Plains Bison (Bison bison bison)
The Minister of the Environment has recommended that the plains bison not be listed at this time because of potential economic implications for the Canadian bison industry.
The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) status report designating the plains bison as threatened makes it clear that all of the assessed populations, with the exception of the Pink Mountain population, are stable or increasing in size and that the most serious impediment to plains bison conservation is a lack of habitat. The status report further states that, at present, no Canadian plains bison population is infected with any disease that jeopardizes its existence. As of 2003, there were approximately 600,000 to 720,000 plains bison in North America with over 95% of the total population maintained for commercial production. In 2004, the Canadian Bison Association reported a population of 240,000 plains bison on 1,900 commercial farms, which are generating more than $50 million in bison sales annually.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) has supported bison ranching as an important diversification of the livestock industry. Besides its role in diversification, the bison industry has contributed to sustainable land management as a result of the conversion of cultivated land back to permanent forage cover and to the preservation of native pasture lands. The development of primary and secondary processing industries has provided additional benefits to many communities, including aboriginal communities.
The increased awareness of food safety issues (e.g. Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) and emerging health trends (i.e. declining red meat consumption) have resulted in falling demand for bison meat and a corresponding fall in prices. This has negatively influenced the Canadian bison industry.
Listing the plains bison could potentially have a further negative impact on the Canadian consumer bison market. From a genetic perspective, wild and ranched herds cannot be readily distinguished from one another, as the original stock for all existing bison herds in Canada came from private herds descended from the few wild bison remaining in the late 1800s. AAFC and the Canadian Bison Association have stated that listing the plains bison could lead to lower consumer demand for bison products which would be detrimental to the Canadian bison industry.
By not listing the plains bison, the species will not receive the protection and recovery measures afforded by the Species at Risk Act (the Act). Although not listed in the Act, plains bison in national parks of Canada will continue to be protected under the Canada National Parks Act. Parks Canada has played a significant role in the recovery of plains bison in Canada and will continue to be a leader in the recovery and management of these animals. Reintroduction of plains bison is currently being planned in certain national parks of Canada.
It should also be noted that the recovery of the plains bison population from near extinction in the 1800s to present population levels was largely as a result of the voluntary stewardship and conservation ethic of bison ranchers in North America.
The federal government is working with the bison industry, provincial and territorial governments, aboriginal groups and key stakeholders to develop an approach for the recovery of wild plains bison. By working cooperatively, governments and stakeholders can achieve benefits for both wild and captive farmed populations of plains bison in Canada.
At a future date, if the Minister of the Environment believes that it is necessary for the plains bison to receive the full protection afforded by the Act, he may recommend adding the species to Schedule 1 of the Act.
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