Return of the Buffalo for Canada’s 150 Celebrated at Canadian Parks Conference

PearlAnn Reichwein and Michelle MurphyBison thundered back into the wild Panther Valley of Banff National Park on Feb. 1, 2017. It was a history making event. Bringing to life a long-held dream, the restoration of bison to their natural habitat is a move designed to promote biodiversity and cultural reconnections.Following years of advocacy and planning by Bison Belong and Parks Canada, as well as other supporters, 16 animals were translocated to a new home this winter. Selected animals were calmly rounded up by Parks Canada staff in Elk Island National Park, Alberta  – the world’s bison nursery – and moved in shipping containers by truck 377 kilometers to the legendary Ya Ha Tinda Ranch on Alberta’s eastern slopes, the home of Canada’s national park patrol horses and warden tradition.  Next, the bison were airlifted by helicopter inside containers to the Panther Valley district. Ten of the bison are pregnant cows and ready to deliver spring calves.Photo (above right): Wild bison, like this one, were selected from Elk Island National Park’s healthy conservation herd to start a new journey in Banff National Park. Photo: Johane JanelleWild bison moved to Banff National Park on February 1, 2017. Photo: Johane Janelle.Parks Canada staff celebrate as the final crate of bison destined for Banff National Park departs. Photo: Dan Rafla The restoration of the bison to their home landscape is also part of an initiative to promote Indigenous knowledge and co-management of wildlife in parks and protected areas. The 16 bison were given a ceremonial send off at Elk Island National Park in January, hosted by the Samson Cree Nation. When the bison arrived in Banff they were welcomed with community celebrations. This is part of an effort enshrined in the Northern Tribes Buffalo Treaty, signed by eight nations in 2014, aimed at bringing the bison back to their home landscapes as part of cultural reconnection. In Canada, it is also an important step for reconciliation.To allow the bison to attach to their new home, they will be kept in an enclosed pasture in the Panther Valley for the next 16 months. They will calve twice, and in summer 2018 will be released into a larger reintroduction zone.The  bisons’ arrival in Banff has met with great enthusiasm both in Canada and internationally.Wild bison take their first steps in their new home in Banff National Park. Photo: Dan Rafla. Parks and protected areas are instrumental in the protection and conservation of bison and many species. And sometimes biodiversity can use a larger team of helping hands.The  bisons’ return to Banff National Park this year and the Canadian Parks Conference 2017, held Mar. 8-11 at the Banff Centre, were events that highlighted a homecoming to traditional Indigenous territory and a heritage of Banff National Park as Canada’s first national park. The central question that the conference addressed was what role do parks and protected areas play in biodiversity, conservation, and health? Hosted by the Alberta Recreation and Parks Association with its partners the Canadian Recreation and Parks Association, and the Canadian Parks Council, the conference was an inspired four days of discussion with 300 attendees. As Edmonton members, we volunteered to represent Sierra Club Canada Foundation at the event.Before speaking to the conference on Mar. 10, Minister of Environment Catherine McKenna shared a morning helicopter tour with park biologists to see the new bison herd graze and celebrated the bisons’ homecoming with local school children.  Minister McKenna also stated in her talk to the delegates at the conference that creating more protected natural spaces was the best way to celebrate Canada’s 150 year celebrationsWe couldn’t agree more. And Sierra Club Canada Foundation congratulates Bison Belong and Parks Canada for bringing home the buffalo.For our full story on the Canadian Parks Conference 2017, including coverage of speakers, new research, and current issues, see Have your say for parks and protected areas in Alberta for Castle Wildland Provincial Park, Jasper National Park, and Wood Buffalo National Park. Dr. PearlAnn Reichwein and Michelle Murphy are SCCF members in Edmonton, Alberta, and researchers at University of Alberta in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation. The authors gratefully acknowledge Edmonton’s SCCF for its contribution to conference travel funding.