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Lost Tracks: Demise of Buffalo National Park

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  • Altona: Friesens Corporation. Clipperton, Robert, ed. The Cypress Hills Massacre. Occasional Papers in Archaeology No. Sasksatoon: Saskatchewan Archaeological Society. John Geiger and Alanna Mitchell. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. Andrew Cohen. Nelson, Gordon. Regina: University of Regina Press. It served to protect herds of bison that had dropped in numbers from an estimated 40 million in to less than by This decline was due to various factors such as slaughters, cessation of wolf poisoning, round-ups for disease control, floods, diseases, predation, and habitat changes.

    These significant declines, as well as the elimination of existing pure strain bison caused major political debate on the future of bison in the park and the presence of contagious bovine diseases. In August , a review panel supported by the federal government recommended the introduction of disease-free wood bison from Elk Island National Park and potentially elsewhere, but due to a quick and negative public response, no action was taken.

    The traditional hunting cultures of the Cree, Dene, and Inuit peoples came into direct conflict with the Canadian federal government's wildlife conservation programs. These conflicts occurred between Aboriginal hunters, government officials, and park administrators due to each group's divergent approaches to wildlife resource management. The utilitarian, scientific conservation approach employed by federal bison management programs was incompatible with the traditional hunting cultures of northern Aboriginals.

    However, Cree, Dene, and Inuit communities that hunted and trapped in Wood Buffalo Park formally resisted government policy by writing letters, signing petitions, and boycotting treaty payments [78] Less formally, many Aboriginal hunters simply refused to obey the wildlife laws, exercising their traditional right to hunt bison. The Unorganized Territories Game Preservation Act introduced regulations that severely limited the ability of the Cree, Dene, and Inuit peoples to access wildlife on their traditional territories.

    By the s, Aboriginals were excluded from hunting and trapping grounds contained in Wood Buffalo National Park. The establishment of a game warden service in the park allowed for direct surveillance and supervisory control over Aboriginal hunters. According to Sandlos, the introduction of national parks and game regulations was central to the assertion of state authority over the traditional hunting cultures of the Cree, Dene, and Inuit peoples. Federal wildlife officials portrayed Aboriginal hunters as having a destructive influence on bison populations, which legitimized the assertion of state control over the subsistence cultures of the Cree, Dene, and Inuit.

    Federal officials viewed Aboriginal hunters as a threat to their wildlife management and development schemes for the north, and therefore, subjected them to regulation and control. The proposed bison ranching schemes in Wood Buffalo National Park required a complete transformation of the economic and social lives of Dene and Inuit hunters.


    The intensive management of bison for the purposes of commodity production entailed the introduction of capitalism, marginalization of the local hunting and trapping economy, and conversion of Aboriginal hunters into wage labourers. While many Aboriginals were encouraged to assimilate into the modern industrial economy, others became dependent wards of the state through relocation onto reservations or re-education in residential schools. Many Aboriginal groups had become nomadic bison hunters in response to Euroamerican westward expansion and economic development, which had made the robe trade highly lucrative.

    While white and indigenous hunters both contributed to the culling of the bison population, white hunters tended to be far more destructive in their hunting techniques. Early conservation efforts to preserve the iconic bison were ultimately undermined by the federal government's goal of domesticating northern bison populations for commercial purposes. The utilitarian, scientific approach to bison management prevented the state from comprehending the complexity of local ecosystems and human cultures. Contemporary bison conservation is informed by the legacy of historical efforts by the Canadian federal government.

    Lost Tracks: Buffalo National Park, 1909-1939 (Au Press)

    Parks Canada plans to reintroduce a breeding population of the extirpated plains bison to Banff National Park. Goals include conservation of the plains bison, a native keystone species , as well as ecological restoration , inspiring discovery, and providing an "authentic national park experience. Despite the development of co-management regimes and increased Aboriginal participation in the wildlife policy process, the colonial legacy of the state management era still lingers.

    These current bison conservation initiatives do not discuss Aboriginal use of subsistence resources in national parks and reserves. It is unclear whether Aboriginal participation and Traditional Ecological Knowledge will be incorporated into reintroduction plans. Although the Cree and Dene are now recognized as official participants in the management of wildlife and protected areas, Sandlos argues that this "tentative shift in political power represents an incomplete attempt to decolonize wildlife management practices in the North.

    Sandlos suggests that the advisory nature of co-management boards is based on the implicit colonial assumption that local Aboriginal resource management systems are deficient, and that the role of the state is essential to the formation of wildlife policy in Canada's north. Current bison conservation efforts face numerous social and ecological challenges, due to the history of early preservation methods that conducted species conservation at the expense of ecological function.

    Today, conservation groups are increasingly focusing on preservation of bison a native species and conducting research to prove their status as endangered animals. The IUCN Bison Specialist Group is currently completing a new status assessment and conducting a review to determine if the species should be red-listed as threatened or endangered. In direct conflict with wild bison conservation efforts is the commercial bison industry, which continues to breed bison for food.

    Due to the industry's view of bison as a commodity, the role of the bison as an important species for the ecology of grassland ecosystems remains largely theoretical. The Canadian Bison Association CBA , an organization composed of over 1, producers and , bison, are working in cooperation with numerous conservation groups to develop strategies to help return bison to its natural, wild state.

    They were unwilling to interfere, even had intervention been possible, for until one bull gains supremacy over all others with ambitions, there is trouble in the herd. There has to be a battle, and the sooner it is over the better. To-day Pink Eye is supreme. Stopping to read commemorative plaques is an excellent way to do public history. They tell us what people in the past thought was important to commemorate. They tell us stories about these places. Often people may walk right past them on busy thoroughfares: just another part of the urban landscape, safely ignored.

    Other times, plaques are so far off the beaten track you have to wonder what their intended audience was. Such is the case of this plaque at Elk Island National Park. The plaque is firmly secured to a glacial erratic — a large boulder. It is technically accessible to visitors, but would be a 20km hike or so along an unofficial trail. I think bison see it more often than people do.

    Nevertheless, it is a pleasant surprise to stumble across this little memorial! Want to know where to find this plaque? See the map on this entry of ReadThePlaque. Beautiful Elk Island National Park! But where did its name come from? Is there an Elk Island on the lake? Or is it all a beautiful metaphor? Visitor guides from the s seemed to go the metaphor route. It is four miles square and the lake, from which it obtains its name , is situated wholly within its borders, being two miles long by an average width of a mile and a half.

    From to when the park expanded its borders to what is now the Yellowhead highway the park was a little fenced postage stamp of land around Astotin Island Lake with a bunch of elk. By , the once great wild North American bison herds, which had at one point numbered in the tens of millions, were all but extinguished. A few wild bison remained in areas which became national parks: plains bison in Yellowstone and wood bison in Wood Buffalo Most of the remaining stragglers elsewhere were soon after hunted down or captured by ranchers. In the s, during one of the last great buffalo hunts in Montana, a First Nations man named Samuel Walking Coyote captured and raised about four orphaned calves after they followed his horse home.

    Some say Pablo felt personally insulted and when the Canadian government agreed to buy his bison he went out of his way to ensure that every last animal possible would be sent north above the Medicine Line the 49th parallel to Canada. Pablo had underestimated the number of bison that he actually grazed: instead of perhaps , he had over The bison were temporarily housed at Elk Island National Park from , because the fences at the newly-created and ill-fated Buffalo National Park, were not completed until But those are stories for another time.

    These roundups were by no means safe. Forsyth, an enterprising photographer from Butte, Mont. However they chose to take the bank directly below where he was standing, and before he could reach safety they were upon him in a mad, irresistible stampede. How he escaped being trampled to instant death is a miracle which even he cannot realize.

    He has a recollection of the herd rushing upon him and of having in some way clutched a passing calf which he clung to until it passed under a tree. He then managed to grasp a branch and although he was unable to pull himself up out of danger he was able to keep himself from under the feet of the plunging herd. His dangling legs were bruised and cut by their horns and his clothes were torn to shreds, but he still clung to the limb for life.

    Twice the herd passed under him as they circled back in an attempt to escape, but fortunately before he became exhausted they rushed into the corral. The Canadian Pacific officials and the riders who knew the location chosen by Forsythe shuddered when they saw the animals rush in there and expected to find his body trampled out of semblance in the clay. Consequently they were rejoiced to find the luckless photographer slightly disfigured, but still hugging his friend the tree in his dishevelled wardrobe.

    Bison are still rounded-up today. It is no easy task. Last week, I had the amazing opportunity to help with the roundup of wood bison: the largest land mammals in North America. After over a century of work, the conservation of plains and wood bison continues today. I am very familiar with how they look, move, sound, and smell. That makes looking at historical photographs of bison all the more fascinating.

    Bell [Frank W. Buffalo Park.

    Origins of wildlife conservation in Canada

    Skip to content. Here are a handful of postcards I found: This slideshow requires JavaScript. Like this: Like Loading Photographs taken after one of the last buffalo chases of the s , right at the cusp of the collapse of bison populations. I reproduce one photo of an absolutely massive bull shows buffalo running horses in the background.

    The image is so crisp you can see the texture of the fur on his hump. A series of stereographs from the Great Buffalo Roundup of Stereographs are paired photographs that have a 3D effect when viewed through a reader. My current favourite bison photo of all time is a postcard from Buffalo National Park in the first decades of the 20th century. The gaze of this young bull as he strides towards the camera is incredibly intense.

    This photo of bison trails at Elk Island National Park, taken from a helicopter during the annual aerial ungulate census. Bison like to walk one in front of the other, particularly in deep snow. These trails remind me very much of veins under the skin, some sort of climbing vine, or the tributaries of a river.

    Follow the same path hundreds of railway workers took generations ago. A modern railway cuts across the historical trail. Handy signs like this pointed the way where the path may have been unclear. Photograph of a bull bison from the Pablo-Allard herd being loaded up in Montana on his way to being shipped up to Elk Island, circa