Presentations   
 

 

Organisers of events can select from the following presentations or they can request one specific to a topic of concern.

When you combine the stunning landscape and wildlife photography of  Johane Janelle with the entertaining and educational storytelling of Wes Olson, you get a captivating glimpse into the lives of one of North America’s most charismatic species; the bison.

Wes uses his detailed drawings and paintings and Johanes photographs of bison, from across their historic range, to introduce the audience to the complexity and hidden lives of the amazing animals.

The Ecological Role of Bison. Bison once occupied most of North America and they had complex interactions with almost every other bird, mammal, amphibian and reptile that shared their ecosystems. This presentations brings to light a few of these fascinating relationships and explores the keystone role that bison continue to play wherever they are found.

The Evolution Of Bison. This is a look back at the prehistoric species of bison and how each of these evolved, adapted, and then either went extinct or developed into the next in line. Tracing the geographic distribution of bison over the millennia, the audience is drawn forward in time to the plains and wood bison that currently occupy North America.

Seasons of the Bison. This presentation takes the viewer through one year in the life of a bison herd. From spring calving and the glory of new life, to the harshness of severe winters on the open plains, from the magnificence of a massive bulls as he struts through the herd, to the bafflement and confusion of yearlings abandoned by their mothers prior to the calving season, this talk brings the audience deep into the heart of bison society.

Living Diamonds; The Return of Wood Bison to Siberia. North American plains and wood bison evolved from their European ancestor, Bison Priscus, or the Steppe Bison. This huge bison went extinct several thousand years ago, and today the closest living relative is the Canadian Wood Bison. In 2005 Wes participated in the first translocation of Wood Bison into the vastness of central Siberia. In this fascinating presentation Wes takes the audience through the capture of the animals out of the wilds of Elk Island National Park and then through their remarkable journey back to the homeland of their ancestors.

Plains Bison – Wood Bison; Subspecies or merely Ecotypes? The issue of whether there are two North American subspecies of bison has long been controversial. Some proponents argue that there is only one bison, and that any variation in their appearance is merely a reflection of their local environments. Others argue that two clear and distinct subspecies exist and that they must be managed as distinctly different subspecies. Wes explores these differing viewpoints and then presents information that supports his own point of view.

 

 

Reviews

 

Wes Olson’s deeply held knowledge of bison invites anyone from a land manager, to a biologist, to a tourist into the art of living with bison. With ease and rigorous facts he explains the bison’s keystone role in Western Canada and the critical interactions bison hold with plants, birds, amphibians and other mammals.  His special know-how ability, personal stories of time on the land and his stunning images and paintings bring forward the ecological importance of bison. Wes shared with the Bow Valley community a wealth of artistic inspiration and opened us to a deeper connection to one of Canada’s most treasured creatures, the bison.   ------------   Bison Belong Initiative at - www.bisonbelong.ca

 

 

 

 

Review, Portraits of the Bison

 

 

In a couple of decades in the late 19th century almost the entire bison population of the Great Plains staggered and crumpled before the rifle.  A superabundance was reduced to a pitiful remnant.  It was a prodigal abuse of technology on a monstrous scale.  Had early conservationists failed to nurture the few remaining animals, Wes Olson would have missed his vocation.  His vocation is observing, protecting and working with bison, and he has been at it for more than thirty years.

 

Both art and science are rooted in critical and precise observation and we used to regard them as one.  Today, unfortunately, they are usually seen as separate and even antithetical.  But Wes and his wife, Johane Janelle, have applied their well-honed observational skills to bring the bison – the defining species of the Great Plains – into vivid perspective.  In doing so they have reunited art and science and produced a handsome volume, Portraits of the Bison: an Illustrated Guide to Bison Society.  As soon as I opened it I was hooked, later I realized it might save my life.

 

The title is precisely accurate.  The book is filled with delicate and sensitive drawings and fine photographs.  The latter range from grand, bison-filled vistas to eyelash detail.  But the illustrations are not there just to adorn a coffee table; they are an integral part of the message.

 

The book begins with a short introduction to bison biology and the history of its near demise.  The next chapter is called “People and Bison” and clearly it has grown from long experience of watching people and bison together: more people are injured by bison than by bears.  This is the life saving part.  Not all warm furry things with huge brown eyes are cuddly.  Almost all societies include highly protective mums and grumpy guys who are having a bad day.  So read carefully and watch out.

 

Chapter three is all about the social interactions of bison and the way in which these change with the seasons.  This is where some of the great bison panoramas come in; not to mention mildly indelicate close ups of a huge bull thoughtfully nosing the vulva of a female who obligingly raises her tail.  It is also where you find out when cows are at their most protective and why a lone bull in the rutting season is likely to be dangerously antisocial. 

 

The fourth chapter tells you how to distinguish males from females, and young from old, and a whole lot more.  I was delighted by the wealth of information that you can gather with a spotting scope without anybody getting upset.  It lays the groundwork for the study of wildlife without drugs, collars, noise or anxiety.

 

The book ends with a collection of esoterica.  How to determine the sex of a skull, how to age a bison from its teeth and where you can just get outside and look at bison.  But you probably don’t want to take “Portraits of the Bison” out on the trail with you.  It is far too nice for swatting bugs.  Instead take the condensed version.

 

This is called “A Field Guide to Plains Bison” and it has a really tough cover and will fit in your inside pocket.  It tells you how to decide who’s who and what they are up to.  It is the essential stuff you need in the field.  The fact that it takes over eighty pages to illustrate all this gives you some idea of the joys and intricacies of bison watching.  So when you set off for southwestern Saskatchewan, which you should soon, put the bison field guide in with your bird book and binoculars and take along Candace Savage’s “A Geography of Blood” for evening reading.  They are just different parts of the same story.

 

No one book can begin to encompass the whole story of the great grasslands of North America but don’t worry, Wes Olson, with the least encouragement, will tell you a whole lot more.  He is a captivating public speaker who somehow manages to combine a low-key style with brimming enthusiasm.  I am still not sure how that works.  He will tell you about the vital role of the bison in the perplexing lacework of prairie ecology, even the way in which its fur is woven into every bird’s nest.  He will tell you, first hand, about the introduction of bison into the Grasslands National Park and about the introduction of wood bison to Siberia.  This is all illustrated by Wes’s drawings, Johane’s photographs and all sorts of other stuff; not least, pictures taken from the nose of an monster Russian transport as it comes into land in Siberia with a lumbering cargo of bison. Yes, really!

Peter Flood
Professor emeritus
Department of Veterinary Biomedical Science
University of Saskatchewan

 

To book a presentation please contact Wes wesolsonart@gmail.com to select a date and location.