At just over 44 square kilometres in size, Wood Buffalo National Park is one of Canada’s largest national parks and one of the largest ones in the world. Wood Buffalo is located in the province of Alberta’s extreme north as well as in the North West Territories.
Not only is Wood Buffalo protecting wood bison, the park is also the only nesting ground for the whooping crane, which, along with the wood bison, is endangered.
The bison population was estimated to be around 40 million in 1830, but by 1900 it dropped to less than 1,000. As part of the Alberta parks effort to help protect this endangered animal, plains bison were shipped into Wood Buffalo from Wainwright, Albert from 1925 to 1928. The imported bison migrated south of the Peace River and into the Peace-Athabasca Delta area, causing the park to expand its boundaries to include the newly imported bison.
What are bison? A member of the cattle family, the wood bison is a formidable animal that weighs in a 1400kg and is identified by its scraggily beard, long and shaggy woolly hair, a shoulder hump, curved horns and short tail.
In 1982, Wood Buffalo National Park was recognized by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) because of the Alberta parks efforts to protect two wetland areas – the whooping crane site and the Peace-Athabasca Delta.
The Peace-Athabasca Delta is a huge nesting and staging area for North America’s migrating waterfowl during the spring and fall. The Peace-Athabasca is also one of the world’s largest inland freshwater deltas.
The Ramsar Convention has also designated the Alberta parks whooping crane wetland site and the Peace-Athabasca Delta as Ramsar sites. The Ramsar Convention focuses on protecting migratory bird habitats.
In 1983, Wood Buffalo was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Wood Buffalo National Park is the only Canadian national park to have two Ramsar designated locations.
Another unique feature to Wood Buffalo is that within its boundaries, the park has multiple examples of natural regions – the Northern and Southern Boreal Plains, as well as the Northwest Boreal Uplands. The Northern Boreal Plains is the most abundant natural region within the park.
The Northern Borealis Plains can be characterized by its flatness, which causes poor drainage. The area also has an underlying layer of sediment (gypsum, halites, dolomite and limestone) that is covered by glacial deposits.
The land’s flat topography has resulted in vertical drainage versus the normal horizontal drainage. This vertical flow of water has resulted in the creation of karst landforms within portions of the gypsum bedrock.
Other naturally occurring phenomena that make the Northern Borealis Plains so unique are the underground streams, saline streams and sinkholes, while the forest is home to black and white spruce trees, the balsam fir and jack pine, to name a few.
What also makes the Wood Buffalo National Park so unique is that while it strives to protect the natural landscape and habitat, it also protects the park’s original Aboriginal settlers who, for sustenance, continue to hunt, fish and trap within the Alberta parks boundaries.