Predators watching closely as Parks Canada prepares to remove protection for bison herds
By Dan McGarvey, CBC News
It’s a potential meal that wolves in Banff National Park haven’t tasted in more than 140 years: wild bison.
Banff’s reintroduced bison herd is getting ready to go it alone next summer as their paddock fences come down, and that means facing predators that have been watching the new arrivals closely.
Ten new bison calves were born earlier this year in the Panther Valley, on the east side of Banff National Park, where 16 animals were relocated in April as part of a conservation project to reintroduce wild bison to the area after more than a century of absence in the mountain park.
“We’re interested in what effect bison will have on the ecosystem and at the same time how wolves will affect bison movements,” said Parks Canada wildlife ecologist Jesse Whittington.
Historically, bison and wolves coexisted on the landscape in and around the area that now makes up Banff National Park, and experts want to understand how that will look this time around.
“Right now, the bison are in a secure enclosure, and we know that wolves are travelling around that enclosure but cannot get in to access the bison. But I’m sure the two are aware of each other,” said Whittington.
Earlier this year, there were also reports of grizzly bear paw prints around the bison enclosure after the births of 10 calves in the spring.
“We hope to radio collar some wolves in the Panther-Cascade area to collect baseline data on what wolves are eating, where they’re travelling and how they might impact the bison reintroduction,” Whittington said.
Whittington notes that In Yellowstone National Park, bison make up about 40 per cent of the wolf diet there, with young, sick or injured animals accounting for the bulk of the bison consumed.
“Bison are big animals and are difficult to kill, so we don’t expect wolves to [prey on] a lot of bison, but it will be interesting to see how the two interact,” Whittington said.
“It could have downstream effects on other prey populations, like elk, deer and moose.”
Campaigners who backed the reintroduction project say they’re thrilled at the prospect of the animals roaming free and contributing to the ecosystem as the bison herd grows in the national park over time.
“I think it’s going to be an exciting moment,” said Marie-Eve Marchand of Bison Belong.
“It makes this whole cycle of life and nature working together,” she added. “When they get sick or older they will feed a lot of animals, it could make a big difference for weeks for wolves. Also ravens, other birds, coyotes, foxes — it’s amazing.”
When the fences eventually come down, the herd will be allowed to roam in about a fifth of Banff National Park, or about 1,200 square kilometres.