People in Nahanni Butte, N.W.T., are calling once again for a tougher approach to deal with the bison that invade their community every year, causing damage to property and making people afraid to leave their homes.
According to residents, bison recently knocked down a tree in a woman’s yard and caused a boat to come loose from its mooring and float away — something that happens often when the bison are climbing up and down the river bank.
They’re also sitting on people’s lawns, leaving droppings and causing a mess, and blocking the airstrip so planes can’t land.
“Everybody is scared to go out,” said Chief Peter Marcellais. He said elders in the community are complaining about the bison and are afraid to go for walks.
The band office has ordered three bear bangers to give to elders to make them feel safer when they go out, but Marcellais knows it’s not the ideal solution.
“It would make us feel safer,” elder Jayne Konisenta said. “But you don’t want to go around carrying bear bangers, you just want to go for a walk.”
‘Every year this happens’
Nahanni Butte, with a population of less than 100, is on the shores of the South Nahanni River, on the migration route of the Nahanni wood bison herd.
The bison pass through Fort Liard and Nahanni Butte twice a year, in the fall and spring. The herd is one of three distinct populations in the N.W.T., with about 500 animals.
Residents say the bison were at their worst two weeks ago, when there were about 25 animals in and around the community.
“Every year this happens,” said Floyd Bertrand, acting regional superintendent for the Dehcho Region for Environment and Natural Resources. “And every year our department does the same thing,” he said — they chase them out.
The N.W.T.’s wood bison management strategy recognizes bison can be a problem in communities, especially on the roads, where they can be a hazard for drivers.
In the past, casual workers have been hired to ride ATVs around Nahanni Butte, herding the bison out of town with bear bangers.
They haven’t hired anyone to do that in the last couple of years, according to Bertrand.
The department acknowledges chasing bison out of communities is a short-term solution, and doesn’t stop them from returning.
Chief Marcellais is writing a letter to wildlife officials, asking them to do something about the bison problem.
“If not,” he said, “I’m going to do something about it. I’ve got a rifle; [I’ll] go buffalo hunting.”
Marcellais says he is considering buying a 22-gauge shotgun and some rubber bullets and asking someone to go around and shoot them out of town.
He said his he would also consider putting up an electric fence around the town and airstrip to keep the bison out.
Bertrand says his department plans to hire a casual worker to round up the bison — and could have someone there within two weeks.