Parks Canada says it believes bison can be successfully reintroduced into Banff National Park.

The minister responsible for national parks was in Banff today to announce the start of consultations.


Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent was in Banff Friday to announce new discussions for re-introducing bison into the national park. (Courtesy of American Prairie Foundation, Dennis J. Lingohr/AP)

Federal Minister Peter Kent said he has already heard concerns about the idea, like situations such as large bison roaming through the town of Banff or creating traffic hazards on the highway.

"I'm assured by our scientific experts in the parks service that it can be managed. We've seen the experience in Grasslands National Park where that restoration program has worked very well," said Kent.

Bill Hunt, resource conservation manager, said there are a number of ways to control the herd in much the same way elk in the park are managed, including a cull if the population gets too big.

He also said fences would be used at first with a small herd, and slowly expanding it so the bison are familiar to the spot. Also, bison tend to stay close to the place they are born, so picking the proper calving location is key.

"The goal isn't to have a little paddock full of bison as we had in the past," said Hunt. "The goal is to have a wild herd of bison that are engaging and interacting with other organisms and the environment in a natural way."

Parks Canada will consult with stakeholders such as the provincial government, native groups and bison ranchers before opening up the process to public talks.

The government has not set any timeline for completing the consultations and moving the bison in.

Yukon experts say ‘prepare for the unexpected’

When bison were released into the Yukon wild 20 years ago, wildlife managers hoped to establish a herd of 500. Today there are more than 1,200 animals.

'Bison are the biggest land mammal in North America and they tend to make their presence known.' — Yukon biologist Tom Jung

"We didn't expect the bison to do as well as they did do," said biologist Tom Jung, part of a team trying to manage the Yukon herd.

Keeping the animals off the highway was one of their first challenges.

"Be prepared for the unexpected," he said. "Bison are the biggest land mammal in North America and they tend to make their presence known."

An extended hunting season soon solved that problem, putting food on the table for hundreds of Yukon hunters, while dispersing the herd into the Yukon hinterland.

Yukon Fish and Game president Gord Zealand said he's not sure that strategy will work in southern Alberta.

"Do you want these animals going through your fences and, like they say, they are going to keep them in the park, but you can be sure they are not going to stay there," said Zealand.

Wildlife managers are now asking the public for advice on a new strategy to manage Yukon’s growing herd.