Prince Albert National Park of Canada

Sturgeon River Plains Bison

Research is Underway!

(From Bison Times Newsletter, February 2006)

Sampling vegetation.
Sampling vegetation.
© M.K. Gauthier

Why are we doing research on plains bison in Prince Albert National Park? The population seems to be healthy, growing and does not appear to be under threat.

People who live near the southwest corner of PANP may better understand the reasons for the research. As the population increases, bison in the area have been causing some damage to crops/pasture, hay bales left in the fields, fences, and occasionally disturbing other livestock (primarily captive bison). A major goal of the bison management strategy (under development) is to reduce the physical and financial impact of the free ranging bison on local landowners. This can be accomplished in a number of ways:

  • By reducing the likelihood that bison will be attracted to private land in the first place,
  • By reducing the damage caused by the bison if they do venture near farm lands, and
  • By compensating for some losses resulting from the bison if they occur in spite of good stewardship practices by the landowner.

The first option can be approached from two perspectives:

  • By reducing the attraction to and/or increasing the difficulty of bison getting to agricultural areas, and
  • By diverting bison to more attractive/desirable (from the bison’s perspective) areas.
Finding radio signal from collars.
Finding radio signal from collars.
© M.K. Gauthier

To do this without the extensive use of fences we need to understand how bison see the world so we can adjust our management to accomplish these goals.

This is where the research comes in! Dr Daniel Fortin of Laval University (whom some of you will know from earlier bison research in the Park) is leading a team of graduate students to investigate questions such as:

  • Is the selection of meadows by bison affected by changes in their density or herd size (will bison make similar choices when their numbers increase or decrease)?
  • How do bison move between meadows and what affects their choice of routes?
  • What factors determine how long bison stay in a particular foraging area? (This can vary up to more than 10 times.)

If we know enough about the answers to these questions we can make use of the knowledge to begin influencing where bison go and don’t go, using bison behaviour as a guide. Let’s use the often-stated notion of bison ranchers and other experts: “you can easily move bison to where they want to go”. We hope to make bison want to go where we want them to go!