The future of bison restoration is alive in Banff National Park’s backcountry.
Ten bison calves are healthy and doing well after being born between April and May, according to Parks Canada biologists.
“For the next few months, the calves will stay close to their mothers as they navigate their new world,” said project manager Karsten Heuer.
The $6.6 million initiative saw 16 bison transported from Elk Island National Park to a corner of their former range in Banff. There they were kept in a large holding area. This spring, as biologists had hoped, the herd’s population jumped to 26.
“[The calves’] arrival is key part of the project as it will help the herd anchor to the landscape and adopt it as their new home,” Heuer said.
The bison’s reintroduction comes after 140 years of being absent from the Panther Valley. Many factors led to their disappearance in North America, but over-hunting was the main cause. Parks Canada says that the reintroduction of bison will have net ecological gains as well as cultural ones.
“They’re iconic in terms of representing wilderness,” Heuer told The Jasper Local in January.
Not everyone is as excited about the project as Heuer. Former Jasper wildlife biologist Lu Carbyn has suggested the management-heavy approach is antithetical to Parks Canada’s principles.
“There’s a degree of artificiality [to the project] which you try to avoid in national parks,” Carbyn has said.
But Heuer, having recently witnessed the birth of the 10 calves, is buoyed by what he sees as the perfect harmony of environment and animal.
“The grass is just starting to sprout, the leaves are starting to come out on the bushes, it’s like an orchestra is playing out here. It shows us these animals are adapted to this place.”
The bison will be kept in the area for two gestation periods, or 16 months, so they can bond to their new home. In spring of 2018 they will be released to explore the full 1,200 sq-km reintroduction zone in the remote eastern slopes of Banff National Park.
“So far, there’s been no hiccups,” Heuer said.