With few predators and surrounded by a fence that restrict them from leaving the park, bison, elk, moose, and deer populations in Elk Island National Park can increase in number where they significantly damage forest and grass ecosystems. This impact can reduce the ecosystem’s ability to support other animals and plants that live there. In Elk Island National Park, forests and grasslands are showing signs of being negatively impacted by high bison, elk, and moose density. To protect ecological integrity and keep these populations healthy, they are actively managed, i.e., periodically removed from the park.
After studying the feasibility and safety of a variety of management options, engaging with the public and stakeholders, a toolbox of options to manage bison, elk, moose, and deer populations when their populations increase to the point they are having a negative impact on their environment was developed. Some options can be used for all species, while others can only work for one. While all options are available for use, sometimes one option may be preferred over others. Examples of potential options include:
Translocation occurs when animals from Elk Island National Park are transported to areas outside of the park to reintroduce wildlife into their native range or to augment existing populations. Due to their disease-free status, plains and wood bison from Elk Island are in high demand for conservation projects. More than 3000 bison from the park were translocated to conservation projects all across North America and Russia. Translocation is a preferred management option for both plains bison and wood bison, as long as their disease-free status is maintained. Elk and moose were translocated in the past but this is no longer an option until there is a reliable method of testing for chronic wasting disease on live animals. When providing animals to a receiving agency, organization or Indigenous community, priority is given to conservation projects, which work towards the protection of the species and their habitat, as well as engaging Indigenous partners.
Live sale through auction
The sale of individual animals through a public auction is only available for plains bison and wood bison, as they are identified as livestock under the Government of Alberta regulations. Selling bison through a public auction generates funds that support the bison program. Elk, moose, and deer are excluded from this option because Alberta regulations consider them wildlife and therefore they cannot be sold at public auctions.
Direct sale to abattoir
Direct sale to a federally-certified abattoir is an option for bison, elk, moose, and deer. Abattoirs can buy the animals directly or producers can buy them and use an abattoir to process the animals to sell. At federally certified abattoirs, Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspectors conduct extensive disease testing on each animal to inform the Park on any health concerns present in the animals. This method has been used for bison to conduct extensive disease testing and to ensure disease-free status. This option has also been used for elk.