A caribou grazes on Baffin Island in a 2008 file photo. A last-ditch attempt to save some of Canada’s vanishing caribou herds is a step closer after a scientific review panel’s approval of a plan to permanently pen some animals and breed them to repopulate other herds. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kike Calvo via AP Images

A caribou grazes on Baffin Island in a 2008 file photo. A last-ditch attempt to save some of Canada’s vanishing caribou herds is a step closer after a scientific review panel’s approval of a plan to permanently pen some animals and breed them to repopulate other herds. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kike Calvo via AP Images

Parks Canada captive caribou breeding proposal gets OK from scientific review panel

Wolf density in Jasper is low enough that the animals would not be expected to be a major threat

A last-ditch attempt to save some of Canada’s vanishing caribou herds is a step closer after a scientific review panel’s approval of a plan to permanently pen some animals and breed them to repopulate other herds.

The captive breeding program would be a first, said Dave Argument, conservation manager for Jasper National Park.

“This idea of bringing in wild caribou (and) raising them in captivity to augment a wild herd is certainly a novel approach.”

No one doubts Jasper’s caribou are in trouble. One of the park’s three herds has already disappeared and the others are down to a handful of animals.

Parks Canada has proposed a $25-million project that would permanently pen up to 40 females and five males in a highly managed and monitored area of about one square kilometre surrounded by an electrified fence. The agency suggests the captive breeding could produce up to 20 calves a year — enough to bring Jasper’s herds to sustainable levels in a decade.

The plan received a big boost last week when an independent scientific review panel concluded that it would likely work.

The panel, an international group of conservation experts, agreed that without dramatic measures Jasper’s caribou will disappear. Strategies such as predator control or penning and protecting pregnant cows won’t work in a national park, it concluded.

“We are confident that the case has been made for the proposed breeding program,” the panel’s report says.

It does warn that careful monitoring would be required to assess the survival rate of young caribou released into the wild. The effects of climate change on habitat would have to be watched and wolves might occasionally have to be culled, it adds.

“Predators will need to be monitored and managed.”

Wolf density in Jasper is low enough that the animals would not be expected to be a major threat to rebuilding herds, the report says.

Justina Ray, a caribou biologist and head of the Wildlife Conservation Society, said the program would also have to consider conditions outside the parks, where energy activity, forestry and road-building continue to degrade habitat.

“Conversion of caribou habitat for all these mountain caribou in southern Alberta and (British Columbia) is ongoing, and these conditions outside the park are very relevant to anything that happens within it,” she wrote in an email.

Access to caribou habitat within the park would also have to be managed, she said.

“Access management (roads) … will need to be stronger than it has been to date if animals are to be released into a safe space.”

Parks Canada has met resistance when it has closed parts of Jasper park for part of the year to protect caribou.

Argument welcomed the panel’s conclusion. But issues remain before a final decision is made, he said. Budgets need to be approved and consultations conducted.

“There’s still an element of public support required,” said Argument. “We’re not going to proceed without the support of our Indigenous partners.”

A preliminary site has been chosen. It’s remote from the Jasper townsite and wouldn’t be open to public visits.

“It’s not going to be a zoo,” Argument said.

The caribou have to remain as wild as possible if they are to make it outside the fence, he said.

“Releasing naive animals from a captive breeding facility into the wild comes with certain risks.”

If all goes well, Argument said, the fenced pen could be built next year and accept its first animals as early as 2023.

Caribou herds are in trouble across the country. Argument said captive breeding wouldn’t help much in places where habitat loss is the problem, such as in areas heavily affected by industry, but it could work in other situations.

“Different circumstances call for different solutions,” he said.

“There are other situations across the country where this tool might be very useful. We’re at the cutting edge in potentially applying it here.”

The Canadian Press

CaribouWildlife

Just Posted

Graduate Belle Riding is congratulated by Lake City Secondary School learning support teacher Gail Gardner as she makes her way across the stage to receive her diploma. (Greg Sabatino photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
2021 Lake City Secondary School grads take centre stage at Williams Lake campus ceremonies

Ceremonies took place over two days, with COVID-19 restrictions in place for second year in a row

BGC Williams Lake Sprockids participants get ready to hit the trails on Fox Mountain May 27 in Williams Lake. (Greg Sabatino photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Sprockids mountain biking program at BGC Williams Lake provides positive, outdoor outlet for youth

Sprockids aims to give youth the opportunity to saddle up on mountain bikes and hit the trails

Paradise Cinemas is ready to welcome back movie viewers once the province gives movie theatres the go-ahead. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
VIDEO: Williams Lake’s Paradise Cinemas eyes June 18 re-opening if COVID-19 restrictions allow

Managing partner Munraj Hothi is looking forward to showing movies again

The Williams Lake Tourism Discovery Centre (Photo submitted)
Bike wash station now available at Tourism Discovery Centre

The project was a long-time goal of the Williams Lake Cycling Club

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Police cars are seen parked outside Vancouver Police Department headquarters on Saturday, January 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver police officer charged with assault during an arrest in 2019

The service has released no other details about the allegations

Denmark’s Christian Eriksen receives medical attention after collapsing during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group B match between Denmark and Finland at Parken stadium in Copenhagen, Saturday, June 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, Pool)
Christian Eriksen in stable condition, Euro 2020 match resumes

Eriksen was given chest compressions after collapsing on the field during a European Championship

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps off Vancouver Island

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
2 sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the child welfare system takes Indigenous children from their families

Most Read