Follow our conservation experts as they work to reintroduce bison to the backcountry of Canada’s oldest national park.

November 22, 2017: What can bison poop tell us about Banff’s ecosystems?

Guest Blog: Nicholas McKay

With bison back in Banff, Parks Canada has a chance to track their impact on the landscape before and after they are free-roaming in 2018. Tracking how they shape the environment sometimes means that we need to look at the smaller parts of the ecosystem. As a summer student, I studied one of the smallest parts of the ecosystem – one that loves poop. I am, of course, talking about dung beetles!

Karsten Heuer / © Parks Canada

Dung beetles play a key role in the environment. They help decompose dung. This process cycles nutrients back into soil which helps plants grow, like the fertilizer in your garden. Dung beetles are also an important food source for many birds and rodents within the ecosystem.

This summer I surveyed for beetles using what we call a “pitfall” trap. These traps are made of a plastic pail placed in the ground with something tasty used for bait. What bait do you think I used to trap dung beetles? You guessed it … bison dung. And it worked! After a month of trapping I identified six different species of dung beetles.

Once the bison are released from the soft-release pasture, we hope to survey the same areas again. This will tell us if these insect populations increase after bison are back on the landscape.

Nicholas McKay worked on the bison reintroduction project this summer as a student researcher. Along the way, he became an aspiring dung beetle expert.

Karsten Heuer / © Parks Canada

September 6, 2017: Banff Elementary School Students Welcome Bison

Stefanie Gignac / © Parks Canada

Soon after bison landed in Banff in early 2017, we gathered grade four students at Banff Elementary School for a special assignment: become local ambassadors for bison. 

We asked the students why they thought bringing back bison was important. We heard: 

  • “Because the land needs them”
  • “Because they were here for a long time”
  • “Because they are important for spirituality”

Then the students rolled up their sleeves, mixed up some paint and coloured their own little bison with help from the Honourable Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change.

This cool art project was a story in collaboration: students at the neighbouring Canmore Collegiate High School used a laser-cutter to make adorable bison wood cut-outs.

Once the paint dried, we picked 16 bison to represent the original herd from Elk Island National Park that started the Banff reintroduction. The rest of the “herd” will decorate the fence of the new Banff Elementary School.

This summer, we brought those 16 finished shapes to the soft-release pasture in the Panther Valley, home of the Banff bison herd, to decorate the fence! Don’t they look beautiful? 

Caroline Hedin / © Parks Canada

Thanks to all of the new “Bison Ambassadors” at Banff Elementary School for helping our Banff Bison feel welcomed.  

August 30, 2017: Summer Vacation for Bison

Guest Blog: Karsten Heuer

© Karsten Heuer / Parks Canada

Our bison have taken a small but important step to become a wild herd in Banff National Park.

In July, we moved them from their 6-hectare winter pasture into a 12-hectare summer pasture that includes tasty mountain grass (instead of dry hay), a clear river to drink from (instead of a trough), and hills to climb and explore. It’s a pretty big change for these animals. There is no moving water or steep hills in Elk Island National Park where they came from or in the winter pasture where they’ve lived for the past 5 months. We got see the herd cross a river for the first time in their lives!

They are adapting well – exploring their new habitat with the grace that’s inherent in all wild animals. And the calves are so funny! They chase each other and splash in the river, bucking and spinning while the more cautious adults look on. It kind of reminds us of watching play dates at the park.

The herd will be on “summer vacation” until the fall, when they will return to their winter pasture for the season.

Karsten Heuer is the Bison Reintroduction Project Manager for Banff National Park, leading the effort on the ground to return wild bison to Banff.

June 7, 2017: Happy birthday, bison! Ten bison calves born in Banff’s backcountry

Banff just got a whole lot cuter. Ten healthy bison calves were born in Banff National Park’s remote backcountry between Earth Day (April 22) and throughout May 2017, bringing the herd number to 26. These new arrivals represent the future of bison restoration in Banff and are part of the larger vision to reintroduce wild bison to the park. 

Bison calf
© Karsten Heuer / Parks Canada

The new calves are healthy and doing well. They are mingling with the herd, napping in the sun and playing. For the next few months, the calves will stay close to their mothers as they explore their new world. Their arrival is key part of the project as it will help the herd anchor to the landscape and adopt it as their new home.

Follow the herd from home! See what life is like for the calves by watching our new webisode on YouTube. Share it with your friends and family on social media.

April 21, 2017: Cliques, leaders and rebels: herd dynamics are forming

The herd arrived in Panther Valley home in early February, and they’re settling into their new home. Part of that process is figuring out who’s who in the herd. We’ve been keeping a close eye on them and starting to notice personalities starting to form.

Bison walk along fence in snow.
© Adam Zier-Vogel / Parks Canada

In the past few weeks, cow #12 has caught our attention. She’s normally the first cow to feed which could be a sign that she’s becoming a leader in the group.

This is pretty exciting because bison tend to organize themselves into matriarchal societies – like herds of elephants. They are normally led by older females who know the way to the best food and watering holes.

It’s too early to tell if she will grow up to be queen of the herd, but we will continue to keep an eye on her and other social dynamics as the animals continue to anchor to their new home.

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