Jasper National Park moves toward caribou breeding program, but still needs to address existing backcountry threats
May 7, 2021
Edmonton – Jasper National Park has found strong scientific support for using a conservation breeding program to boost woodland caribou numbers inside the park. A new report has been released that summarizes an independent review of the proposed breeding program, with agreement from a panel of experts that urgent help is needed to return caribou herds to self-sustaining sizes.
In a public release, Jasper National Park notes that the breeding program is feasible, as long as they “continue to review conservation actions to support caribou recovery, including mitigations for winter activities in the Tonquin Valley.” Jasper also commits to reviewing both the boundaries and dates of winter access restrictions in caribou habitat for next winter. CPAWS is encouraged by this commitment and urges Parks Canada to complete the access re-assessment as soon as possible and share its results publicly.
“We are still concerned about existing inadequate access management inside the park. Introduced caribou need to be assured of safe habitat where risks are mitigated, and we don’t think that’s been achieved yet,” says Gillian Chow-Fraser, Boreal Program Manager.
CPAWS and other conservation groups have raised concerns about existing access management, specifically ongoing recreational access into caribou critical habitat. Backcountry activities pack trails and can invite wolves into areas where caribou are hiding. As sensitive animals at incredibly low herd sizes, the impact of one wolf encountering a caribou is of high magnitude. Jasper similarly notes that the ongoing survival of Tonquin and Brazeau is “precarious and could change quickly”.
The Tonquin caribou herd, which would be the focus of the breeding program, is estimated to have 10 breeding females. Yet, in the Tonquin range, recreational access into critical habitat is permitted beginning in mid-winter. Research indicates this timing is too early and risks the safety of this herd. CPAWS and other conservation groups called for these closures to be extended this past winter without success. Jasper will now consider making access changes for the next winter (2021-2022). Many experts have linked the recent loss of Jasper’s Maligne herd to the reluctance within the park to make access changes inside its range.
The proposal will aim to rebuild the Tonquin and Brazeau herds, as well as the recently extirpated Maligne herd. “These caribou need all the help they can get,” says Kecia Kerr, Executive Director. “As Jasper considers a breeding program, a drastic conservation measure that requires a huge input of resources, we must ensure that it has the best possible opportunity to succeed by removing or reducing risks to these herds within their habitat.”
We are pleased to see commitment from Jasper National Park to include Indigenous communities throughout the process. Jasper’s next steps will include reviewing the conservation breeding proposal with Indigenous communities, consulting on ways to include Indigenous Knowledge, and supporting Indigenous people’s roles in the program’s governing committees.
The executive summary and the report from the scientific review workshop are publicly available upon request to Jasper National Park.