25 years of co-existence between bison and tar sands

In Fort McMurray, Beaver Creek Wood Ranch on Tuesday marked the 25th anniversary of the introduction of a herd of bison on the site of a former oil sands mine. After a quarter of a century, the herd has nearly 300 heads.

When they hear Brad Ramstead’s truck arrive, the bison, normally wild animals, are approaching.

The farmer has been in charge of the herd since arriving at the former site of a Syncrude mine north of Fort McMurray in the early 1990s.

He has been in this position for so long that his family and friends call him the bison shepherd or Buffalo Man (-buffalo man-).

-My wife tells me I’m too close to them,- he jokes.

He is very comfortable with the nicknames given to him because taking care of the bison is more than just a job for him.

When you have animals like these, it’s a passion, a way of life.

Brad Ramstead, breeder

On Tuesday, Brad Ramstead invited the media to a ranch tour. This was one of many events organized to mark the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the bison in 1993.

The breeder had been hired for a six-month contract in 1991. It turned into a true vocation. He is now employed by the Fort McMurray Group of Companies, which is jointly owned by the five Aboriginal communities of Fort McMurray.

Syncrude originally wanted to see if large mammals could survive on the lands of an old oil sands mine. It had been backfilled and planted with grass.

About 30 animals had been transported from Elk Island National Park east of Edmonton. The herd now has about 300 individuals.

This one knows changes. Part of the herd has been moved to a new, larger and partially wooded area.

Brad Ramstead says that the hardest part of his job is not to be too emotional about animals. He avoids giving them names. Thus, it is a little easier for him to make delicate decisions, such as that of euthanizing an injured or sick animal.

-I have to keep moving, but it’s not always easy,- he says. It is the bison’s interest that comes first and I try to make the best decisions. –

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