Banff National Park now has free-roaming bison as an ambitious reintroduction project enters its next phase this week.
“For me, this is a dream come true for any wildlife biologist,” project manager Karsten Heuer told reporters.
Bison used to be abundant on the Great Plains, which stretch from north of Edmonton down to Texas. Small numbers roamed what is now Banff National Parks for 10,000 years until they were nearly driven to extinction by human activity prior to the creation of the park in 1885.
While many remember what Parks Canada calls a “display herd” of bison housed in a paddock near the Banff townsite until 1997, this herd represents a return to wild animals.
A year and a half ago, six young bulls and 10 females, some pregnant, were transported from Elk Island National Park in crates by truck and helicopter to a fenced pasture about 40 kilometres north of the Banff townsite. It was called the soft-release pasture.
After two calving seasons, the animals have bonded with the area. There are currently 31 animals in the herd.