We’re not sure the announcement that a public information process in regard to the reintroduction of bison in Banff National Park will take place really required the presence of the minister in charge of Parks, but at least things are moving forward.
The fact that a public consultation process will take place as part of the Banff National Park Bison Restoration Plan is hardly news in this valley as the same process accompanies almost every decision made.
Still, as the Outlook has always sided with Parks Canada moves to stay within its mandate of maintaining ecological integrity and protection of species and ecosystems, rather than casting about for events/structures specifically geared toward boosting tourism numbers, we’re for making a portion of BNP a home for bison to roam – under the right circumstances.
Being that evidence has shown BNP is a historic range for plains bison, we believe re-creating a home range for the big, iconic critters would be a good move – as will replacing caribou that recently roamed the park.
Of course, reintroduction of the two species is worlds apart in reasoning. Bison would be introduced after long being absent from the region, much like everywhere else in their natural range (pretty much all of the Prairies) while caribou are now absent as much due to negligence as anything. Over the years in Banff, caribou numbers continued to dwindle to the point where the last handful was wiped out in a single avalanche.
Oddly enough, not long after being wiped out, word of reintroduction made the rounds. It’s hard to imagine how on one hand caribou were ignored to the point of being gone, while on the other work is now being done to reintroduce them. If, over the years, a few caribou at a time had been moved into the park to bolster the herd…
But, back to a home for bison to roam…
In all likelihood, a return of bison shouldn’t been seen as any kind of tourism generator. For decades, bison were kept captive in the paddock near Banff – in that case, they were a tourism feature as they couldn’t go anywhere and were easily seen from vehicles driving through the paddock.
In the case of the present reintroduction scenario, the idea is that bison wouldn’t be located in any kind of enclosure for viewing, but be out there on the ground doing whatever it is bison would do, given a few thousands hectares of freedom. It’s possible few people, if any, would see them.
It’s hard to say what kind of public input will be generated, particularly from farmers and ranchers outside the Banff area, whose livelihood may be affected by big grazers wandering about, but we suspect it will be positive overall.
In the end, though, being that habitat in the Bow, Red Deer and Panther River valleys is being looked at as a future bison home, it may well turn out to be that our valley is the least suitable. After all, the same train tracks and highways that tend to be the cause of loss of life for bears, wolves and ungulates could be the cause of bison deaths should they be wandering this area.
Not much point in reintroducing animals which would then face human-caused mortalities.
Further north, where the clear waters of the Red Deer and Panther flow, but still in BNP, may be far more ideally suited as they feature less pavement and no rails and would likely require fewer kilometres of bison-proof fencing.
Roaming, while a romantic notion, would likely be accepted only to a certain point, after all.