Elk Island National Park (EINP) has undergone their yearly bison transfer. 

This time around, nearly 200 plains bison were transferred out of the national park to help maintain healthy herd numbers. 

"The herds grow 10 to 20 per cent per year," said Jonathan DeMoor, an ecologist at the park. 

"Because EINP is a relatively small park and fully fenced, which means the bison can't move off to other areas, we need to remove bison from those growing populations to ensure it doesn't grow to a point where it starts to negatively affect the ecosystems of the park by overgrazing." 

The process of deciding how many bison to transfer out is determined through an extensive survey. 

"We count the number of bison, elk, moose, and deer in the park," said DeMoor. "We compare the numbers to our target population sizes that we have determined to keep the park in a natural state." 

"We try to maintain a natural herd demographic, so we decide what number of males, females, ages, and sexes that we need to remove."

Determining exactly which bison are removed is a tricky process. Staff don't seek out bison, instead, they wait for the bison to come to them to help avoid artificial selection. 

"It comes down to which animals come into the handling facility first," said DeMoor. "We try not to select individual animals to either remove or keep in the park, so we don't introduce artificial selection into the herd's genetics." 

Most of the bison are relocated to Indigenous communities and conservation projects that request the animals be sent to them. 

For this year's transfer, the following transfers to Indigenous communities were listed: 

  • 22 plains bison to Mosquito-Grizzly Bear's Head-Lean Man First Nation in Saskatchewan. 
  • 25 plains bison to the Louis Bull Tribe in Alberta
  • 20 plains bison to Samson Cree Nation in Alberta
  • 20 plains bison to Saddle Lake Cree Nation in Alberta

That list does not encapsulate every transfer. 

"We had just under 700 plains bison on our survey this year," said DeMoor. "To reduce that to our target population we did a 30 per cent reduction of just over 200 animals." 

The process is all done in the name of the conservation of bison. 

"The transfers that we do to Indigenous communities play a part in that conservation and restoration of bison back onto the landscape," said DeMoor. 

To read more about how Elk Island is helping to conserve bison, visit their website