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Friday, March 16, 2012

Ottawa to reintroduce iconic bison to Banff National Park

from the calgary herald

Banff could be the next home where the buffalo roam.

Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent is scheduled to make an announcement Friday with details about reintroducing “an iconic Canadian animal” to Banff National Park, which government officials have confirmed is bison.

Kent, minister responsible for Parks Canada, is expected to provide details on a public consultation process for the animal’s reintroduction to Banff.

While officials have not specified the breed of bison, the most recent Banff park management plan, from 2010, includes details on the reintroduction of the plains bison, described in the document as “a keystone species that has been absent from the park since its establishment.”

Last year the Eleanor Luxton Historical Foundation held a public meeting on its own plan to reintroduce plains bison to the park. The plan indicated that the Bow Valley and Red Deer Valley could support modest bison herds.

Harvey Locke, a Luxton foundation director, said Wednesday he’d be thrilled to see bison make a return.

Bison were hunted to near-extinction in the 1800s, during European settlement of the West.

“It’s a species that speaks to a terrible mismanagement of nature in the 19th century,” Locke said.

Since then the species has made a managed comeback, and is not widely distributed in the wild, he said.

Reintroduction of bison has been discussed since 1997, when the park’s buffalo paddock was closed following the Banff-Bow Valley study, which looked at maintaining the park’s ecological integrity while providing appropriate access to visitors.

“Bison is a native species to the Canadian Rockies,” Locke said. “For the park to be complete, it needs wild bison.”

Dave Ealey, spokesman with Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, said his department encourages efforts to re-establish the ecological balance of the park.

But the department, which is not involved with Friday’s announcement, is also interested in seeing what Parks Canada’s plans are for keeping the animals within park confines.

“These are large animals and the consequences of large, free-roaming bison in parts of the province, if they expand outside the national park boundaries, could be significant,” Ealey said.

There are ranchers not too far from the borders of Banff who could come into close contact with the large animals. Bison could also end up on public land frequented by industrial and recreational users.

And the animals could be a road hazard, depending on where they are released in the park, Ealey said, adding bison lingering on the roadways has been a problem for motorists at Elk Island National Park, east of Edmonton.

Alberta Sustainable Resource Development has extensive experience with bison re-establishment programs, specifically in the Hay-Zama area in northwestern Alberta, Ealey said.

“We’ve been doing ongoing work to try to manage the numbers of that particular population effectively because they just blossomed as a population success story,” he said. “Those are the sort of things we’re aware of when it comes to wildlife management and those types of reintroductions. So we’d like to know a little more about how that’s being approached (in Banff).”

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