Bringing Banff’s Bison Back

by GeoGuelph on November 25, 2016 - 11:19pm



It is no secret that bison, who used to roam the landscape in incredible numbers, have nearly disappeared from Canadian life. Banff Park in Alberta is looking to re-introduce this animal back to their native territory. The bison is a keystone species - or as Harvey Locke, an avid conservationist, affectionately referred to them as “Canada’s rhinoceros” (Offin, 2016). The bison have quite an effect on the landscape, aiding birds and bugs alike. The program is looking to bring 30 -50 bison into the area, who will spend time getting used to the territory in a paddock before being released. If the program is approved, it will undergo an evaluation after five years to asses the effectiveness, and address any problems that arise. This technique is an example of passive adaptive management, as it is a single policy that will eventually be evaluated, but the focus is on the first initiative. As this article shows, Banff is doing extensive work to re introduce bison to the park, and they want citizen input. 


A variety of people including locals, ranchers, first nations people, and policy makers have something at stake in this decision. The government wants to give Canadian citizens - affected or not - to have a say in the matter. For 30 days, they will be listening. This is the window that residents have to take advantage of the public forum and they will be included in the Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment. The assessment itself is a strategic one, as scientists were consulted to analyze every aspect of impact the animals may have (Roth, 2016), from changing the soil, to waterways. It is looking at the wider effects that the program will have. These effects are part of why the forum is happening - to see the economic and social losses or benefits that citizens are expecting. These public forums are incorporated to allow for change at the policy making level, and thus distinguishes itself as a procedural instrument (Roth, 2016). 


This is step five of the process, and this is not the first time they have consulted the community. Citizen science has already been incorporated into the report, as first nations were asked about their experiences with the animals. The first nations offered their own kind of ‘citizen science’ by way of traditional knowledge, since they have lived with the animals for centuries in the past. They are happy to see the animal back, and have held peace pipe ceremonies in anticipation (Derworiz, 2016). 


The people that do not support it though, seem to have multiple conflicts. The value conflict surfaces around questions of managing the animals. There are differences between how cattle and how wildlife are regulated (Roth, 2016), and it is undetermined which category they fall into under this new program. Ranchers are also worried about the bison introducing diseases to their herds, causing them to lose money, which is a classic interest conflict. The program will need to involve managing not only the bison, but also fostering some relationships with locals. At that point, I believe this program will be a success. 




Articles Referenced 


Derworiz C. First Nations host pipe ceremony to welcome bison 'back to their homeland'.  2016. Available at:


Offin S. Bison re-introduction in Banff National Park gets support from North American experts. Global News. 2016. Available at:


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Robin Roth. 2016. Lecture 


I enjoyed reading this post. The reintroduction of bison into Banff is exciting but definitely does create some conflict and concern between stakeholders as you mentioned. Ranchers and farmers are understandably worried about the reintroduction of bison because if the bison stray onto rancher land, they'll compete for the same resources required by cattle which the farmers need to support themselves. Thus, Alberta's laws on wildlife that don't include any protection for bison is concerning especially since they plan to release only 12 to 15 bison.
This case, though, is a nice change to the usual unaccommodating consultations with First Nations since their views were actually considered and accounted for and their approval of this sort of reintroduction is promising.
Nice job summarizing this article and highlighting important management techniques and changes.

I really enjoyed your post regarding the reintroduction of the Bison in Banff National Park in Alberta. I specifically appreciated how you related the reintroduction to certain course concepts such as passive adaptive management, aboriginal science or citizen science, value based conflict and interest based conflict. This issue is particularly interesting to myself simply due to the fact that the Bison had once been present in Banff National Park in the 1800s, and have since been absent from the geographical area due to over harvesting the species. I think it is noteworthy to address the issues of interspecific competition when reinstating such a dynamic keystone species such as the Bison. I know you mentioned that you believe the program will be a success, but do you think Bison will alter interspecific competition in Banff’s National Park? I do not think the issue of interspecific competition between species will pose as much of a threat to the Bison reinstatement. I believe this simply due to the fact that Bison were once present in the area, and the relative short amount of time in terms of ecological succession between when the Bison were present and absent. Issues which you mentioned seem to pose as much large threats to the reintroduction of Bison in Alberta.
Great post!