The Wolves And Bison Of Wood Buffalo National Park

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A wolf pack on the hunt in Wood Buffalo National Park. Chadden Hunter photo.

The list of national parks on my "bucket list" is somewhat long, and not restricted to those in the United States. I've long been intrigued by Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta, and a recent PBS documentary on the wolves and bison there only heightened my desire to check that one off my list.

Nature on its own terms is reflected in many national parks, whether it be in the form of newborn eaglets, elk calves taking their first wobbly steps, or predators in search of prey. The episodes can be both fascinating, and visceral, but they just the same are part of the natural world.

The PBS show on Nature, Cold Warriors: Wolves and Buffalo, brought a variety of aspects of nature to light. In the program we are given the opportunity to peek in on a wolf pack and a herd of bison.

Filmed by wildlife videographer Jeff Turner over a number of months in Wood Buffalo National Park in far north Alberta and southern Northwest Territories, the program takes us through the seasons as the wolves and bison interact.

For thousands of years, wolves have hunted buffalo across the vast North American plains. Although westward settlement of the continent saw the virtual extinction of these vast herds and their eternal predators, this ancient relationship was not lost altogether. On the northern edge of the continent’s central plains, in a place named Wood Buffalo National Park, buffalo and wolves still engage in epic life and death dramas. By following one pack of wolves, wildlife filmmaker Jeff Turner captures how these two animal species live together in what seems like a forgotten corner of the world.

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The national park, Canada's largest, was designated in 1922 to protect the free-roaming bison that lived here. Jeff Turner photo.

The documentary is notable both for the raw, instinctive interactions between the wolves and the bison that have been playing out for untold numbers of years that Mr. Turner captured, as well as for the beauty of the landscape and that of the cycles of life we are presented with.

It also showcases Canada's largest national park, one that covers more than 17,000 square miles.

Wood Buffalo National Park was created in 1922 to protect the last remaining herds of wood bison in northern Canada. Plains bison were shipped to the park from Wainwright, Alberta, between 1925 and 1928. The imported bison promptly moved south of the Peace River into the Peace-Athabasca Delta area. In 1926 the park boundaries were expanded to include this new bison range. Today Wood Buffalo National Park protects one of the largest free-roaming, self-regulating bison herds in the world.

Archeological evidence shows that Aboriginal people have inhabited the Wood Buffalo region for more than 8000 years, long before fur traders arrived in the early 1700s. The Europeans called the people they met in this region Beaver, Slavey and Chipewyan. The Beaver and Slavey left the area as the fur trade moved west. Today, the communities around the park are mostly made up of Cree, Chipewyan, Metis and non-aboriginal people.

Subsistence hunting, fishing and trapping still occur in Wood Buffalo National Park, as they have for centuries, and commercial trapping continues as a legacy of the fur trade. Traditional use of certain park resources by local Aboriginal groups is an important part of the park's cultural history.

You can wait to see when Cold Warriors: Wolves and Buffalo is repeated on your local PBS affiliate, or watch it below.

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