Photos of the Panther River area, the proposed future home of bison in Banff National Park! Unlike the old Buffalo Paddock, these bison will be free to roam about 425km of the landscape in an area about 30km north of the townsite.
I spoke with Marie-Eve Marchand from Bison Belong, a group that has been encouraging Parks Canada to bring bison back to Banff for many years. She says they’re thrilled by Friday’s big announcement!
The bison should arrive in Banff in the year 2017 at the earliest. Below is a portion of the release from Parks Canada detailing the reintroduction timeline.
Years One and Two: Preparations
The focus in this phase will be on completing the detailed planning and the early activities that set the stage for successful re-introduction. This includes environmental assessment of project activities, and working collaboratively with stakeholders on protocols for a wide range of operational matters such as dealing with bison excursions from the park, health monitoring and disease management. It also includes fence development and testing.
Fencing will be deployed in select locations and monitored to ensure permeability for other wildlife such as elk, deer and big horn sheep. This approach will ensure that bison are restricted to the park and other species are still able to access their seasonal habitat out of the park.
Year Three: Implementation
Contingent on results of fence permeability assessment and testing, the fence and temporary paddock will be installed in the core zone in the Panther-Dormer River area in summer/autumn. Prescribed fire will be applied on a small scale (approximately 1,000 hectares a year) in summer/autumn to promote attractive, high-quality habitat for bison within the core area.
Outreach, education and visitor programs will be under development. Some programming will be introduced in year three with the majority to follow in year four and subsequent years. Objectives of these outreach programs are to increase awareness among visitors and regional residents, to generate public interest and understanding of the bison reintroduction, set realistic expectations, and provide basic information regarding bison ecology, behaviour and safety.
In mid-winter of the third year, 30-50 disease-free plains bison from Elk Island National Park will be captured and transported to the soft-release paddock in the remote back-country of the Panther River Valley.
Year Four: Initial release, monitoring and management
Plains bison will be released from the temporary paddock in early spring of the fourth year, marking the return of this iconic and influential species to the eastern slopes of Banff and the onset of bison monitoring and management. Parks Canada will closely monitor the activities and movements of the bison herd in the core zone to record their movement and habitat use, and ensure we can respond quickly to any excursions that may occur.
Prescribed fire will be applied on a small scale (approximately 1,000 hectares per year) to help maintain and improve habitat quality for bison within the core area. Education and outreach programs will continue and be evaluated on an ongoing basis.
Year Five and Beyond
Based on initial monitoring and evaluation, programs and activities will be adapted as required.