Wood Buffalo, Alberta and Northwest Territories on the map. National Park Wood Buffalo (Alberta and Northwest Territories) on the map of Canada

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Wood Buffalo, Alberta and Northwest Territories on the map. National Park Wood Buffalo (Alberta and Northwest Territories) on the map of Canada

Right: Water-filled sinkholes—a feature of a karst landscape. Surface and ground water dissolve the soft bedrock, creating underground rivers, caves and sinkholes.

Below: The namesake of Wood Buffalo National Park—the bison is the largest terrestrial animal in North America.

Wood Buffalo, Alberta and Northwest Territories

Established: 1922   Acreage: 11,072,000

Spread out on the northern plains of western Canada, straddling the border between the province of Alberta and the Northwest Territories, Wood Buffalo National Park offers a landscape where enormous rivers meander through a subarctic wilderness of bogs, forests, lakes and meadows. The park is one of the world's largest, covering an area larger than Switzerland. Situated on the northern boreal plains, the plants here are typical of the boreal forest zone found in North America and northern Europe and Asia. Lush forests of white and black spruce, jack pine, tamarack, black poplar and trembling aspen fill this vast, magnificent wilderness.

Here, animals such as moose, wolves, lynx, black bear, eagles and ravens thrive. Smaller mammals, such as shrews, bats, woodchucks, chipmunks, snowshoe hare and squirrels, are also found in the forests and meadows of the park. Wood Buffalo National Park, as the name implies, is home to a herd of 3000 to 4000 bison, the largest free-roaming herd in the world. From 1925 to 1927, roughly 7000 bison were transported from Buffalo Park to the newly established Wood Buffalo National Park. An unforeseen consequence of the transplant was the interbreeding between the transplanted plains bison and the resident wood buffalo. By 1934, the herd had grown to 12,000, but the bison were hybrids and it was feared that the wood bison as a subspecies was lost. Today the herd has stabilized at 3000 to 4000 hybrid bison. A small herd of wood bison was discovered and has been transferred to other protected areas in Canada to ensure that the subspecies survives.

This spacious and wild park also contains the last nesting grounds of the rare and endangered whooping crane. Hundreds and thousands of geese, ducks and other waterfowl inhabit the Peace-Athabasca Delta. Out of the 227 species of birds that have been observed in the park, 142 nest here during the summer, but only 25 species are able to endure the harsh winters. The delta also supports large populations of muskrat and beaver and is the spawning ground for goldeye and walleye.

Recent studies indicate that Wood Buffalo contains the most extensive gypsum karst terrain in the world: a remarkable landscape of sinkholes, underground rivers, caves and sunken valleys. The park's Salt Plains are unique in Canada, with their white, salt-encrusted mud flats, unusual salt-tolerant plants and saline meadows dotted with islands of spruce trees and shrubs.

Most of the park remains in its original wilderness state, but areas are set aside for camping, picnicking, boating and swimming.

Wood Buffalo, Alberta and Northwest Territories on the map. National Park Wood Buffalo (Alberta and Northwest Territories) on the map of Canada