For 10,000 years, plains bison ran wild in Alberta’s Banff area. European settlers nearly eradicated the species due to overhunting, causing the extinction of bison in Banff National Park for the past 170 years. Last summer, 31 plains bison were released into a section of the park as part of a pilot re-introduction project. One year later, the herd has grown and is thriving.
The herd’s effects on the environment can already be seen: they are carving new trails, grazing grasses and spending the majority of their time at higher altitudes than plains bison typically do. This recent article details some the successes and challenges with this five-year pilot project, after which a longer-term bison restoration project may be feasible.
The Canadian Mountain Network is integrating Indigenous traditional knowledge into the bison re-introduction by funding the project “Enhancing the reintroduction of Plains Bison through the inclusion of cultural monitoring and traditional knowledge in Banff National Park”. The aim is to better understand bison habitat and behaviour from a traditional knowledge perspective and help decision-makers enhance bison management at Banff National Park.
The study is led by William Snow, who is a member of the Stoney Nakoda Nation and the Wesley First Nation. His role as Consultation Manager for Stoney Nakoda First Nation involves assessments of industrial resources projects within Stoney Nakoda Traditional Lands and consultations with industry and provincial and federal governments. The research team also includes Elders and Knowledge Keepers from the Stoney Nakoda Nation.
Cultural monitoring is the method Snow will be using to incorporate local traditional knowledge into the identification of resources and the monitoring of ecosystem change. Cultural monitoring complements western science-based approaches by considering local knowledge and perspectives. Cultural monitoring can also increase community capacity for environmental problem-solving while providing a broader set of data upon which land management decisions can be made.
Historically in Canada, land management decisions have not adequately considered traditional knowledge. This project will add to the understanding of bison herd management in mountain landscapes and provide recommendations for wildlife and land management practices to decision-makers. This more diverse foundation of knowledge will help foster a more informed and inclusive decision-making process.