Bison on the Prairie
In early April, the CCWHC assisted Parks Canada staff at Grasslands National Park to fit three bison with new radio-tracking collars. The collars provide information on how the bison utilize their space in the park including grazing and general habitat use. In 2005, 71 Bison were released into a fenced area within the west block of the park and the herd has since grown to 250 animals. These bison are considered semi-wild as they are free to roam a large (181 sq km) fenced area within the park. Grasslands is one of four National Parks in Canada where bison exist in a wild or semi-wild state.
Protection of Plains bison and re-introduction into their natural habitats has long been a project of Parks Canada and other conservation organizations, however it comes with a number of challenges, a major one being disease management. There are nine major diseases (listed by the IUCN) that are of concern in bison conservation. The species experienced a dramatic bottleneck in the 1800’s and early conservation efforts focused mainly on preserving the genetic diversity of the remaining animals. Disease management and genetic conservation often require contradictory management methods. Bovine tuberculosis and Brucellosis were both present in the remaining herd of Plains Bison that were translocated to other areas in Canada and has since led to a large amount of research and debate on what should be done with infected herds. The concern with disease in these animals is not only for the affect on the herds themselves and their ability to be transferred to new areas, but for potential risk of transmission between humans, livestock and other wildlife. Managing disease in wild populations is always incredibly difficult and the strategy may vary greatly depending on the region.
Recently a project to reintroduce Plains bison into Banff National Park was approved and now a lengthy process to work out the details of reintroduction will be conducted. Although the management of bison provides so many challenges, they are incredibly important to the landscape and have been shown to improve the ecological integrity of the areas where they have been re-introduced.
For more information on Parks Canada and Plains Bison, see:
For more information on the Plains Bison status and conservation in North America, see: