On November 2, 1885, the Banff Hot Springs Preserve was established. Two years later and enlarged, it was renamed Rocky Mountains Park – Canada’s first national park – then renamed Banff National Park in 1930. The preserve’s original 26 km2 (10 mi2 ) expanded to its present 6,641 km2 (2,564 mi2 ) size.
Global popularity for its natural beauty as well as its mineral hot springs has threatened Banff’s ecological integrity. Parks Canada has refocused park management on conservation and environmental stewardship. Park camera projects record examples of life in the park that never meet the visitor’s eye – as in this 24-hour time-lapse sequence of how a cougar, in culling a sick elk, provides food for its offspring and other animals.
One of the difficult tasks at Banff is how to sustain wildlife corridors across and through the park to ease migrations and animal ranging not only for mammals but also for fish populations. Not an easy task when the park attracts so many humans and all the trappings of modern habitation and its systems.
The park encompasses three principal ecosystems. The lower elevation montane supports patches of grasslands and the greatest variety of animals, including aspen-browsing elk and moose. The subalpine elevations feature mixed spruce, lodgepole pine, and fir forest as well as dwarf-shrub meadows. Alpine systems hold glaciers, icefields, and alpine meadows with seasonal heather, Moss Campion, Purple Saxifrage, and Glacier Lilies, among others.
Leaders in fire management, Parks Canada staff use carefully planned prescribed fire that control burns to refresh environments. Refreshed environments provide greater diversity of wildlife habitat. Forests become less susceptible to insects, disease, and catastrophic wildfires from build-ups of forest floor fire fuels.
The Columbia Icefield that lays across the highest point in North America releases meltwater into major river systems that empty into the Pacific, Arctic, and Atlantic Oceans. Not only is the icefield a mother of rivers, it contains a family of almost three dozen distinct glaciers. Beneath the icefield and mountains is the 20+ km-long Castleguard Cave that has only recently been mapped and is currently under exploration.
A surprising park for Living Large or Living Small. Although the park has a subarctic climate of cold, snowy winters, its mild summers attract seasonal waterfowl on the parks’ myriad lakes and ponds. It contains almost all the forest and mountain dwelling mammal families found in Canada. Parks Canada is currently planning to reintroduce Woodland Caribou to Banff after a 2009 avalanche wiped out the last of the park’s herd. On the other end of the scale, clinging to algae in a half-dozen hot spring pools, are the rare and threatened Banff Springs Snails. About the size of a raisin, the snails are easily dislodged from algae mats where they feed and lay their eggs… and are not found anywhere else in the world. All living in non-stop magnificent settings.
B Bondar / Real World Content Advantage