Parks Canada mum on future of outfitters
There is still time for members of the public to comment on the proposed caribou conservation plan in Jasper National Park.
Comments close today (September 2) on Parks Canada’s plans to build a $24 million breeding facility to rebuild small caribou herds in Jasper National Park.
“What’s at stake is the future of caribou in Jasper,” said the manager of the Jasper Caribou Recovery Program, Jean-Francois Bisaillon.
Parks Canada’s records show that throughout most of the 1900s there were several caribou herds in Jasper, each with hundreds of animals. However, over the last 50 years, those numbers have become drastically lower. Today, the Maligne herd is extirpated, the Brazeau herd has less than 15 animals and the Tonquin herd has an estimated 55 animals. With very few reproductive females in the park, the survival of these small caribou herds is precarious.
“We know for a fact if we don’t take action they will disappear,” Bisaillon said.
Wolves, historically caribou’s main predators in Jasper National Park, are able to follow man-made ski trails into the domain of caribou. In 2013, Parks Canada enacted winter access restrictions in some parts of Jasper National Park to mitigate this threat to mountain caribou in Jasper National Park.
Last October, those access restrictions were extended in Jasper’s caribou habitat. In the Tonquin Valley, restrictions were continued from the previously set date of February 16 to mid-May. The closures effectively eliminated a ski season for park users in the Tonquin and had significant consequences for the commercial outfitters which operate in the Tonquin Valley. Those businesses, which are carrying on a century-old tradition of outfitting, educating and wilderness ambassadorship in the Canadian Rockies, have always relied on accessing the Tonquin Valley during the winter. However, because they can now no longer freight supplies such as propane and feed for their horses via snowmobile, nor can they access their lodges in the winter to perform snow removal and other maintenance, the changes to winter use effectively render the outfitting businesses inoperable.
Parks Canada and the two backcountry outfitters are currently in discussions as to the future of their operations. The outfitters’ licences of occupation expire in March of 2026, however, because of the operational limitations, there is no incentive for the outfitters to invest in the businesses. Some members of the backcountry community have expressed deep regret at the situation.
“It offends a sense of fairness,” Edmonton-based recreationalist Scott Meadows has said.
Parks Canada’s detailed impact study for the proposed caribou breeding facility does take into account the impact on wilderness character and visitor experience, Bisaillon said. He emphasized the agency will consider all comments in their efforts to improve the project.
“Parks Canada will consider your input, along with all feedback from consultations with Indigenous partners and stakeholders,” the agency said in a press release.
A decision on the proposed breeding facility will take place in the fall. To comment on the proposal, visit Jasper National Park’s online feedback form at parkscanada.ca/caribou-consultation
Bob Covey // email@example.com