WHEREAS nationally, wood bison are listed as Threatened under Schedule 1 of the federal Species at Risk Act, and designated as of Special Concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC); and
WHEREAS in Alberta, only free-roaming bison that occur within Alberta’s Wood Bison Protection Area are considered endangered wildlife; and as such are recognized and protected under Alberta’s Wildlife Act; and
WHEREAS the Government of Alberta’s inability to formally protect all other free-roaming bison under the Wildlife Act leaves these animals vulnerable to year-round unregulated hunting, successful hunters at risk of harvesting wildlife with zoonotic diseases, and other wildlife and livestock at risk of contracting the diseases; and
WHEREAS the recently released draft Federal Recovery Strategy for the Wood Bison (2016) states the greatest threat to wood bison recovery is the prevalence of bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis; and
WHEREAS the historical and sustained availability of debilitated, diseased bison may have and could continue to artificially support a larger population of wolves; which in turn is likely to exacerbate the poor recruitment of all bison calves and other vulnerable species, within close proximity to Wood Buffalo National Park; and
WHEREAS Mackenzie County is located within direct proximity of Wood Buffalo National Park; thus the risk of diseased free-roaming bison transmitting bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis to domestic livestock is of immediate concern to all local beef producers; and
WHEREAS any bison sighted travelling west of Wood Buffalo National Park, towards the Wood Bison Protection Area, within 6 kilometers of Highway 35 is presumed diseased and therefore destroyed as a precautionary measure, in order to maintain the disease-free status of Alberta’s only verified disease-free local population; and
WHEREAS the Alberta First Nations Food Security Strategy, released January 2015, found that efforts to increase northern Aboriginal food security; fundamentally includes the restoration and increase of sovereignty over local food systems, improved access to local food, including hunting of culturally traditional wildlife such as buffalo; and
WHEREAS in 1990, a Federal Environment Assessment Panel recommended completely eradicating all bison from Wood Buffalo National Park, followed by restocking with disease-free animals; and
WHEREAS in 2016, Environment and Climate Change Canada acknowledged that, at present, the only effective tool to successfully eradicate the threat of bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis from within and surrounding Wood Buffalo National Park is by depopulation;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties supports the depopulation of diseased bison as the only effective tool to successfully eradicate the threat of bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis from within and surrounding Wood Buffalo National Park; and
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties urge Alberta Agriculture and Forestry and Parks Canada to develop an effective measurable plan to successfully eradicate all diseased bison from within and surrounding Wood Buffalo National Park in order to prevent further disease outbreaks province-wide; that would inevitably have adverse effects for the national, provincial and local domestic cattle and beef industries.
In a pre-European west (pre-1700), plains bison dominated grassland habitat across the vast regions of North America. The bison were a fundamental species driving prairie and northern forest peripheral ecosystems. They were also a spiritual and cultural foundation for Indigenous peoples throughout central North America. However, in a frontier west (approximately 1750 – 1875), bison became regarded as a major obstacle to settlement; an untapped source of commercial opportunity, and a challenge to modern civilization.
By the turn of the new century in 1900, the great masses of plains bison had disappeared from the prairies of North America. In 1877, a law to protect the wood bison from hunting was implemented in: Alberta, British Columbia, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. However, in the early years of the 1900s a few small groups of bison existed on private land, including the last remaining wild herd of plains bison on protected lands in the Yellowstone area.
Established in 1906 as a wildlife reserve, Elk Island National Park in Alberta became the refuge for a herd of plains bison; sold to the Dominion of Canada from private hands in Montana. In 1909, once the newly established Buffalo National Park near Wainwright, Alberta had been fenced; additional plains bison were once again transported to Canada from the United States.
During the early 1900s, Agriculture Canada, the Federal agency responsible for expanding national opportunities and commercial gains, viewed bison as a commodity; one of which could be enhanced and utilized to produce a larger, faster-growing meat animal for use on marginal pasture lands with other domestic livestock.
Thus, cross-breeding experiments commenced, and while these experiments failed largely due to in-fertile male offspring; they reflected a shady concept that wild bison were viewed as a template for commercial modification to be profited from. Disease soon became a major problem. Bovine tuberculosis was discovered in 1917 at Buffalo National Park; reached its most prevalent, peaking at approximately 75 per cent of animals by 1922-23.
Wood Buffalo National Park was established in 1922, to protect the last remaining pure wood bison, estimated to be around 500 individuals; by the late 1920s their numbers grew to around 1500. By 1925, the plains bison within Buffalo National Park had expanded beyond the park’s carrying capacity and the decision was made to transfer 6,673 plains bison north into Wood Buffalo National Park.
Officials assumed that the vast distance between the pure wood bison of Wood Buffalo National Park and the newly introduced diseased plains bison from Buffalo National Park, would be sufficient enough to eliminate interbreeding. However, within a relatively few decades, there was clear evidence of both bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis, and interbreeding between the two species in Wood Buffalo National Park; producing yet another strain of hybridization.
Meanwhile, 17,013 bison were destroyed in Buffalo National Park between 1926 and 1939 to reduce bison populations, limit the spread of disease and to allow overgrazed areas to regenerate. However, these management efforts were unsuccessful and disease, combined with poor forage availability, a series of harsh winters, and continued growth of the herd brought about the closure of the park in 1939.
At 44,807 km2, Wood Buffalo National Park is Canada’s, and one of the world’s largest national parks; straddling Alberta’s northern border with the Northwest Territories, encompassing the world’s largest free-roaming and self-regulated bison herd and the world’s only natural nesting site of the whooping crane. Today, the park supports and protects many unique natural and cultural resources from diverse boreal ecosystems and rare species, such as the whooping crane, to the traditional activities of Aboriginal peoples.
In 1983, Wood Buffalo National Park became the eighth site in Canada to be granted World Heritage status by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The park also has the longest standing tradition of Aboriginal subsistence use by the people who continue to live, hunt, trap and fish within the park’s boundaries.
In 1985, Canada’s national cattle population was declared free of bovine brucellosis, and bovine tuberculosis was expected to be eradicated nationally by 1989. However, this expectation did not materialize and today; bovine tuberculosis is a reportable disease under the federal Health of Animals Act; which continues to threaten Canada’s domestic livestock and beef industry.
A 1990 study examined complete or partial remains of 72 bison found dead in and around Wood Buffalo National Park. The results revealed the bison had a combined prevalence of 42 per cent of both bovine brucellosis and tuberculosis. These diseased bison had a broad geographical base; some were found outside the park on at least three natural corridors, connecting to surrounding livestock grazing lands.
These diseases have a deleterious effect on Wood Buffalo’s local populations of bison, and pose a risk to other disease-free bison herds, livestock, and Aboriginal hunters in the surrounding region. The 1990 study also suggests that, the historical and sustained availability of debilitated, diseased, bison may have and could continue to artificially support a larger population of wolves; which in turn is likely to exacerbate the poor recruitment of all bison calves and other vulnerable species, within close proximity to Wood Buffalo National Park.
In 1990, a Federal Environment Assessment Panel recommended completely eradicating all bison from Wood Buffalo National Park, followed by restocking with disease-free animals.
In 2016, Environment and Climate Change Canada acknowledged that, at present, the only effective tool to successfully eradicate the threat of bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis from within and surrounding Wood Buffalo National Park is by depopulation.
Today, only one small herd of pure disease-free wood bison exists in Elk Island National Park, where they were relocated to in 1965 from Buffalo National Park.
At the end of October 2016, at least thirty ranches in southeastern Alberta were put under quarantine after the discovery of a single case of bovine tuberculosis, leaving producers unable to sell their animals and fearful that their income for the year may evaporate. On January 5, 2017, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) released a statement confirming that 50 premises are currently under quarantine and movement controls, affecting approximately 26,000 cattle; 10,000 of which are set to be tested and destroyed at 18 of those properties.
The Government of Alberta (GOA) continues an annual regulated hunt of the disease-free Hay-Zama local population; designed to contain this disease-free herd to the Wood Bison Protection Area, with the goal of maintaining a population size of 400 – 600 animals. A population survey conducted in February 2016 found 625 bison belonging to the Hay-Zama herd is sufficient enough to continue the hunt and increase license numbers, resulting in the GOA issuing 250 Aboriginal licenses and 125 non-Aboriginal licenses provincially for the 2016/17 Hay-Zama bison hunting season.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency (2016) Available at: http://www.inspection.gc.ca/animals/terrestrial-animals/diseases/reportable/tuberculosis/eng/1330205978967/1330206128556
Canadian Food Inspection Agency (2017) Available at: http://www.inspection.gc.ca/animals/terrestrial-animals/diseases/reportable/tuberculosis/investigation-se-alberta-and-sw-saskatchewan/statement-2017-01-05/eng/1483650517534/1483650518206
Elk Island Wildlife (2017) Available at: http://www.elkislandwildlife.ca/
Environment and Climate Change Canada (2016) Recovery Strategy for the Wood Bison in Canada
Fuller, W. A. (2002) Canada and the “Buffalo”, Bison bison: A tale of two herds.
Government of Alberta (2013) Managing Disease Risk in Northern Alberta Wood Bison – Outside of Wood Buffalo National Park Progress Report 2013
Government of Alberta (2015) Managing Disease Risk in Northern Alberta Wood Bison – Outside of Wood Buffalo National Park Progress Report 2015
Government of Canada (2016) Available at: http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/species/speciesDetails_e.cfm?sid=143
Hewitt, C. G. (1921) The Conservation of the Wildlife of Canada
Hornaday, W. T. (1889) The Extermination of the American Bison
Lothian, W. F. (1981) A history of Canada’s national parks
McEwan, G. (1995) Buffalo – sacred and sacrificed
Ogilvie, S. C. (1979) The park buffalo – National and Provincial Parks Association of Canada
Parks Canada (2012) Available at: http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/ab/elkisland/natcul/ii.aspx
Parks Canada (2015) Available at: http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/nt/woodbuffalo/natcul/natcul1.aspx
Pybus, M. J. & Shury, T. K. (2012) Sense and Serendipity
Tessaro, S. V., Forbes, L. B. & Turcotte, C. (1990) A survey of brucellosis and tuberculosis in bison in and around Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada
The AAMDC has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.
Agriculture and Forestry:
Resolution 7-17S has identified several factors that highlight the importance of risks associated with bovine tuberculosis (TB) and brucellosis spreading from the wild bison population in and around Wood Buffalo National Park to local livestock populations.
While there is no known link between disease in this northern bison population, and the recent detection in southern Alberta, the current TB investigation in cattle in southern Alberta has reminded us of the time and resources required for these investigations in livestock cases.
We have seen recent progress around Manitoba’s Riding Mountain National Park, that may provide valuable insight for future direction with Wood Buffalo National Park. With that said, Manitoba faced a much lower prevalence of disease in the wild population, but also a much smaller buffer between wildlife and livestock. Thus, there were greater levels of interaction between the populations.
AF sees this as an important issue that requires input from a broad range of stakeholders with varying perspectives. Previous efforts to address this issue have highlighted its importance. Ongoing surveillance initiatives continue to monitor the situation, to ensure early detection should one of these diseases transmit to livestock or encroach on local wildlife populations.
Environment and Parks:
The GOA is participating in an initiative with the governments of Canada, and the Northwest Territories, to develop a strategy to eliminate the risk of disease transmission from affected bison. This strategy will be developed through a collaborative, consensus-based approach, including engagement with Indigenous communities and relevant stakeholders. Options such as risk management/ containment of diseased bison or depopulation will be evaluated, based on discussions and information exchanges with other jurisdictions and agencies. The draft terms of reference for a committee to develop this strategy are being reviewed by the Canadian Wildlife Directors Committee.
In 2016, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) conducted a risk assessment of the potential transmission of bovine TB and brucellosis from Wood Buffalo National Park bison to the cattle industry. This assessment concluded that the risk was insignificant. The CFIA continues to complete a thorough investigation of the recent case of bovine TB in southern Alberta. Since the start of the investigation, AF has provided veterinary epidemiology expertise to the team that is conducting the analysis.
AF and AEP are examining and testing, where necessary, all suspect lesions from hunter kill cervids (elk and deer) for TB, as well as from the current cases in areas around southern Alberta. AEP has informed hunters in the affected area to submit suspect lesions for examination and testing. Even if there should be a significant perceived or estimated actual risk of disease transmission to other wildlife or livestock identified, the cost, logistical planning, consultation and probability of implementing a complete depopulation may be prohibitive.
While there continues to be pressure from various stakeholders to initiate actions, it is important to recognize that there is a broad range of stakeholders with varying perspectives, which includes the public and a large number of First Nations groups in the immediate vicinity of the park. Ensuring that all stakeholders are engaged prior to the determination of a position or policy approach regarding this issue is critical to establishing a fully transparent and consultative approach.
Environment and Climate Change Canada:
The following except is taken from a letter dated July 6, 2017 from Hon. Catherine McKenna:
Thank you for your letter of April 28, 2017, regarding bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis in bison within and surrounding Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada.
I understand your concern with regards to the potential for transmission of bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis from herds in and around Wood Buffalo National Park to disease-free wood bison and cattle herds in neighbouring agricultural areas.
While depopulation of diseased bison herds has been proposed as a solution in the past, it has never received widespread support from all stakeholders and governments. Finding a permanent solution to this issue remains a challenge due to the need to recover wood bison, which is a threatened species with major cultural significance to Indigenous people and Canadians in general. There is also the need to maintain the ecological integrity of its habitat in Wood Buffalo National Park while reducing the risk of disease transmission to neighbouring disease-free bison and cattle. I am encouraged to see ongoing cooperation among officials from the Government of Canada, Province of Alberta, and Government of the Northwest Territories as they explore a full range of options for the development of a long-term solution to the issue.
I anticipate that recent undertakings, including a review of the effectiveness of the management zone between Wood Buffalo National Park and the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary, as well as recent work by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to quantify the risk of disease transmission, will help to inform this process in the management of the issue. One remaining key priority is to ensure the early and full engagement of concerned Indigenous groups in the context of federal and provincial commitments to a renewed relationship with Indigenous people.
This resolution specifically calls for the depopulation of diseased bison to eradicate the threat of bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis in the Wood Buffalo National Park area; however, responses from the provincial and federal governments do not indicate support for this level of action. Both the provincial and federal governments do indicate that continued effort is needed to understand the risk of transmission, and note that this will involve consultation and engagement with multiple stakeholders.
Until such time that a formal consultation process is initialized to develop a strategy to address the eradication of diseased bison from the Wood Buffalo National Park area that would prevent further outbreaks, this resolution holds a status of Intent Not Met.