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Banff National Park

Plains Bison Reintroduction in Banff National Park 

The public comment period on the reintroduction of plains bison to Banff National Park, which ran from September 9, 2013 until November 1, 2013 is now complete. Through this process, Canadians had the opportunity to shape and inform Parks Canada's plans for the future of bison in Canada's first national park.

Over 1000 Canadians and people from around the world shared their views on bison reintroduction. These comments will help guide Parks Canada on how to move forward on this unique ecological restoration project.

Why Bring Back the Bison? | Considerations in the Modern World | An Opportunity for Involvement and Stewardship

Why Bring Back the Bison?

The 2010 Banff National Park Management Plan commits Parks Canada to:

"Reintroduce a breeding population of the extirpated plains bison, a keystone species that has been absent from the park since its establishment" and to "Work with stakeholders and neighbouring jurisdictions to address potential concerns through joint management strategies before reintroduction."

Although they have been absent since before the park was created 126 years ago, plains bison once roamed freely through much of what is now Banff National Park. Reintroducing plains bison into Banff National Park is important for several reasons:

  • ECOLOGICAL RESTORATION: Bison were historically the dominant herbivore in the area of Banff National Park, and they played a key role in the ecosystem. Through their grazing and physical disturbance, bison helped create and maintain the patchwork of meadows, grasslands and other open habitats upon which they, and many other animals and plants, depend. Bison were also a food resource for predators and scavengers. Similarly, decomposing bison carcasses provided a flush of nutrients for soil microorganisms and plants. Restoring bison is an important step toward restoring the full diversity of species and natural processes to Banff’s ecosystem, and to delivering on a core element of Parks Canada’s mandate . 
  • INSPIRING DISCOVERY: Having a chance to see and learn about the full range of native species is integral to an authentic national park experience. Bison are inspirational, not only because of their impressive size and power, but as ‘ecosystem engineers’ and cultural icons of our landscape. Successfully restoring this keystone species in the modern world will foster new and enrich existing opportunities for visitors, neighbours and the public at large to learn about and join Parks Canada in the reintroduction journey 
  • CULTURAL RECONNECTION: Bison were an integral part of the lives and livelihoods of First Nations peoples and many of our pioneers, and are an icon of Canada’s history. Restoring them to the landscape is an opportunity to restore cultural and historical connections that have been lost for more than a century.

Considerations in the Modern World

 /Dan Rafla © Parks Canada

Times have changed since the bison ranged in great herds throughout central North America. Bison are migratory animals - archaeological evidence suggests a regular seasonal migration and that at least some of them roamed hundreds of kilometres over their lifetimes. Today, Banff National Park contains a town, a village, a national highway and rail transportation corridor, and a wide range of recreational and tourist facilities that host more than 3 million visitors a year. Along the park's eastern boundary in the province of Alberta, the values and interests of land-owners, communities, recreationists, as well as agricultural, forestry, and oil and gas industries, must be considered and protected.

There are always unknowns when planning and undertaking any ecological restoration project, hence the need for a precautionary approach and adaptive management. Questions include the best location for an initial reintroduction; strategies for bringing individuals into a new habitat and containing them within designated core areas, in summer and winter; and maintaining a long-term viable, healthy population within the carrying capacity of park lands.

A number of conservation initiatives over the past few decades have provided a solid foundation for bison reintroduction in Banff National Park. These include an extensive prescribed burn program to restore productive grassland habitats; the continued presence of the bison's natural predators - wolves and grizzly bears - in the ecosystem; and recent successes in lowering the elk population to closer to historic levels, thereby reducing the potential for elk/bison competition. The construction of wildlife fencing and crossing structures along the Trans-Canada Highway has greatly reduced the risk of wildlife-vehicle collisions, and work is underway to reduce wildlife mortality on the Canadian Pacific Railway.

An Opportunity for Involvement and Stewardship

The objective of this public participation is to ensure that all potential opportunities and challenges, both in the park and on neighbouring lands, are carefully considered when preparing to bring back the bison to Banff. This is also another opportunity for citizens to become involved in stewardship of Canada's first national park.

Bison © Dan Rafla / Parks Canada

PHASE ONE (complete):

Parks Canada will work intensively with the provincial government, key stakeholders in the province of Alberta, and First Nations, to fully understand and work to address concerns and interests. Following these activities, a preliminary plan for bison reintroduction will be drafted.

PHASE TWO (complete): 

Parks Canada will engage the broader public in providing feedback on its reintroduction plan, with continued stakeholder meetings and working groups as required, and an open comment period with information available in the media, on the park website, or from park staff on request.


Analysis and incorporation of public comment will take the reintroduction plan to a more complete Action Plan, subject to Environmental Assessment under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012. Once approved, the Banff National Park Bison Restoration Plan, along with a summary of how results from the participation process were used, will be communicated back to participants and made available by request to any interested members of the public.

For more information:
Michelle Macullo
Partnering and Engagement Officer
Banff National Park
Ph: 403-762-1544