Parks Canada is dodging questions about a Nov. 28 legal deadline stemming from the Species at Risk Act, after failing to release any new information on its strategy for conserving critical caribou habitat by that date.
In June 2014, the Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou, Southern Mountain population in Canada was released. Jasper’s four woodland caribou herds have struggled for years, and many are now on the brink of being completely wiped out.
The recovery strategy set goals for recovery of southern mountain caribou across their entire range and identified habitat critical to the animals’ survival, as well as activities likely to result in the destruction of that habitat.
In an Oct. 29 press release outlining caribou conservation and winter recreation efforts, Parks noted that in the wake of the report’s release the organization had a “legal obligation under the Species at Risk Act to implement caribou critical habitat protection measures by Nov. 28, 2014.”
Despite repeated requests, Parks representatives have refused to provide any clarification on exactly what those legal obligations are, or what part of the act they stem from.
A Nov. 21 email from Parks Canada’s public relations and communications officer Kavitha Palanisamy contained a prepared statement, which she asked the Fitzhugh to attribute to John Wilmshurst, a resource conservation manager in Jasper National Park. It referred to “legal obligations” under the act, but did not elaborate on what exactly they were.
“Parks Canada is committed to its responsibilities under the Species at Risk Act and will ensure that critical habitat protection measures are in place for the Southern Mountain caribou herds within the mountain national parks. Caribou critical habitat and conservation actions are currently being reviewed across the mountain parks to ensure they meet Parks Canada’s legal obligations and contribute to caribou recovery as outlined in the 2014 Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou, Southern Mountain population in Canada. Parks Canada will make this information available when this review is complete.”
Palanisamy would not provide any more information at that time.
On Nov. 28, after several requests from the Fitzhugh, Parks still hadn’t provided any new information on its caribou critical habitat protection measures.
In an email sent at 5:38 p.m. that evening, Palanisamy wrote: “My apologies. I was hoping to get you some information today, but wasn’t able to.”
On Dec. 1, Palanisamy emailed another prepared statement, asking that it be attributed to Alan Fehr, the field unit superintendent for Jasper National Park.
The statement, in its entirety, read: “Parks Canada remains committed to meeting its responsibilities under Canada’s Species at Risk Act and to contributing to Southern Mountain caribou recovery. Throughout the mountain parks, on-going implementation of caribou recovery actions is effectively protecting caribou herds and critical habitat. Additional measures to further enhance critical habitat protection in Jasper National Park are currently being considered.”
Later that day, the Fitzhugh reached Palanisamy by phone and asked for clarification.
When asked why Parks released no new information on Nov. 28, Palanisamy said there was nothing else she could say.
“Unfortunately what I’ve provided you is what I can offer you at this point in time. I will keep you informed as the announcement evolves. But at this point that’s all I can give you.”
The Fitzhugh then asked Palanisamy if Parks was planning on giving any sort of announcement at any point in the near future.
“I’m not sure; I can’t confirm,” she said.
When then pressed about whether or not Parks would release any more information about its caribou recovery strategy at any time, Palanisamy said “we hope to.” But when asked to confirm whether or not it will actually happen, she responded: “I don’t have any further information for you.”
Parks’ statements—especially the Nov. 21 email—seem to indicate the organization plans, or at least planned, to make an announcement about its caribou conservation plan at some point.
Many in the community, including members of the Jasper Environmental Association and Jasper Trail Alliance expected Parks to have already done so, and have expressed surprise that it hasn’t happened.
But with Parks refusing to provide meaningful communication, it’s impossible to guess when or if more information will come.
A silent power: Parks mum on caribou conservation
R. Gruys photo
Silence carries significant weight.
Depending on the circumstances, people love it or hate it. There’s no middle ground.
In the wilderness, it makes for good company. We bask in it, enjoying the sound of birds, squirrels, breaking ice and rushing water. But in day to day life, many of us find it disconcerting and choose to fill it with meaningless drivel—just to avoid a few uncomfortable moments of quiet.
Silence is unnerving, especially when you’ve waited in painful anticipation for an onslaught of noise—noise that’s been promised, but never seems to come.
That was the case on Nov. 28. Jasperites of all stripes waited impatiently, with knots in their stomachs, for a decision from Parks Canada.
The agency had cited that day as its deadline to ensure caribou conservation efforts in Jasper National Park were in line with the Species at Risk Act, saying it had a “legal obligation” under the act, following the release of the Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou, Southern Mountain population in Canada.
Rightfully so, Jasperites assumed those increased efforts would warrant an announcement of sorts—a press release or even a press conference. But, Nov. 28 passed without a word from Parks.
And the silence persists.
Nearly a week has passed since the deadline quietly passed and no announcements have been made. In fact, Parks won’t even comment on whether or not an announcement is forthcoming.
It’s a powerful tool. Through silence, Parks leaves the community stirring. We’re all squirming in our seats, wondering what’s to come.
For the winter recreationalists, there’s fear that the entire Maligne Valley will see a winter closure, reducing the number of available ski trails and removing a hub of winter activity from JNP’s trail network.
For the environmentalists, there’s a fear that Parks won’t do enough. The Jasper Environmental Association has been calling on the agency to close Maligne Lake Road for the winter months since 1992, and it is still waiting.
Jasper’s caribou are in dire straits, with few still remaining in the park. No one is denying that Parks needs to do something—anything—to improve the odds for these majestic animals.
But, when it comes down to making those decisions, the community should be at the very least informed—if not consulted.
But here we sit in uncomfortable silence, perhaps waiting for a great loss to the kind of silence we still enjoy.