Much ado about … very little

Updated December 31, 2014


woodland caribou, Maligne herd, Jasper National Park, endangered species, COSEWIC,

Mountain Woodland Caribou – image by Donald M. Jones

In October 2013 Parks Canada presented its draft Situation Analysis for the Maligne Valley. It clearly laid out its concerns for the valley’s hard-pressed caribou and grizzly bears and the JEA had high hopes that this augured well for the future of the valley’s wildlife.

A whole year passed and although the usual Cavell Road/Tonquin etc. ski restrictions were announced there was no word on any closures in the habitat of the tiny struggling Maligne herd of possibly only four animals. In mid-December the JEA was told that Parks Canada was in discussion with ‘stakeholders’. As we know of no conservation groups that were included in those final talks we presume it was local businesses and recreationists. Three days before Christmas, Parks issued the result of those discussions.

The Agency has taken some small steps that may, or may not, benefit Jasper’s rapidly declining caribou. The JEA supports the steps but wants to see something a lot stronger for these animals.

Jasper’s caribou are now considered part of the Central Mountain Caribou population by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The committee has recommended that the population be moved from “Threatened” to the higher-risk category of “Endangered,” but the minister has yet to act upon this recommendation.

Maligne-Brazeau Caribou Range

Maligne Road, Maligne Valley, Caribou licking salt, Jasper Environmental Association, Jasper National Park, winter restrictions

Maligne Road – caribou licking salt

Parks intends to close all Maligne caribou habitat to human use from the west side of the Maligne Road across the Maligne Range to the east side of the Icefields Parkway. However, the fact that the Maligne Road remains open will mean that wolves can still travel for nearly 40 km into caribou habitat. Salt on the road would still be an attraction for any caribou in the area.

For most of November and December, while Parks Canada was deciding what to do, skiers were using the Bald Hills area of the Maligne Range. If wolves travel up the road they will now have tracked access into caribou habitat unless, hopefully, there is a heavy snowfall to deter them.

This closure will only be in place until February 28th because Parks reasons that by then the snow is hard enough for wolves to travel on it anyway. Would it not be more sensible to wait and see just what the snow conditions are at the end of February before setting this arbitrary date?

Tonquin Caribou Range

Whistlers Valley, Tonquin caribou herd, Jasper National Park, winter restrictions, Jasper Environmental Association

Cladina spp. “reindeer lichens” on Caribou Knoll

Whistlers Creek Valley that runs along the north side of the Marmot Basin ski lease is now closed to human use until February 15th. Once again why the arbitrary end date? Caribou have recently been using the valley slopes to access the actual ski basin. Will they have left the area by February 15th?

It is hard to tell from the map included with ‘Tonquin Caribou Range’ whether the Black Diamond Caribou Knoll Run #22 from the Tres Hombres area back to ‘No Show’ #82 in the basin will be open or closed. It certainly should be closed as the Knoll contains some of the best lichen-rich caribou habitat in the area.

Given the lobbying by local interests and the priority that Ottawa presently gives to tourism over our species-at-risk, Jasper’s field managers have probably done what they can to help the caribou. With a captive breeding program that seems to be going nowhere, we can only hope that the closures delay the complete collapse of Jasper’s herds until field managers are once again allowed to give first priority to the park’s wilderness and wildlife – because once those herds have gone, getting them back may be impossible.

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