By Kevin Penny; Banff Crag &Canyon
Banff National Park could see a bison re-introduction program as early as 2013.Bill Hunt, resource conservation manager for the Banff field unit, said he expects a draft plan to be created by mid summer. After public consultations are finalized, Hunt expects the environmental assessment to start next summer."We've gone out to a few stakeholders like the province of Alberta, First Nations leaders, and the Department of Agriculture, and brainstormed different pros and cons and options," said Hunt.
If all goes well, Hunt expects the bison program to start unfolding in either late 2013 or early 2014. The only thing that could stand in Parks Canada's way is funding."Managing bison on this landscape is going to require a lot of resources," said Hunt. "Both in capital funding but also staff."
Environment Minister Peter Kent announced in January that public consultations are in the process of moving forward for the bison re-introduction plan.
Bison were hunted to near extinction by early settlers in the 19th century, and have since been slowly brought back to the Canadian ecosystem. Parks such as Elk Island and Grasslands National Park are examples of parks that have had bison re-introduction programs."It's a missing part of the ecosystem," said Hunt.
Bison in eastern Canada
Despite the cost worries, Bison Belong, a local group that has been working to make the re-introduction a reality, is hopeful to see bison back in the park by the end of 2013. Locke is glad to see Parks Canada working to restore the lost species back to the ecosystem."Banff park is a natural bison habitat," said Harvey Locke of Bison Belong. "There have been bison in this area for thousands of years but they were almost entirely extinct."If they're missing you put them back. That's the job of a national park."