Situated in the Rocky Mountains, Banff is Canada's first national park. The area was home to Bison for thousands of years, until newcomers to Canada almost killed off the animal in 1800s. Once there had been
an estimated 60 million Bison in 1800; but by 1899, there were barely 1,000 of the animals left alive. The last of the Bison were saved in 1899 by farmers and conservationists and today there are about half a million Bison in North America. Most of today's Bison can be found on farms and ranches where they are raised for their meat, although some parks have Bison herds. Banff's Superintendent, Kevin Van Tighem, told press
"This idea is really around ensuring this national park has the full range of naturally occurring species."
The Banff National Park Management Plan
states a goal of reintroducing a breeding population of Bison, and also proposes investigating the feasibility of reintroducing Caribou to the park. The targeted area is the East Slopes, which Parks Canada describes as
"... mountain wilderness at its best – one of Canada’s southernmost and most spectacular places for self-reliant, no-frills backcountry adventure. The full suite of native wildlife is restored and ranges freely through landscapes where natural forces of fire, flooding and predation are the dominant influences on their distribution and behaviour."
John Stutz, the Mayor of Banff, has expressed support for the reintroduction of Bison, saying
"If they're looking at repopulating buffalo here, I think that's a great idea. We used to have a buffalo paddock here which was a very, very popular visitor attraction."
Dave Ealy, speaking for Alberta's Sustainable Resource Development, told press
the province is opposed to the idea because
"Bison, of course, would not end up confining themselves to a national park and that would create fairly significant management issues for us."
The province is also concerned
that the Bison would impact the elk population, be a threat to public safety, and would somehow affect outdoor recreation.
An earlier attempt to reintroduce Bison to the park saw the province of Alberta mounting
vigorous opposition which resulted in Parks Canada conceding to the province. However, public pressure on Parks Canada to proceed with reintroducing a herd of Bison has resulted in the latest proposal.
Locals, however, aren't concerned about reintroducing animals to the park. For residents in the Banff area, there is one main issue which has two opposing camps. The issue
is Park Canada's plan to increase the number of tourists to Banff National Park. Sides have already been staked out, with one side taken up by conservationists who want to preserve the park's ecology, and the other taken by local business owners who welcome the opportunity to potentially generate more revenue.
Parks Canada will be receiving input from Canadians until November 30. The plan will go to the Minister of Environment, Jim Prentice. Prentice is also the Minister Responsible for Parks Canada, and he will review the Management Plan in May 2010. The current draft plan is intended to replace the soon-to-be-outdated plan that was adopted in 1997. The draft was released to the public on October 29. Readers can view the plan here
Historically, Bison were very important animals to indigenous peoples living on the plains, and Bison are still considered sacred. The Dene Tha First Nation partnered
with Alberta's Sustainable Resource Development in the past to reintroduce Wood Bison to Alberta's northwest.