Banff's backcountry has welcomed its first bison babies in 140 years.
Three calves have been born to the herd that was recently reintroduced to Banff National Park. The first calf was born in the Panther Valley on April 22 — Earth Day — and since then, two more have joined the group.
Parks Canada relocated 16 wild bison, including 10 pregnant females, from Elk Island National as part of a $6.5-million, five-year trial project. They were transported in three-metre-long shipping containers from Elk Island to Ya Ha Tinda Ranch in late January. They were then airlifted by helicopter to the paddock.
For at least 16 months the bison will remain in an enclosed pasture in the valley 40 kilometres north of Banff, and will be monitored by Parks Canada. In summer 2018, the herd will be released to explore a 1,200-square-kilometre zone in the Red Deer and Cascade river valleys where they will be free to interact with other species and forage for food. Natural barriers and stretches of wildlife fencing will hopefully discourage the bison from leaving the zone.
More than a century ago, bison grazed on the land that is now Banff National Park. Bringing them back to Banff restores a keystone species to the landscape and provides a cultural connection to First Nations who once hunted the animal. At one time, there were as many as 30 million bison on the plains but they nearly became extinct due to overhunting. The Canadian government bought one of the last surviving herds in the early 1900s and they were protected in a paddock at the base of Cascade Mountain for almost 100 years. They were removed in 1997.