The Historic Bison
In a remote valley, just north of the bustling town of Banff, a bison takes another step forward. It’s hoof sinks into the wind-blown snow, rocking its massive weight forward. Sweeping its head back and forth, this largest land mammal in North America shovels away enough snow to nibble on some sweet frozen grass.
Bison must eat all the time, even during the cold winter when grass and sedges don’t bring in enough calories or nourishment. Swinging her muzzle, covered in wintery white, just the act of eating helps keep her digestive track going.
"Bison must eat all the time"
The herd follows, for she is the matriarch, leading the way for a safe feed. It’s new land she navigates, tentatively exploring her surroundings, but as the heavy herd pounds the ground, by deep summer they will uncover more history buried beneath their hooves.
For it wasn’t too long ago when their ancestors traversed what we now call Banff National Park, following the Bow River valley after spring melt.
No one really knows how many Bison roamed the great plains and mountain rivers before westerners but estimates often reach over fifty million. Can you imagine? Millions of an animal weighing between one thousand and two thousand pounds, standing taller than our refrigerators and longer than our dining room tables.
Unfortunately, in less than a hundred years of squandered slaughter, bison populations were eradicated, and by the late 1800’s, only a thousand bison were left. In Canada, Bison are an endangered species. This is a disastrous part of North America’s history, which makes it a massive success that Banff National Park can bring positivity into this story.
In early 2017, sixteen bison were brought from Elk Island National Park in Northern Alberta down to Banff’s remote Panther valley. Panther valley, only twenty miles away from the busy town of Banff as the golden eagle flies, is still a remote area of the park.
It turned out to be the perfect place to reintroduce the Bison to the land. Of the sixteen bison, ten of them were pregnant females and the first calf was born in April on Earth Day.
In some migratory songbirds this thick fur increases their survivorship by thirty percent!
How do they feel about the reintroduction?
How is the Bison impact similar and different than the elk?
Will I get to see a Bison and how do I act if I do?
Banff National Park has put together some outstanding videos of the bison in our park. Well worth watching! And we will see you in our Canadian Rockies soon.