Former park warden recalls wood bison recovery plan

In the winter of 1959 I met with Ed Olson, Superintendent of Wood Buffalo National Park.

  • Tue Mar 22nd, 2016 8:00am
  • News

By Earl Gordon

Earl Gordon, a retired Park Warden and technical officer in charge of Buffalo Management at Hay Camp who now lives atGull Lake recalls the 1958 Wood Bison Recovery Plan

In the winter of 1959 I met with Ed Olson, Superintendent of Wood Buffalo National Park.

After a lengthy meeting, it was determined that I was to provide backup for the cat skinners to open a winter trail to Needle Lake where a herd of dark looking buffalo was spotted by air.

The following people were involved with the search: Pat Carey (bush pilot), Harold and Ray Steed (cat skinners, Wilf McNeil (laborer), Ron Ward (laborer) Billy Schaffer (laborer), Nick Novakowski (CWS biologist), Earl Gordon (park warden) and an unknown representative from Ottawa.

The U.S. Army had opened up a bush trail during World War 11 from Fort Smith to Hay River.

This was helpful to us in our search.

Once the buffalo were spotted by ground crew, my job would be to shoot five head for scientific research. Once this was done five heads would be brought out including blood samples, glands, etc.

We skinned and checked the stomachs for parasites. All the above was shipped to Ottawa for study.

After two years, the scientists made a major announcement: these were, indeed, pure Wood Bison.

Subsequently, a summer ground crew built corrals to capture them. A round up in 1963 corralled a large number of animals that were to be quarantined at Salt Flats, west of Fort Smith.

Due to another anthrax outbreak in the area, they were quickly moved to Fort Providence to start a new herd.

In recent years, there were many animals corralled and recovered and sent to Elk Island National Park. From here there were numerous transplants to several provinces to start new herds, including a herd at Syncrude heavy Oil Plant at Ft. McMurray.

A large number was sent to Russia, which was to replace a diminished herd from 10,000 years ago.

Bison transported to Siberia (The following information is an excerpt from an article published in The Americas)

A decade ago, the Canadian government working in cooperation with wildlife biologists, loaded 15 males and 15 female wood bison from Elk Island National Park to Edmonton International Airport.

The animals were then transported to Yakutians, the capital of the Republic of Sakha, located in northeast Siberia. When they arrived they were met with a welcoming committee consisting of some 200 Yakutians as well as the president of the country.

The crowd performed dances and serenaded the herd with a blessing song.

The Canadians who had come along on the trip were offered raw horse liver and wooden goblets filled with an alcoholic beverage made from fermented mare’s milk.

Many of the Yakutians had not seen bison. About 10,000 years ago, the steppe bison, an animal twice the size of the wood bison, lived in Siberia. However, a combination of hunting and climate change likely has resulted in the extinction of them.