Photos: Wild bison return to Canadian home after more than 100 years.

For the first time in more than 100 years, Banff National Park in Canada is going to be home to wild bison.

A wild bison at Elk Island National Park. Photo from Johane Janelle/Parks Canada.

The Great Plains and eastern slopes of the Rockies were once home to as many as 60 million bison, but by the late 1800s, settlers and disease had almost wiped them out. In 1889, a prominent conservationist estimated only about 1,000 animals remained.


Soon, though, people realized something needed to be done and started taking steps to protect these animals. In the early 1900s, the Canadian government actually tracked down some of the last wild animals and shipped them by train to wildlife refuges. Today, thanks to more than 100 years of conservation efforts, bison numbers have partially recovered. About a half million are managed as livestock, with about 30,000 wild individuals.

On Feb. 6, 2017, as part of ongoing efforts to reintroduce wild bison to the North American wilds, Parks Canada relocated 16 bison from Elk Island National Park to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada.

Though this is something to be celebrated, moving North America's biggest land animal is anything but simple or easy.

Photo from Johane Janelle/Parks Canada.

An adult bison can weigh up to 2,000 pounds.

These particular bison started their journey at Elk Island National Park near Edmonton, Alberta.

Wild bison at a handling facility in Elk Island National Park near Edmonton. Photo from Cameron Johnson/Parks Canada.

Elk Island has a herd of about 390 animals.

To start, park rangers wrangled up the bison and picked out 16 prospective individuals.

A team member watches one of the bison move through the handling facility. Chutes help channel the animals between holding areas while also keeping them calm. Photo from Cameron Johnson/Parks Canada.

The bison, mostly pregnant young females, were quarantined and given a health checkup before the move then loaded into specially created shipping containers.

The containers had air holes cut out of the top, special doors, and bedding to make the bison comfortable during what was going to be a very long ride.

The bison (and humans) set off on a nearly 250-mile road trip.

Trucks carried the bison from Elk Island National Park to just outside Banff National Park. Photo from Johane Janelle/Parks Canada.

It turns out, Canada's kind of big. Alberta is just Canada's sixth largest territory, but it's nearly the size of Texas.

After seven hours, everyone arrived at the Ya Ha Tinda Ranch outside Banff National Park after midnight.

But that wasn't the end of their journey. Heck, it wasn't even the most incredible part of it. Because then there was the part where they brought in the helicopter.

Parks Canada staff celebrate as the helicopter picks up the last of the bison. Photo from Johane Janelle/Parks Canada.

Banff National Park is huge. It's bigger than the state of Delaware. And there are no roads where these guys were headed.

Photo from Dan Rafla/Parks Canada.

Ya Ha Tinda Ranch is the closest you can get by road. From there on, Banff is horse, boot, or cross-country ski territory. So instead of walking the whole distance, the bison, along with all the personnel and equipment, needed to be flown in.

After a 15-mile helicopter ride, the bison finally touched down in their new home: Banff's Panther Valley.

Parks Canada stand ready in Banff's Panther Valley. Photo from Dan Rafla/Parks Canada.

Panther Valley was chosen for a couple of reasons. It has plenty of bison-friendly open areas, good vegetation, and insulation in the form of warm chinook winds. It's also far enough from people to give the bison a bit of breathing room as they get used to their new space.

Despite the long trip, the bison made themselves at home pretty darn quick.

Photo from Dan Rafla/Parks Canada.

Though the road may have been bumpy, the bison seemed no worse for the wear. They found food and water pretty quick. "They're incredibly robust," said project manager Karsten Heuer. Within a few hours they were rubbing horns and bucking playfully. "I've got a tremendous respect for these animals."

These bison will hopefully be the start of a new wild herd in Banff.

Photo from Dan Rafla/Parks Canada.

The road trip was just the start of a five-year reintroduction plan.

For the next 16 months, they'll stay in an enclosure in Panther Valley to let them give birth and get attached the land. In the summer of 2018, they'll be released to the park as a whole.

Reintroducing the bison has a number of benefits. Visitors to Banff can learn more about them, for instance, and they're also part of the region's culture and history. They even help the plants grow.

But more than that, the mere presence of wild bison has an effect on people.

"Bison are an incredibly iconic animal," Heuer says. They're all at once rugged, adaptable, and strong. They symbolize wildness.

But they're also living in an often human-centric world. Even Banff National Park is only about 100 miles away from Calgary, a million-person city. Just by existing, the bison will continue to ask us things we'll have to grapple with, Heuer says.

Things like where we should draw the line between wilderness and civilization. Or whether all this effort could have been avoided by simply taking more care not to nearly wipe them out a hundred years ago. Or what we want the future to look like.

"It's good to have an animal as big and burly as a bison to help us keep things in perspective," Heuer says.

Note: There was a small display herd of plains bison in Banff National Park until 1997, but the herd was not wild and did not have full access to the ecosystem.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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