Plains bison roaming free in Canada’s Banff National Park for first time in decades

Parks Canada says wild plains bison that were reintroduced to Banff National Park are now free-roaming animals. Officials say 31 bison were released last month into a 1,200 square-kilometre zone that features meadows and grassy valleys for grazing along the park’s eastern slopes.

“Now, they are free-roaming wild bison and their path forward may not be easy,” said Bill Hunt, manager of resource conservation with Banff National Park. “They will experience harsh winters, they will travel through difficult terrain and they will eventually be hunted by wolves and other predators.”

He said they will also play an important role in keeping the ecosystem healthy in the national park. “Bison are what we call a keystone species – that means bison alter the food web and the landscapes.”

As examples, he said they improve grazing for animals such as elk because they fertilize the grasses, open forests for meadow-loving birds and small mammals, create amphibian habitat by wallowing in the lowlands and their heavy winter coats shed each spring to provide nesting material for alpine birds.

Plains bison are an iconic part of Canada’s history, having freely roamed in the Rockies, filling an important need for the livelihoods of First Nations people and early settlers. They disappeared from the area due to overhunting before the national park was created in 1885.

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