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

Staff member Lena Laitinen gives the wall at BoulderHouse a workout during a media tour on June 16. (Rick Stiebel/News Staff)
BoulderHouse raring to rock Langford

Popularity of bouldering continues to climb across Greater Victoria

The Sooke Potholes is a jewel in the community's crown. Transition Sooke hosts a town hall meeting on community growth on June 26. (Courtesy: Sooke News Mirror)
Sooke forum tackles community growth

To Grow or Not to Grow online town hall meeting set for June 26

General manager Lindsey Pomper says Sidney’s Star Cinema cannot wait welcome audiences when it reopens June 18, amid an easing of public health measures. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Sidney’s Star Cinema raises curtain for the first time after months in the darkness

Iconic theatre to reopen at half capacity for Friday night showing

A screenshot of the First Peoples Cultural Councils First Peoples’ Map. (First Peoples Cultural Council)
Online resource blends B.C.’s Indigenous language, art and culture

North Saanich advisor says initiative supports urgent need to preserve Indigenous languages

A dogs in parks pilot study unanimously approved by Saanich council will evaluate how park space can best be shared between dog owners and non-owners alike. (Photo by Megan Atkins-Baker/News Staff)
Saanich to study park-sharing strategy between those with and without pets

District-wide People, Parks and Dogs study to produce recommendations by fall

Maxwell Johnson is seen in Bella Bella, B.C., in an undated photo. The Indigenous man from British Columbia has filed complaints with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission after he and his granddaughter were handcuffed when they tried to open a bank account. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk Nation, Damien Gillis, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
VIDEO: Chiefs join human rights case of Indigenous man handcuffed by police in B.C. bank

Maxwell Johnson said he wants change, not just words, from Vancouver police

Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir stands outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School after speaking to reporters, in Kamloops, B.C., on Friday, June 4, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Kamloops chief says more unmarked graves will be found across Canada

Chief Rosanne Casimir told a virtual news conference the nation expects to release a report at the end of June

A woman wears a vaccinated sticker after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. ranks among highest in world in COVID-19 first-dose shots: health officials

More than 76% of eligible people have received their 1st shot

An artists conception of the new terminal building at the Pitt Meadows Regional Airport.
Air travel taking off in B.C., but lack of traffic controllers a sky-high concern

There will be demand for more air traffic controllers: Miller

Canadian Armed Forces experts are on their way to North Vancouver after a local homeowner expressed worry about a military artifact he recently purchased. (Twitter DNV Fire and Rescue)
Military called in to deal with antique ‘shell’ at North Vancouver home

‘The person somehow purchased a bombshell innocently believing it was an out-of-commission military artifact’

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz have set their wedding date for February, hoping that more COVID-19 restrictions will have lifted. (The Macleans)
B.C. couples ‘gambling’ on whether COVID rules will let them dance at their wedding

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz pushed back their wedding in hopes of being able to celebrate it without the constraints of COVID-19

A plane is silhouetted as it takes off from Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., May 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Report calls for airlines to refund passengers for flights halted due to COVID-19

Conclusion: federal help should be on the condition airlines immediately refund Canadian travellers

Green party Leader Annamie Paul speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. Paul has survived another day of party strife after a planned ouster shifted course, leaving her with a tenuous grip on power ahead of a likely federal election this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Green Leader Annamie Paul blasts ‘racist,’ ‘sexist’ party execs who sought ouster

Fallout has continued, with two of the federal council’s members resigning

Most Read