Bison in Motion

In January 2020, Beaver Hills Biosphere’s outreach staff, Kelsie Norton, was invited to experience the Wood Bison relocation event at Elk Island National Park. See pictures and a video from this special event and discover how, for more than a century, Parks Canada has been leading the way in bison conservation efforts.

The bison figures prominently in Canada’s history and they have long been a fundamental component of Indigenous culture. However, by the late 1880s, faced with hunting pressures and habitat loss, among other factors, bison populations plummeted. The Canadian government purchased one of the last herds of bison and between 1907 and 1912 shipped over 700 wild bison by train to Elk Island National Park.  Bison have since thrived in the protected sanctuary of Elk Island National Park for over a hundred years. This recovery of bison populations across North America is one of the greatest conservation success stories of the 21st century.

Historically active in bison conservation efforts, Parks Canada has played a key role in bison recovery in North Alberta. Most recently, on February 11, 2020, volunteers and staff from Parks Canada relocated a herd of 14 bison from ENIP to the Woodland Cree First Nation. Beaver Hills Biosphere’s, Kelsie Norton, got up close and personal with this keystone species during the bison relocation event.

“It was so interesting to be able to see the herding, health testing and overall activities that take place to get the bison ready for relocation,” shares Kelsie, who was on site to witness the process.

After more than a century, this marks the first time the Woodland Cree First Nation will see bison return to their landscape. Lawrence Lamouche, Traditional Lands Manager at Woodland Cree First Nation, was also on site at the relocation event.

“I use the language of my ancestors and call Wood Bison by the Cree word Sakâwmostos,” explains Lawrence who sees himself following in his grandfather’s footsteps, inspiring others by cultivating the importance of land stewardship and cultural heritage.

“My grandfather used to be a Forest Ranger in the area,” adds Lawrence. “He would guide visitors on horseback and teach people the significance of the land.”

The relocation of these 14 bison to Woodland Cree First Nation encourages community engagement, inspires traditional values and, as Lawrence says, “is a learning-as-we-go opportunity!” This is a new exciting chapter in conservation for them, which brings the opportunity for their community to be self-sustaining on the land.

Learn more about EINP’s bison conservation efforts and, for a more in-depth look into the bison relocation event, check out this video from Let's Go Outdoors.