‘Tragic, but necessary’: Conservation groups say a caribou ranching program is needed to restore herds – Jasper’s source for news, sports, arts, culture and more

Conservation groups say Parks Canada’s proposed ranching program is “tragic but necessary” to restore caribou herds in Jasper National Park. | Photo L. Neufeld/Parks Canada

Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative reporter | [email protected]

Conservation groups accept Parks Canada’s caribou conservation proposal as presented at a in-person public session in Jasper on June 27, albeit somewhat reluctantly.

Gillian Chow-Fraser, manager of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s boreal program, said the proposal was a necessary evil and hopes it will be undertaken properly.

After all, it is a massive human intervention with the survival of the two remaining herds of Jasper National Parks.

“I think there are two ways to think about it. The straight answer is that those caribou herds in the park are just so small that they can’t even grow naturally. They are… at the point of no return,” Chow-Fraser said.

“They need this dramatic intervention to recover, to stabilize, to maintain any presence of caribou in the national park.”

She drew a comparison to the successful reintroduction of bison to Banff National Park. They are very different species on the one hand, but she noted how this program demonstrates Parks Canada’s commitment “to protecting wildlife species that deserve a place in these landscapes where they have lived for generations and millennia.”

Under the National Parks Act and the Parks Canada Agency Act, national parks have a duty to maintain ecological integrity as a first priority.

“Parks Canada also has a responsibility to restore these species at risk in their parks,” Chow-Fraser said.

“I think the most obvious way to think about ecological integrity is the recovery of a species at risk. The woodland caribou is also an iconic species at risk, so you’d expect a national park to do everything possible to conserve it.

The plan as presented includes a federal commitment of $24 million to establish a closed, fully staffed ranching facility near the Tonquin Valley. The first animals would be relocated there by 2025 with their first broods ideally ready to be released into the wild the following year.

The plan relies on females from the two remaining herds. However, the Tonquin herd has 11 or less, and there are only three at most in the Brazeau, making this herd the very precipice of extinction.

“Action was long overdue,” Chow-Fraser added, calling the disappearance of Maligne’s herd a wake-up call that seemed to go unanswered for far too long, leading to the current “massive feeling urgent to do”. something”, even something so unfortunately resource-intensive as this.

“It needs a lot of funding to get started. I’m not a fortune teller, but that’s no guarantee. There’s always a risk that you won’t be able to grow the herd fast enough, or that there are still too many factors to figure out while we watch the remaining herds dwindle and potentially disappear as well.

Chow-Fraser cited the recent case of an Aboriginal-led caribou ranching program in British Columbia. This evidence leads him to believe that Parks Canada’s plan will work in Jasper.

The Klinse-Za herd was on a similar trajectory to extinction before the program helped it triple in size in eight years.

This effort, however, involved a unique collaboration between Saulteau First Nation and West Moberly First Nation, working in partnership with the University of British Columbia and the Yellowstone Conservation Initiative in the Yukon.

Carolyn Campbell, director of conservation for the Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA), said that’s not the only difference between the two plans.

In the case of Klinse-Za, the maternal enclosure is used, which means the mother caribou is released into the wild herds with their new young. This strategy is much shorter and less intensive.

“He’s offering to capture some females really for the rest of their lives and rotate between the males,” Campbell said.

“Because this population is so close to extinction, the idea is that there must be, unfortunately and tragically, some really intensive measures to increase the population.”

“Conservation groups (including the AWA) who have really focused on this in recent years have called this approach tragic but necessary, just to give [the caribou] the ability to survive and reoccupy their range,” she added.

Parks Canada said it would accept public comments on the proposal until September 2. parkscanada.ca/caribou-jasper. Another page specifically on the consultation process should be published within a week.

A feedback form will be included on this new consultation webpage, as a means by which people can submit written comments to Parks Canada regarding the proposal. In the meantime, and at any time, comments can be sent to [email protected]

A final decision on whether to implement a caribou conservation breeding program is expected in the fall of 2022. Parks Canada’s decision will take into account scientific research, all consultation comments, results of a detailed impact assessment and discussions with provincial authorities.

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