Parks Canada is giving people one last chance to provide feedback on a plans to reintroduce plains bison into Banff National Park.
Spokesperson Karsten Heuer says the federal agency has spent the last year and a half breaking down each step of its five-year pilot project, in its environmental impact analysis, released on Wednesday.
"We're hopeful that we covered all our bases, but we may not have. And we're completely open to the identification of things that we've missed both on both the positive and negative side of the ledger," says Heuer.
The plan says the first 16 bison from Elk Island Park will be airlifted by helicopter into fenced off pastures in the park in February, at the earliest. The herd will consist of 12 pregnant two-year-old females and four, two-year-old bulls.
The herd will be held here for 16 months to allow them to calve twice, before the larger herd will be released to roam 1,200 km (squared) of land, that will be partially fenced. The fence has been specifically designed to allow the movement of deer, sheep and but stop bison.
"In all the advice we've received from bison ranchers … and reintroduction experts, that the single most important thing you can do to bond those animals to their new home is to actually have them calve successfully," says Heuer.
Ranchers' concerns eased
Early on ranchers on the eastern slopes criticized the plan. They worried the bison would escape, damage property, or spread disease to livestock.
Rich Smith, the executive director with the Alberta Beef Producers, says he's recently met with Parks Canada officials to go over these finer details, which he believes eases many of the ranchers' concerns.
"As long as they maintain the level of monitoring and management that they have committed to now and take appropriate action if there are issues that do arise, I think we would say they have addressed the concerns that we raised," says Smith.
Heuer says if bison escape beyond the reintroduction zone, Parks has a response plan that includes herding, recapturing, and as a last effort, killing the animals.
And he says the bison in Elk Island Park are genetically pure plains bison and routinely tested by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to ensure they are free of diseases such as tuberculosis and brucellosis. Parks Canada will continue to uphold that rigorous testing. But if they detect disease, officials are committed to culling the herd.
"Because it's so contagious, but again we're quite comfortable making that commitment because of all the risk assessment points toward it just being a negligible to low risk of it actually coming to fruition."
Parks Canada will consider all comments before making any final changes to the impact assessment and then send it off to the superintendant of Banff National Park for final approval.