It appears wild bison will roam in Banff once again, now that federal Environment Minister Peter Kent’s proposal that the four-legged bovines be reintroduced to Banff National Park has been accepted by federal officials. Bison are a popular tourist fixture of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, which may be one reason why our government is keen on bringing them back to their old stomping grounds in Banff: some say their presence will increase interest in the park. There is, however, a good reason why they were removed in the first place, and why their reintroduction isn’t as easy as it sounds.
In 1997, Banff’s captive herd never got a chance to “flourish” as intended because its paddock interfered severely with the migration patterns of other wildlife in the area. The bison were removed from the park as a result, then auctioned off. And back in the 1970s—it seems the bison have an extensive history of bad luck in the region—a group of 30 Jasper-based bison wandered out of the park and were killed (some presumably shot by hunters to be made into bison burgers). Hunting is a big concern for bison lovers, as the International Union for Conservation of Nature has listed them as a “near-threatened” species, but hunting the animals is not entirely illegal in Alberta. According to Maurice Nadeau, former president of the Alberta Fish and Game Association, “Any hunting opportunity [in Alberta] would be welcome, particularly an animal with the size and stature of a bison.” So while it appears that Banff’s only prospect of a successful bison resurrection will be of the free-range variety (i.e. paddock-free), Alberta’s burger-hungry hunters may cause Peter Kent to reconsider his policy.