I really didn’t get any warm fuzzy feeling with news in recent days that Parks Canada has reintroduced bison to Banff National Park.
There was some newsworthy fanfare that after 140 years absence (of free roaming bison) and after it sounds like considerable planning, park officials released 16 head of bison in a remote area of the park known as Panther Valley — about 40 kilometres north of Banff.
The 10 bred cows and six young bulls aren’t totally free. They will be held in a pasture for 16 months to get acclimatized and then in 2018 will be free to roam over a 1,200 square kilometre zone in the Red Deer and Cascade river valleys.
It is one of those “nice” Park’s Canada projects, but I’m sure I’ll never see these bison. It is a two-day backpacking hike to get to the release area, and then down the road even when there are 20, 30 or 50 animals roaming over 1,200 square kilometres the chances of seeing them is pretty slim.
Years ago, Banff park use to have a small herd of bison in a pastured paddock along Highway 1. You often saw them from the highway and you could drive through the paddock for a closer look. But those bison were removed 20 years ago. It wasn’t very natural.
And aside from farm-raised bison, I have driven through Elk Island National Park east of Edmonton and seen wild bison there. But these Banff bison (transplanted from Elk Island) might only be seen by serious park visitors.
This was an important move for conservationists looking to restore an element of the ecosystem after the last of the 30-million plains bison disappeared from the landscape in the 1880s.
And apparently it is an important symbolic move for First Nations people — having bison returned to Banff National Park has spiritual significance. And that is important too.
But for me it is just “nice to know” and doesn’t really change my life one way or the other. Sometimes I can be cynical — it is nice to see on TV these bison hopping out of a container to live in Banff National Park as part of a $6.5 million project to reintroduce the species. But the next time I turn on TV news I might also see a report on deplorable living conditions on some First Nations’ community and I might think $6.5 million could have gone a long way to build or rebuild quite a few decent homes for some desperate people.
Lee Hart is a field editor with Grainews based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]