Opinion: Focus on tourism in Jasper National Park pushes caribou to local extinction

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The needs of caribou must also compete with demands for expanding recreational opportunities, such as long-standing interests in growing the Marmot Basin ski hill, which already sits in the home of the Tonquin herd. In 2014, a caribou risk assessment concluded that any new developments in the area would harm the recovery of the herd, as the caribou already avoided the ski hill due to human activities. Despite clear conclusions from the report, Marmot Basin was recently allowed to add five black diamond runs on the slopes of Whistlers Creek in the Tres Hombres area, described by the report as having “disproportionately greater value” than anywhere else in the range.

National parks provide certainty in habitat protection, yes. But, habitat protection, while vital to caribou recovery, must be coupled with smart and timely management that actively preserves nature.

Parks Canada must effectively tackle the recovery of the remaining herds in Jasper, and work towards bringing back the Maligne herd. While assessing a potential captive breeding program, we need evidence that emergency measures are in motion. With a wealth of resources and capacity, Parks Canada must commit the necessary funds to match the urgency of these measures. Moreover, augmenting populations needs to be coupled with commitments to no new tourism developments within caribou ranges and maintaining hard-fought seasonal closures.

Don’t think the provinces are off the hook for anything, either! British Columbia and Alberta both continue to develop and disturb mountain caribou habitat to cater to a multitude of industrial land uses, already contributing to the local extinction of at least five other herds. Any effort to augment populations inside the park cannot afford to be undermined by a serious lack of effort on provincial lands.

Parks Canada must prove they are champions in conservation and take the necessary actions to save the remaining herds in Jasper, lest we idly watch the quiet extinction of a national icon in front of our eyes.

Gillian Chow-Fraser is the Boreal Program Manager at CPAWS Northern Alberta Chapter, focusing on conservation action to recover and maintain the health of Alberta’s boreal forest and woodland caribou.

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