Nine bison calves were born this spring in the Panther Valley of Banff National Park after what appears to be a successful herd reintroduction, and predators are taking notice.
“One morning there were grizzly paw prints all around the fences,” Marie-Eve Marchand of the conservation group Bison Belong told the Calgary Eyeopener on Monday.
“That was a few weeks ago so the bear went to bed in the fall and there were no bison and he woke up with them right in the middle of his valley. It must have been pretty exciting to see them looking at each other.”
Parks Canada transferred 16 wild bison from Elk Island in February, which — aside from a “display herd” in a paddock near the Banff townsite until 1997 — represents the first time wild bison have roamed in the area in 140 years.
Ten of the transferred bison were pregnant females. The first calf was born April 22, Earth Day, and the ninth was born last week.
“We are finally seeing a new generation,” Marchand said.
The herd is currently in a fenced-in pasture to help them bond.
“Those bison came from different families, different herds around Elk Island. They have to get used to being together to create a new herd and they have to get used to that new landscape in the Panther Valley,” she explained.
“Next year they will take the fence down and they will be allowed to roam in about a fifth of Banff National Park, it’s about 1,200 square kilometres.
“There will be some key-point pinch fences but in general they will start to roam free and people will be able to see them around those valleys. That’s when we know that they are actually wild and free. They are not in a paddock any more. That moment will be pretty exciting.”
Marchand says the reintroduction of wild bison to the area is a unique project.
“There are only five herds in North America where they are wild and free. Banff is recreating a conservation herd where bison will be interacting and will be able to play the major ecosystem services role that it plays,” she said.
“They will be harder to see but they will be integrated into the landscape.”
With files from the Calgary Eyeopener