Elk Island National Park (EINP) staff have been busy at the bison handling facility north of Highway 16.
 
On January 5, the park issued an area closure in order to start handling their plains bison herd, which happens every two years.
 
"We open up the gates into our pastures here and put bales of hay out to attract the herd into the pastures," said Jonathan DeMoor, ecologist team lead at EINP. "Once we have enough animals in our pastures, we'll close those gates and slowly separate them into smaller groups, using passive sorting as much as possible."
 
From there, the bison are moved through the facility and sorted into different pens based on where they're headed next.
 
According to EINP's most recent aerial survey in December, there were a total of 626 plains bison in the north portion of the park, roughly 300 of which went through the handling process between Monday (Jan.28) and Wednesday (Jan.30).
 
Of those, staff are sending around 190 to a conservation project, Indigenous community, public auction or for disease testing.
 
DeMoor said the purpose of the handling process is to keep the herd, which grows about 20 per cent each year, at a healthy size and reduce the grazing pressures on the grassland.
 
"Being a fenced park without any effective predation, the bison herd continues to grow and without some active management, the herd would get too big and would outstrip the capacity of the ecosystems," he explained, noting the park's other animal species are also impacted by large numbers of bison.
 
After the bison are either loaded onto transport trucks or released back into the main park, the area south of the Bison Loop will re-open to visitors.

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