Reconnecting grasslands, bison and people

Ecosystem restoration in Prince Albert National Park

What’s the issue?

An adult bison beside a fence.
Diversion fences installed at key locations along the Sturgeon River are showing early signs of success at deterring bison from leaving the park.

Plains bison rely on grasslands for grazing. Yet less than 6 percent of Saskatchewan’s original grasslands remain. Land conversion to agriculture in the 1800s throughout the region was an initial cause of loss. More recently, fire suppression has caused aspen forests to grow where mixed fescue grasslands used to be – a change that affects Prince Albert National Park’s population of freeranging plains bison, where a decline has been observed since 2005. Aside from undesirable habitat change, the herd has also weathered natural predation, spikes in disease (anthrax) and harvest pressure outside the park boundaries. Attracted to forage crops on neighbouring lands, bison can cause damage, which leads to conflicts with landowners. Practical solutions are required to benefit the grasslands, bison and people alike.

What’s our approach?

  • Collaborate with local landowners, Indigenous groups and other stakeholders to increase stewardship of free-ranging plains bison.
  • Restore two gravel pits by increasing vegetation cover to 90 percent and reducing invasive species to 25 percent at each site.
  • Monitor bison to inform prescribed fire plans; pilot diversionary fence designs to dissuade bison from leaving the park.
  • Use prescribe fire to restore 3,600 hectares of aspen parkland and 50 hectares of mixed fescue grasslands.
  • Inform visitors about grassland and aspen parkland ecosystems protected by Prince Albert National Park.

What’s been accomplished?

  • Continued a dialogue with private landowners, Indigenous groups and the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment to ensure support for sustainable bison management.
  • Restored two gravel pits to fescue grassland, with plans to monitor their success in 2018.
  • Tracked 10 GPS-collared bison and completed aerial surveys to assess the status of the bison population and their response to management actions being implemented by the park.
  • Burned 800 hectares of aspen parkland and 51 hectares of mixed fescue grassland.
  • Improved the Valleyview Trail and delivered the Bison Will Rise Again musical for visitors to learn about grassland and aspen parkland ecosystems.
  • Supported cultural camps led by an elder of the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation who shared Indigenous knowledge with local Indigenous youth about bison and grassland ecosystems.

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