For some, the herd at Beaver Creek Wood Bison Ranch are a sight to behold as one of North America’s largest land mammals.
For those who are involved in running the ranch it’s more than a sight. It’s a connection to the land and to the iconic symbol that bison has become for Syncrude.
“The wood bison herd symbolizes Syncrude’s commitment to be a responsible oil sands producer,” says Jesse Hall, Syncrude’s Manager – Tailings and Lease Development. “The herd demonstrates our commitment to reclaiming the land disturbed by our operations. The herd, which is co-managed with the Fort McKay First Nation, also demonstrates our commitment to working with Indigenous communities in the region,” says Jesse whose responsibilities include the ranch.
Every spring those who work at the ranch see a renewal of that commitment when a new batch of calves are born. This year is no exception although calving season was a tad delayed this year, says Brad Ramstead, Ranch Manager.
It’s always great to see new calves being born at the ranch every year.
– Brad Ramstead
It’s an integral part of life here,” says Brad, a wildlife biologist whose history with the ranch dates back to 1991. He’s been managing the herd since 2005. “Right now we have more than 50 calves, a little less than a few other years, but fairly standard. We’re still getting more calves so we don’t know yet what the final number will be.”
In consultation with the Fort McKay First Nation, Syncrude decided to repatriate wood bison to the region as the subspecies was endemic to this region. Thirty wood bison were moved from Elk Island National Park, about 35 kilometres east of Edmonton. The first bison were moved here in February of 1993. This was the beginning and other animals were transported here over the first several years of operation. Elders from the Fort McKay First Nation held a ceremony to bless the herd upon its arrival at Syncrude’s Mildred Lake site. The herd was also blessed during the 25th anniversary celebration, in 2018
Currently, the herd consists of 240 animals excluding the newborn calves which remain with their mothers all summer and into the fall. The ranch manages the size of the herd through sales at auctions. Mostly the sales consist of calves, yearlings and two-year olds. At the end of October, the entire herd on site are brought in for their annual round up, says Brad.
“We tag the new calves, conduct herd health checks and administer all annual vaccinations,” he says.
A portion of the herd spends the summer grazing the South Bison Hills area and can often be seen from the Wood Bison Viewpoint off Highway 63. The public is welcome to come and see the bison from the viewpoint.