Tag: Kenow Wildfire

Pink, purple and blue sunrise over snowy mountain peaks and highway curve

Imagine the possibilities

“Like me, I hope you found at least one day over the holidays that was truly good for your soul. Sunrise and sunset will always come back to back — the sweet part is making the most of what comes in between.”

I wrote those words five years ago to go with this photo, taken as the sun rose to bring in the new year. I stood in waist-deep snow at the Pine Ridge viewpoint with this gorgeous view all to myself.

The black devastation left by the Kenow wildfire was buried by a clean, white slate — a blank canvas to encourage residents to look ahead to a new year.

January tends to bring out reflectiveness and a desire to be better to oneself and to others — it’s a time when possibilities and optimism blossom.

Pulling up to the viewpoint that morning, light blues, purples and pinks glowed behind me to the north. Before long the morning sky produced these glorious hues.

 

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As the sky brightened, the first rays of the sunrise began to peek out from the mountains to the south. Here I revelled in how quickly things can change, the value of community and the resilience that shone through that difficult time.

We came through the challenges created by Kenow together, and the theme of the 2018 editorial was one of possibilities.

I was looking through pictures on my husband’s phone last week and discovered he had saved that page. My reflection turned to what our community has been through in the past three years — Covid-19 has changed us all in some way — and I decided it was a lovely image and sentiment to share again.

As we hope to be coming out on the other side of the pandemic, we can refocus again and think about possibilities.

Wishing you the best on the road ahead this year.

 

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Bison roam at Waterton Park

Bison relocated to Waterton and Kainai Nation

After a 3½-year absence, plains bison have returned to roam Waterton Lakes National Park. Six bison — two males and four females — were relocated from Elk Island National Park to Waterton’s popular bison paddock on Feb. 19.

The original herd was evacuated from the paddock during the 2017 Kenow wildfire and relocated to Grasslands National Park, with the exception of one bull that survived the fire and was subsequently moved to a local First Nations herd.

The six bison currently in the park are just under one year old and will be able to naturally reproduce.

“Typically it takes a few years for them to start reproducing, so in a couple of springs from now we should expect to see baby bison calves on the ground and in the bison paddock, and that’s something to look forward to for sure,” says Kimberly Pearson, an ecosystem scientist with Parks Canada.

 

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Many people have asked why it took so long to bring bison back to the park. Quite simply, it comes down to the impact the wildfire had on the vegetation and soil. It wasn’t until quite recently that it was determined the land could once again support a herd.

Kimberly and her team have been monitoring the range and assessing what amounts of forage are available for bison.

“When you look at the bison paddock, there’s a lot of vegetation present, but when you look closely there’s actually still a lot of bare soil if you part the plants,” she says. “It’s not fully back to what it was prior to the fire, but it’s a great time to add bison into the mix.”

Kimberly says the massive creatures are “ecosystem engineers” that have an incredibly positive ecological impact, extending to virtually all of the plants and animals in the areas where they live.

 

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Two weeks ago, Kimberly was present for the release of the bison into the winter paddock.

“It was fantastic! It was a great day, a really happy day,” she says. “It was really great to see them back on the ground in Waterton. We’ve missed them being on the ground there for the last 3½ years.”

Also present for the release were a group of local First Nations members, who performed a ceremony prior to the arrival of the bison and blessed the animals and the land. Waterton worked closely with Dan Fox, a Kainai Nation member who was chosen to transport the six bison from Elk Island National Park to Waterton.

“We know that by bringing bison back, we’re not just rebuilding ecological connections, but we’re also helping to rebuild cultural connections [and] spiritual connections for local indigenous people, so it was really important to us to have some Blackfoot elders present,” says Kimberly.

The public will be able to see the bison come springtime, when the herd will be moved to the summer paddock.

 

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Also noteworthy is the relocation of 40 plains bison from Elk Island National Park to Kainai Nation. According to Leroy Little Bear, special advisor to the president at the University of Lethbridge, the process went very smoothly.

“It was a wonderful scene to see those buffalo get off the trailer and run into the pens that we had set up for them, and to see them on the ground,” he says. “We’ve been talking about hoof to ground for the last few years, so to realize that was fantastic!”

Right now, these bison are part of what is referred to as a “slow release,” which means the pasture will slowly be enlarged over time. Eventually, the herd will have about 2½ sections of land to roam.

Mr. Little Bear likens the keystone species to Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid.

“He’s the superstar, and the team is built around the superstar,” he says. “The bison is kind of like the superstar when it comes to the environment. It brings about an ecological and biodiversity balance.”

He adds that while culturally his people used bison as sustenance, it wasn’t the only thing.

“We embodied each other. It was about our songs, for instance, our stories. Our ceremonies are so connected to that buffalo,” he says, and seeing bison reinforces the cultural aspect.

 

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Speaking with Kainai elders, Mr. Little Bear was told that the youth hear the songs and stories, and participate in the ceremonies, but they don’t see the bison. By not seeing the animals, it was like there was something missing. Now, however, it looks like that will be changing.

Mr. Little Bear says Kainai Nation is open to taking in more bison from other places in an effort to expand the genetic pool. The current herd will be used for cultural and research purposes. Many educational programs revolving around the bison will also be introduced.

“It’s been such a wonderful experience, such a wonderful gift, to have our brother, the buffalo, come back,” says Mr. Little Bear. “It was a team effort with many, many people involved. I want to thank all those people that are involved.”

His list of those to thank includes Parks Canada, Waterton Lakes National Park, Elk Island National Park, Banff National Park and the various non-governmental organizations that worked together with Kainai to make the dreams of bison returning to the community come true.

 

 

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