BISON BEYOND BANFF’S BOUNDARIES
What happens if, once freed from their 18- hectare pasture in the summer of 2018, the bison wander east out of Banff National Park and onto private or provincially managed land? That’s just one of the concerns of groups who oppose Parks Canada’s bison reintroduction project, among them the 24,000- member strong Alberta Fish and Game Association, which described the project as “this waste of taxpayers’ money, threat to our wildlife, and waste of bison lives, for no public benefit.” Parks Canada has a number of contingency plans in place to prevent the bison from leaving. Up to eight bison will be collared so their movements can be monitored. Heuer says he and his team will use their stockmanship training to move the bison when they enter areas they don’t want them in, such as the periphery of their reintroduction zone. “We consider the larger reintroduction zones as a series of natural pastures, separated by topographical squeeze points,” says Heuer. “To some extent, we can use this topography to move them, and through our presence and pressure potentially hold them there.” Heuer notes that there are key places where the bison could exit, and that Parks Canada will use intercept fencing that it has designed, developed and tested over the past two years to try and prevent that. The fences, which allow wildlife to pass, can be changed from a two-wire system to a fivewire system when bison are close. In addition to monitoring and managing bison movement, Parks Canada will assess the potential for bison to negatively affect other parts of the ecosystem, including stream habitat and quality, competition with other prey species and predator-prey dynamics. Despite these plans, however, it’s still possible that bison could leave the reintroduction zone and wander into the province. If they do, they will be in a jurisdictional no-man’s land. In this part of Alberta, plains bison are considered extirpated and therefore default to the classification of “livestock” rather than “wildlife,” a status that could afford them some measure of protection. “Co-management with Alberta will be key to the success of the project,” says Marie-eve Marchand of Bison Belong, a group that advocated the return of the plains bison to the park. Sue Cotterill, a senior official in Alberta’s Fish and Wildlife Policy Branch declined to comment on the challenges the province will face as a result of the bison reintroduction, citing on-going discussions with Parks Canada, but did tell the Edmonton Journal in 2016 that the province was involved in a multi-step process to evaluate the legal wildlife status of plains bison. Whether a plan to co-manage the bison can be hammered out with the province remains to be seen.