Plains bison, an icon of wild landscapes, will be returned to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, in an effort to bring the “missing link” back to the park’s wildlife ecosystem. The decision, announced last week, will both support Canada’s National Conservation Plan and also bring a better balance to the park’s ecosystem.
Through their grazing and physical disturbance of vegetation and soil, bison helped create and maintain the patchwork of meadows, grasslands and other open habitats upon which they, and many other animals and plants, depend. Reintroducing bison is an important step toward restoring the full diversity of species and natural processes to Banff’s ecosystem.
Parks Canada is working off a 5- to 6-year plan that will involve a “soft release” approach that will start in year three with bringing 30-50 plains bison (all certified free of brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis) from Elk Island National Park to a pen in the backcountry of Banff National Park’s Panther River Valley. The gate to the pen will be left open early in the spring of the fourth year to allow the bison to roam into the valley on their own. They eventually might be allowed to move into the Red Deer and/or Cascade River valleys.