British Columbia

B.C. mayor wants help fending off 'not very friendly' bison from N.W.T.

The mayor of Fort Nelson is asking the province to install cattle guards along a bridge on Highway 77 to fend off what he describes as an invasive herd of bison migrating from the Northwest Territories to graze.

Nahanni wood bison from N.W.T. have crossed the Fort Nelson River Bridge to graze near Hwy 77

Gary Foster, mayor of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality, is asking for cattle guards to be installed on the Fort Nelson River Bridge to prevent wood bison from N.W.T. from crossing into B.C. and creating damage to local farms.

A mayor in northern B.C. is asking the province to install cattle guards along a bridge on Highway 77 to fend off what he describes as an invasive herd of bison migrating from the Northwest Territories to graze. 

In a letter to Transportation Minister Rob Fleming dated mid-July, Gary Foster, mayor of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality — which covers the Fort Nelson area, about 915 kilometres north of Prince George — said a sizable number of Nahanni wood bison returned to B.C. this summer, after local farmers drove them back to their home range near Fort Liard, N.W.T., in August 2021. 

This week, Foster said, there are about 50 bison grazing on the vegetation at the junction of Highways 77 and 97, south of the Fort Nelson River Bridge — causing trouble to locals as well as domestic cattle.

"Bison are not very friendly animals," he told guest host Bill Fee on CBC's Daybreak North.

"They do a lot of damage when they're around domestic farms … you can look on YouTube and see what happens when tourists confront bison — and it's not a pretty story."

Foster added that many local farmers are concerned the bison may transmit diseases to domestic cattle.

The N.W.T. government estimated that there were about 960 Nahanni wood bison roaming across their home range near Fort Liard in 2017.

Nearly 10 years ago, the Fort Nelson First Nation in northeastern B.C. conducted controlled burning on almost 3,000 hectares of forests in the Liard River area, near the N.W.T. border, as part of efforts to attract bison back to their home range and prevent them from being killed by vehicles on highways.

The fire helped get rid of deadwood building up in the forests, and stimulate the growth of plants the bison prefer to eat.

Wes Olson, an Edmonton-based bison control consultant who for over 30 years has worked as a park warden for Canada's national parks, says installing cattle guards on the Fort Nelson River Bridge would help.

Edmonton-based bison control consultant Wes Olson says cattle guards installed on Deh Cho Bridge in N.W.T. have been effective in preventing bison from migrating southward. (Elizabeth McMillan/CBC)

In 2010, Olson participated in a project by the N.W.T. government that involved installing cattle guards on either side of the Deh Cho Bridge, across the Mackenzie River, to prevent bison from crossing and encountering other bison in the Wood Buffalo National Park to the south, that may be carrying disease.

"[The cattle guards] will make a big difference in preventing the southward movement of bison to B.C.," he said.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, the B.C. Ministry of Transportation said its wildlife program manager is investigating the issue of bison roaming near Highways 77 and 97, and figuring out how the bison may behave after cattle guards are installed.

With files from Daybreak North and Duncan McCue

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