For twenty-five-years, wood bison have been roaming reclaimed land at Syncrude’s Beaver Creek Wood Bison Ranch north of Fort McMurray.
February 16, 1993, 30 bison arrived at Mildred Lake from Elk Island National Park – east of Edmonton. Since then the herd has grown to roughly 300 with about 100 calves born every year.
“The bison being a large mammal that was native to the region seemed like the perfect choice. In consultation with the Fort McKay First Nation, I think we reached that common conclusion that it would be the perfect animal to bring in rather than just beef cattle,” Greg Fuhr, Vice President Mining and Extraction, told Mix News.
The idea of bringing in the bison came from the oil companies plans to study how reclaimed land would affect large mammals.
Originally, the idea was to bring in cattle ranching and raising cattle on the land.
“Extreme cold weather in the winter time always make calving and things like that more difficult and that in some ways is what attracted us to the bison, they are quite hardy, they will survive the cold weather, and they actually calve on their own without assistance,” added Jim Carter, former Syncrude President and who was Vice President – Mining at the time.
Carter adds the Fort McKay First Nation really steered them towards the wood bison.
Chief Jim Boucher says the FMFN believed a more Indigenous animal would be more suitable.
“We have Wood Buffalo National Park to the north of us and we thought that since (the bison) were sickly, it would be a good opportunity for us to build up base of healthy buffalo in the region.”
At the time, the National Park had an anthrax outbreak which was killing off the native heard.
Meanwhile, Boucher adds we’re in a time where industry needs to be environmentally friendly and reclamation projects are very much needed. He believes having bison ranching on the land is a great way to help the wildlife and environment get back to the way it was before mining occurred.
“It could be an economic opportunity to raise food and provide goods and services.”
Right now, between 80 – 100 bison are sold each year.
“Our heard is highly prized in the livestock world for its genetic purity as well as the health and we’ve won many awards and prizes for our heard and they are highly sought after as breeding stock,” said Fuhr.
Fuhr adds watching the herd grow is really exciting for them as it demonstrates Syncrude’s commitment to being a responsible oilsands producer.
– With files from Elizabeth Priest