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Plains bison herd returns to Waterton

waterton bison
Six plains bison from Elk Island National Park now call the bison paddock at Waterton Lakes National Park home.

Parks Canada welcomed six plains bison from Elk Island National Park to the Waterton Lakes National Park bison paddock on Feb. 19.

Blackfoot Confederacy elders from Kainai Nation, Piikani Nation and Siksika Nation welcomed the bison — known as Iinnii in Blackfoot —  back to the park, blessing the animals and the land in a private, physically-distanced prayer ceremony.

A local bison specialist, who is also a Kainai First Nation member, transported the animals to the park with Parks Canada support.

The bison will reside in the winter section of the paddock until late spring when they move to the summer section.

At that time, visitors will be able to drive the summer paddock loop road to view the bison.

Waterton Lakes National Park has maintained a small plains bison herd since 1952.

The rough fescue prairie in the park’s bison paddock — after being burned by the intense Kenow wildfire — has regrown enough to sustain the herd while maintaining the health of the grasslands.

Parks Canada collaborates with Indigenous communities and organizations in various conservation activities, such as species at risk recovery and habitat restoration.

Earlier this month, 40 bison were also relocated from Elk Island National Park to the Kainai First Nation.

Waterton Lakes National Park is supporting Kainai Nation in establishing this cultural bison herd.

Bison play integral roles in Indigenous cultures across North America. In southwestern Alberta, bison and Blackfoot peoples have been deeply connected for thousands of years.

The rich relationship between bison and Indigenous peoples is evident in Waterton Lakes National Park.

Restoring bison to the landscape is an opportunity to renew cultural, spiritual and ecological connections with the land.

Bison helped shape the grassland ecosystems that support a diversity of life today.

They are called a keystone species, or ecosystem engineer, meaning bison alter the landscape in ways that benefit virtually all other plants and animals.

Restoring bison benefits the entire ecosystem, from the soil to top predators, including many species at risk.

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