"It's one of the great days for wildlife conservation in the history of North America," says a conservationist following what Parks Canada officials are calling a "historic homecoming" in Alberta's Banff National Park. Sixteen bison, including 10 pregnant cows, were moved 275 miles from Elk Island National Park near Edmonton to a remote valley of Banff National Park last week, reports the CBC. For 16 months, they'll remain under supervision in an enclosed pasture, but the goal is to have them roam free in a 460-square-mile area of the park beginning in summer 2018. Bison were last kept at the park in 1997, but a wild herd hasn't roamed in what is Canada's oldest national park for more than 130 years, per the Globe and Mail.
Though ranchers are concerned that the animals could damage property or spread disease—the bison introduced to the landscape were screened for things like bovine tuberculosis—conservationist Harvey Locke expects few challenges. "We know from the archaeological record that bison were in this park for over 10,000 years" so "it's a native species in its native habitat," he says. He adds the $6.4 million project involves "the righting of wrong" after hunters nearly eradicated wild bison, which once numbered in the tens of millions throughout the continent, in the 19th century. Banff's herd will ultimately become "one of only four plains bison herds in North America that would be fully interacting with their predators and shaping the ecosystem," a project manager tells Reuters. (Bison had a similar homecoming in Montana.)