Wild bison to return to Banff park

Plains bison will reclaim some of their historic range in Alberta within the next five years when a herd of 30 to 50 animals is moved into Banff National Park.

Members of Bison Belong, which has been working for years to get wild bison back into the park, said they were thrilled March 6 when the federal government an-nounced $6.4 million over five years for the project.

“The really great thing is this is the money for this whole project, over five years,” said Bison Belong co-ordinator Marie-Eve Marchand.

“It’s a real go-ahead. The money is there.”

The bison will come from Elk Island National Park in northern Alberta.

There have been concerns about the Banff bison plan because the animals will be able to leave the park and may create problems for nearby ranchers.

Gord Vaadeland, who operates Sturgeon River Ranch, has experience with the wild bison herd in northern Saskatchewan. He was in Banff for the announcement to show his support.

“I ranch on the southwest boundary of Prince Albert National Park, where we also have a wild herd of bison, and those bison returned in 1969 when I was two years old, so I’ve grown up with them,” he said.

“It’s a real privilege and a blessing to wake up on a daily basis and know that I’m going to see all kinds of wildlife, including bison. There’s so few places in the world where that’s still reality.”

The bison that will be moved from Elk Island to Banff are disease-free, which should ease concerns on that score, he said.

“It’s all how you look at it. I think a lot of the fear in places where bison might be in the future might come from thinking of the Yellowstone experience (in Wyoming), where there’s issues with disease. The most famous herd in the world has brucellosis.”

Vaadeland said bison in the Prince Albert park do wander onto his ranch, but they are no more of a problem than other wildlife such as elk and Canada geese.

“Wildlife always provide the potential for some conflict with various aspects of agriculture, but at the same time it’s important not to overreact,” he said.

Vaadeland hopes for a future in which there are more wild herds of bison and getting a herd back into Banff could help.

Banff National Park had a bison paddock from 1898 until 1997, noted Marchand.

Before that, the region was part of Plains bison native range.

Bill Luxton, chair of the group that co-ordinated the Bison Belong campaign, said in a news release that the Banff herd “rights a historical wrong.”

The federal announcement said Parks Canada will invite First Nations to share their traditional knowledge of bison once the herd is established in Banff.

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