movements, survival and reproductive rates, and how well they adapt to the environment and predation from wolves packs and bears.
Karsten Heuer, the bison project manager, said the successful translocation was emotional for him and his team.
“If it works, we are actually setting the seeds for just one of four plains bison populations in North America that are actually interacting with their environment,” he said. “That will be a first in over 140 years in Banff National Park, and that’s really why we’re doing this is to make them wild again.
“They’ve been absent from this landscape for too long and so I think today is the hooves on the ground beginning of trying to bring that back.”
Ten pregnant females and six young bulls with radio collars were transported in three-metre-long shipping containers from Elk Island to Ya Ha Tinda Ranch in late January. They were then airlifted by helicopter to the paddock.
“Within a few hours they were feeding, they were drinking out of the trough. The next morning a couple of the bulls were rubbing horns and bucking, which is a good sign that they were feeling calm and settled,” Heuer said.
Backcountry travellers will be able to access the remote reintroduction zone by a two-day hike, ski or horseback trip, but require a backcountry camping permit to do so. For the rest of the public, a homecoming celebration is planned for March 3 at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site.
show source http://calgaryherald.com/news/local-news/the-bison-are-back-in-banff-national-park