Bison Back on the Banff Range
Halfway into a five-year pilot project to reintroduce bison to Banff National Park, the small roaming heard is showing promise for success.
Karsten Heuer, the Parks Canada manager of the bison reintroduction project, provided Banff Town Council an overview of the program that saw 16 bison relocated from Elk Island National Park to a temporary paddock about 40 km north of the Town of Banff in February 2017.
There are now 36 bison in the small heard, free of the paddock and roaming an average of five km a day in a 1,200 square-kilometre zone. The radio-collared animals are tracked by satellite every two hours, showing that, after two and a half years, they may have established a home range, despite some bison initially travelling more than 80 km away, and outside the park.
Heuer told council it is too early to tell if the project is successful for the entire ecosystem. For example, the heard is very healthy and growing, and they are returning to behaviours the area have not experienced for 150 years. Parks staff have observed the new heard grazing and creating wallow dugouts that reveal previous bison wallow spots, and even bison bones. The wallows are bringing back other animals to the montane meadows where the bison expose mud and create puddles.
Most rewarding, Heuer said, has been the impact on reintroducing bison to Banff National Park for Indigenous people his teams have worked with. Bison holds very high cultural and spiritual significance for the First Nations that inhabited this area, and the reintroduction represents a rejuvenation for many Indigenous peoples, as well as reconciliation opportunities for the wrongs that led to the bison’s disappearance from the Canadian Rockies.
Parks Canada will determine if longer-term and larger scale reintroduction of bison is feasible in 2022.
New Heat Energy Project to Reduce Emissions and Save Costs
The Town of Banff’s goal to demonstrate environmental leadership was reinforced this week as council approved a project to build a Biomass District Heating system in the Industrial District to heat four Town of Banff Operations buildings.
The project will use a high-tech boiler to burn wood and wood chips that currently go to landfill and transport heated glycol-water to each building’s heat exchanger to provide temperature control in the facilities, which include the Waste Transfer Station, the Fleet Shop, the Maintenance Building and a new Transit Storage Facility being built later this year.
The advanced combustion chambers would produce extremely clean emissions, representing less than a single campfire. The project will eliminate about 200 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year by diverting wood waste from landfill and replacing natural gas with a sustainable heat source. This represents 4,754 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions eliminated over the 20 years of the initial facility.
The biomass system will reduce $6,100 in annual landfill hauling costs, eliminate net costs of $28,845 in natural gas purchase and distribution fees, and save $180,000 on the cost of constructing the new Transit Storage Facility because it will not need natural gas service connection.
In addition, another organization located in the Industrial District has expressed interest in becoming a customer of the biomass heating system, with the Town selling the heat instead of natural gas.
Council gave first reading to a $1.37 million borrowing bylaw to finance this unique heating system. The borrowing bylaw will be advertised for two weeks before returning to council for second and third reading, which then allows debt-financing over 20 years. The project also has $430,000 in funding from the federal Low Carbon Economy Fund.
First envisioned in 2016, the biomass heating system will be operational in a little more than a year from now if the financing is approved. The project is intended to establish a ‘beachhead’ in Banff for biomass heating, from which the technology may spread to other parts of the community.
Borrowing for Affordable Housing Land Purchase
Council scheduled a special meeting for February 12 to consider borrowing $1.3 million for the purchase of a lot that will be used to expand the Banff Avenue affordable housing project. The Town has been working on developing 338/340 Banff Avenue for high-density affordable housing units that will be for sale to qualified buyers.
In late 2019, owners of a neighbouring property contacted the Town, expressing an interest in selling their parcel of land to the project. If this additional parcel is acquired, the expanded housing project could offer between 20 and 40 dwelling units for price-restricted purchase.
The debt for buying the lot assessed at $1.3 million would be entirely recovered through the sale of the units. Council will debate third reading at the special meeting February 12. More on the Banff Avenue Affordable Housing Development
Progress on Human-Wildlife Coexistence
Efforts are underway to enhance wildlife protection, thanks to the recommendations of the Human-Wildlife Coexistence Report. Council received an update on the status of the initiative, which was launched in 2017, after a technical working group produced a 2018 report on ways to reduce human-wildlife conflict in the Bow Valley.
The initiative was created after leaders in Parks Canada, Banff, Canmore, ID9 and the Province of Alberta committed to avoiding another tragic end to wildlife as experienced by Grizzly Bear 148 (https://calgaryherald.com/news/local-news/sadness-frustration-as-well-known-bear-148-shot-by-hunter-in-b-c).
Some 2019 highlights include:
- Second off-leash dog park analysis and pending construction (Habitat Security)
- Ongoing dialogue with Parks Canada regarding perimeter fencing at the Banff Recreation Grounds during redevelopment (Wildlife in Developed Areas)
- Over 200 children and adults participated in Town of Banff run sessions throughout 2019 that addressed issues related to human wildlife co-existence and prevention (e.g. “Learn to Camp”, “Bear Aware & Wildlife Safety”, Try It Mountain Biking & Cross Country Skiing, and the Newcomer Orientation Welcome). Bear spray education, safe food handling procedures and other prevention practices were all taught in these session (People Compliance)
- Launch of a communications and public education program for residents, through print, in-person and online media campaigns (People Compliance)
- Focussed off-leash dog monitoring / enforcement (People Compliance)
Human Wildlife Coexistence Report
Take the interactive journey about Living with Wildlife in the Bow Valley.