Student exhibits passion for bison in project

Carter Baranyk's bison capstone project

Growing up in Brandon, Carter Baranyk has fond memories of visiting the Minnedosa Bison Park, located 52 kilometres north of the Wheat City. Watching the majestic creatures, who once roamed the Prairies in plentiful herds, ignited an interest in the large animals that stayed with him after he became an adult and began his studies.

Visiting the Museum of Man and Nature in Winnipeg (now known as the Manitoba Museum) with his grandfather, Baranyk also had the chance to learn more about the history of bison and how important they were for people who lived in Manitoba in the past.

“I thought they were really cool animals,” he said, recalling childhood trips to the Manitoba Museum (formerly the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature) and its opening display — a diorama of a Métis hunter with a fleeing bison just steps ahead. “I always thought they were a great symbol of the West,” Baranyk said.

As part of his studies at Assiniboine, Baranyk and his fellow students must complete a capstone project, worth one-fifth of their final grades. Students choose topics that interest them that are related to land and water management, and for Baranyk, the topic of bison was an obvious choice.

As he started to dive into the topic, he was drawn to the history and the comeback of the bison after being hunted to near extinction by European settlers in the 19th century. He became more aware of the commercial bison sector.

“Bison are everywhere,” he said. “You see them on our flag, sports teams, stuff like that, but to know that there are over 50 commercial bison farms in just Manitoba alone, I thought was really interesting. I just wanted to do something involving that.”

Before colonization, tens of millions of bison roamed many parts of North America, Parks Canada’s website says. By the late 1800s, however, bison — the largest land mammals on the continent — were reduced to near extinction caused by overhunting.

Baranyk’s two-part project is focused on outreach. A general information booklet will be targeted for the public, highlighting the animal, its traditional importance, its ecological role on grasslands and the state of the bison sector.

The second publication to come out of the project will focus on those already active in agriculture. Baranyk has plans for a grazing guide that will encourage bison as a choice for potential producers.

“Bison perform many different ecological functions to help native prairie ecosystems,” Baranyk said. “They’ll take a dust bath, just roll around and they’ll carve depressions into the ground, which will hold water there instead of running off. And because water is held there, it helps protect the prairie against drought.”

Also, Bison waste incubates insect eggs and larvae, and many endangered prairie bird species eat insects and use fallen bison fur for their nests.

In February, Baranyk presented his booklet at the 2023 annual meeting of the Manitoba Bison Association, a group that raises awareness about the animal for producers, ranchers and consumers. Baranyk had approached the organization last September for help digging into the history and details of bison production in Western Canada.

“He gave us his final draft of it,” said association president Robert Johnson.

The result was “really good, it more focused on narrative than long lists of facts,” said Johnson. “He’s obviously really passionate about the animals and he’s a really good researcher in terms of the depths that he went to, to find information.”

Baranyk completed his program and graduated in June. He will be attending Brandon University, where he will study geography. He also intends on creating a grazing guide that will encourage producers to choose to raise bison.

Doing his capstone project on the animals has served to deepen Baranyk’s interest in, and awe of, bison, he said.

“I learned a lot, and actually, I have more appreciation for them with all that I’ve learned about them.”