Mountain Town News: The multiple benefits of restoring bison to Banff |

Mountain Town News: The multiple benefits of restoring bison to Banff

Bison are considered a keystone species because of the diversity they can contribute to in an ecosystem.
Getty Images / iStockphoto | iStockphoto

BANFF, Alberta – If bison gets reintroduced to Banff National Park next year, as Parks Canada intends, North America’s migratory birds will benefit.

That’s one of the take-aways from a recent talk in Banff by Wes Olsen, who was described by the Rocky Mountain Outlook as one of the world’s foremost authorities on bison reintroduction.

“Most species co-evolved with bison over the long term from the Pleistocene era to now, and most were dependent on varying degrees on bison,” said Olsen. “Every newly established bison population is going to re-establish those ecosystems linkages and hopefully bring those systems into a healthy balance.”

Bison were once plentiful in both the Rocky Mountains and on the Great Plains. In 1844, when the U.S. explorer John Charles Fremont returned to the East from California, he arrived in what is now Colorado in early June. He wrote about following buffalo trails through North, Middle, and South Parks in Colorado — including along the Blue River in what is today’s Summit County.

On the Great Plains, bison tended to be a little larger. But in both places, they were nearly extinct by the late 1880s, killed primarily by market hunters, at first for their meat but then simply for their hides and bones. At the end, there were just 23 animals.

Writing in a new book called “American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains,” Dan Flores reports a symbiosis of pronghorn and bison. Pronghorn herds were as large as those of buffalo, he says.

In Banff, Olsen similarly postulates about how ungulates such as deer and elk benefit from bison herds. The dung from the bison provides nutrients for production of grass eaten by the ungulates.

As for those migrating birds, it works like this: The hair shed by bison during spring is used by birds in their nests, increasing survival rates for clutches of eggs. “There’s been research that has shown a 30 percent increase in egg (and chick) survival in nests lined with bison hair versus not,” he said.

Olsen said establishing populations of bison in places like Banff is important, as it creates places for birds to stop when they migrate.

In an interview with the Calgary Herald, Olsen described bison as a keystone species.

“The term keystone is a masonry term. If you visualize it as a stone arch in a fireplace or a door, it’s always a wedge-shaped stone at the top — that’s the keystone. If you take the keystone out of that arch, the entire structure collapses,” Olsen said.

“In wildlife ecology, there are species that are keystone species. If you take them out of the system, the system collapses. Bison are a keystone species. They have an inordinate effect on every other species that live there.”

How often must we tell you: don’t feed wildlife!

BANFF, Alberta – Both a pair of wolves and a black bear got too bold for the taste of wildlife managers in Canadian national parks.

In Banff National Park, two of the five wolves in the Bow Valley pack brazenly entered a campsite. One made off with a loaf of bread.

“It’s not a good situation with us when wolves are being that bold in a human use area,” Bill Hunt, a park resource conservation manager, told the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

Several hundred kilometers north in Jasper National Park, wildlife agents killed a bear that seemed to be threatening fishermen. The 200-pound bear had grabbed their packs and started eating their food.

Park wildlife specialists approached the bear, trying to scare it off. Instead, the bruin approached them, so they shot it.

Again, there was a message. “Don’t throw food to bears from your car and don’t leave food lying around,” Mark Bradley, a wildlife biologist, told the Jasper Fitzhugh.

Trying to ratchet down greenhouse gas emissions

WHISTLER, B.C. – Municipal officials in Whistler have updated their Community Energy and Climate Action Plan. The document warns that heavy rain will become more frequent and intense, that summers will become longer, hotter and drier. And then there’s the rain level on the mountain: It will rise upward as snow retreats.

Whistler’s plan, reports Pique, also articulates 80 percent less greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 relative to 2007 levels. The plan also aims at a goal of deriving 100 percent total energy in Whistler from renewable sources by 2060. That would include energy used for transportation and home heating.

Aspen hasn’t achieved nearly that much, but it has achieved a lot. Last year, the city’s electrical utility arrived at a 100 percent renewable portfolio. It did so primarily by buying hydroelectric power from the bigger dams of the West, half from big wind turbines on the Great Plains, with just a tiny bit of solar and a bit of landfill gas to fill out its portfolio.

The city’s utility delivers power to about two-thirds of Aspen, but not including the downtown commercial core. The ski areas are outside of Aspen.

Still, it’s a noteworthy effort, and Steve Skadron, the mayor, has been invited to go to Taiwan to speak about Aspen’s experience. The “Toward 100 Percent Renewable City Forum” is being held June 13-14 in Pingtung, Taiwan. The area of 848,000 people has embraced that goal through ICLEI’s 100% RE Network.

Tightening the vice on illegal vacation rentals

JACKSON, Wyo. – Everywhere, including Jackson Hole, there are stories about people renting homes illegally to vacationers. In Jackson, town officials have been sending cease-and-desist letters to homeowners who are advertising vacation rentals on sites such as and

“I don’t think there’s ever going to be 100 percent compliance with any regulation, whether it’s speeding tickets or short-term rentals,” said Tyler Sinclair, the planning director for Jackson and Teton County, “but I think it’s certainly has gotten people’s attention.”

Rentals of less than a month have always been barred outside specified lodging and resort zones, notes the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

Aspen mayor thinks pot stores are too prolific

ASPEN, Colo. – Is it time for Aspen to put a lid on the number of stores selling cannabis? The city has seven of them now, with another one or two intending to open once they get requisite licenses.

So far, Aspen has treated cannabis stores much like it does liquor stores. Other towns, however, have applied more restrictive zoning or banned them altogether.

At a recent meeting covered by the Aspen Daily News, Mayor Steve Skadron indicated concerns about the proliferating pot shops. He explained that the profit margins appear to be high, allowing “potpreneurs” to outbid other users, such as restaurants, for rental spaces.

“I disagree with the assertion that the free market is always good and right, and government regulation is always bad,” Skadron said. “I’m reaching my own level of tolerance on how many dispensaries there are in town.”

But then the push-back is this: Aspen has 89 liquor licenses.

The Daily News reports no consensus yet among council members, but also hints at worries about the arrival of big money to the cannabis sector.

In Steamboat Springs, meanwhile, City Councilman Tony Connell proposes a 5 percent excise tax on sale of recreational marijuana. Connell, according to Steamboat Today, wants to use the marijuana money to help address a different problem, that of opiate abuse. “It truly is an epidemic,” he told the newspaper. He said local deaths caused by drug overdoses now exceed deaths resulting from car crashes.

He advocates using the estimated $500,000 additional revenue from marijuana for substance abuse programs, prevention education, mental health counseling and law enforcement activities.

Connell is also proposing an additional city tax on certain lift tickets sold at the Steamboat Ski Area. The city already gets $300,000 in annual contributions from Intrawest, the ski area owner, from the sale of food and beverage and miscellaneous sales outside city limits. However, he thinks the city should get more and cites the $4.7 million annually paid to the town of Vail through a lift-ticket tax. In Steamboat, Connell’s proposal would generate roughly $2.7 million.

A town, a ski resort & who’s in charge of the name?

PARK CITY, Utah – In Park City, there’s continued discussion about the filing by Vail Resorts to trademark the city’s name when applied to the name of a mountain resort.

The Park Record reports that a former mayor, Dana Williams, was among several individuals or business interests who have submitted paperwork to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, indicating interest in potentially opposing Vail.

In an interview with the Park Record, Williams said the trademark move by Vail Resorts is an attempt to “take a name away from a community and turn it into a corporate logo.”

The city council has not yet taken a position.

A music festival that also has good food and jokes

VAIL, Colo. – A new festival is being planned for August in Vail, and the founder tells the Vail Daily that he seeks to provide a musical experience unlike that which is commonly provided for younger festival-goers.

“As I started to age, it became harder to appreciate the live music experience,” said the 54-year-old Bryan Gordon. He wanted more shade and better food, which he intends to deliver at the KAABOO festival. It will also include comedy and other treats.

The festival aims for a wide age band, of people from their 20s to those through their 70s, but with an average household income of about $100,000.

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