BI­SON BE­YOND BANFF’S BOUND­ARIES

Canadian Geographic - - SHARING CAN GEO VIA INSTAGRAM -

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.

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